The Early Years
On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing America’s second national park. Sequoia National Park was created to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging and was the first national park formed to protect a living organism. One week later, General Grant National Park was created and Sequoia was enlarged. To protect these new parks, U.S. Army Cavalry troops were assigned from the Presidio of San Francisco from 1891 through 1913 when the first civilian administrator of the park, Walter Fry, was appointed. The National Park Service was established three years later in 1916.
Early access to the Giant Forest to see the Sequoia trees were limited with no more than a pack road. Under the leadership of Captain Charles Young, the only African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army at the time built the road into the Giant Forest which was completed in August 1903. For the first time, the “big trees” were accessible by wagon. The growing popularity of the automobile led to the building of the Generals Highway in 1926 opening up the Giant Forest to increased visitation.
Better access to the Giant Forest led to building amenities for the increasing number of visitors. One of the first projects by the National Park Service was the construction of the first steps to the summit of Moro Rock, a favorite destination. Backcountry trail construction also became a priority. In 1932, the new High Sierra Trail was completed connecting the Giant Forest and Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked in the parks to build and improve campgrounds, trails, buildings, and other facilities.
In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national Park to include the glacially-formed Kings Canyon. The newly established Kings Canyon encompassed the previous Grant National Park into it. Ever since WWII, Kings Canyon and Sequoia have been administered jointly. These two parks have grown to encompass 1,353 square miles of which 97% is designated and managed as wilderness.
Kings Canyon National park is the place that John Muir once called “a rival to Yosemite.” By some measures, it is home to the deepest canyon in America. Kings Canyon National Park is composed of two distinct areas……Grant Grove, home to the General Grant tree, also known as “the Nation’s Christmas Tree” and Cedar Grove.
So on May 8, 2020, I made my first drive to Cedar Grove which is located at the bottom of Kings Canyon and features terrain similar to Yosemite Valley. It is also one of the least crowded areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. A 35-mile drive east of Grant Grove, Cedar Grove features a wide range of stunning natural wonders with its towering cliffs, massive trees, cascading waters, and the powerful Kings River.
Come along the ride with me through pictures and narration:
The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180) is carved into granite and winds down into Kings Canyon with the walls closing in at some junctions and bends. This scenic two-lane road has numerous pullouts with an amazing variety of geographical terrain and stunning views of Kings Canyon and Kings Canyon River.
Ten Mile Creek
First Waterfall sighting
Kings Canyon Lodge/Rough Fire
On July 31, 2015, a lightning strike started a fire 5 miles north of Hume Lake. Over the period of the next 3 months, the fire which came to be known as the “Rough Fire” burned 151,623 acres of land over Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The Historic Kings Canyon Lodge was all but destroyed except for the two red and white working gasoline dispensers-not pumps with a sign that read “America’s oldest double gravity pumps 1928” and the Kings Canyon Lodge Sign. The lodge and 10 cabins were originally built in 1937. The store had an old-fashioned cash register that would sound “cha-ching!” when transactions were made. Burgers, fries, sandwiches, and salads were standard meals in the restaurant. The lodge had many items there were antiques, too old to even try and replace. The owner had lived there since he was 3 years old, his father passing the land and business down to him, but sadly the buildings were not insured.
Here are a few pictures I pulled off of google of the lodge before the fire:
In the summer of 2019, 4 years after the fire the lodge has never been rebuilt….a A small wooden concession stand had been built to serve water, soda and ice cream for visitors. The original Kings Canyon Lodge sign and the gas pumps still stand and actually work.
Grizzly Falls and picnic area is located on the Generals Highway to Cedar Grove. The 80-foot waterfall is just a short super short and easy 0.1-mile round trip stroll just off the highway. The waterfall is impossible to miss and is a thrill to watch the water plunge down a granite wall. As you step closer you will be greeted by a refreshing mist. At this time that I visited the falls were very full from the spring runoff from a very good winter of snow. It was amazing!
Cedar Grove sits at the bottom of the glacial Kings Canyon at 4000 feet in elevation. Cedar Grove tends to be more peaceful and quiet, especially before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Four campgrounds along the Kings River offer views of the deep, granite-walled canyon. Trails from here lead to meadows, waterfalls and some of the best access to the high sierra wilderness.
Cedar Grove is a modest, low-key lodge in the middle of a remote, pristine mountain wilderness that sits on the edge of the Kings River and is a good base for exploring so much that this area has to offer. A very peaceful experience to sit in the chairs by the river and watch the wildlife and listen to the river.
My co-worker Mike is the manager at Cedar Grove during the summer to fall season. During the winter he is the Cash Auditor and it is this position that I was filling in for during my season in 2019 while he managed Cedar Grove. Mike was kind enough to take me to a couple of site seeing stops in the area.
Our first stop was a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the falls which is beautiful and full of scenic stops along the riverside. The waterfall is beautiful and magnificent as it roars down the canyon wall and drops down into a pool in the river. Even before Mike and I arrived at the end of the trail you could hear the roaring of the falls.
Roads End/John Muir Rock
It really is what it sounds like…..the end of the road in the beautiful Kings Canyon. This is the jumping-off point for many of the National Parks backcountry trails. Mike and I parked in the parking lot here and took a short walk to the edge of the Kings River and the famous John Muir Rock. On excursions to Kings Canyon, John Muir would give talks on this large, flat river boulder. The massive boulder sits at the base of a granite face that rises hundreds of feet out of the river. Nowadays for those who have the nerve, Muir Rock is the site of a 15-foot jump into a beautiful swimming hole.