The drive from Dunlap, California, to Kings Canyon National Park is known as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, one of the best mountain drives in the world. Officially California highway 180, there is nothing straight about this route, it bends and curves and descends from over 6000 feet to about 4000 feet in 30 miles, and then, it ends. To savor it, take time to stop, walk some of the trails, and soak in the scenery. Start early in the day, and allow at least 4-6 hours for a round trip. Kings Canyon Byway From Fresno, go eastward on Highway 180 to where the byway begins at Hume Lake Ranger Station. The road follows the north side of the valley, with views to your right, extending to the towering hills. There are turnouts and wide spots where private ranch roads meet 180. The turnouts usually have enough room one or two vehicles to pause. Do that, since you are not in a hurry. You will notice that guardrails are few and far between, adding to the thrill sensation of the drive.

General Sherman Sequoia Tree

General Sherman Sequoia Tree

You will come to Snowline Lodge, popular, warm and welcoming, somewhat offbeat, clean and cozy, like a bed and breakfast in the middle of all that serenity. The landscape changes past Snowline Lodge, as you leave the brush for more forested areas. There is a nice turnout just after the forested stretch begins. Not far thereafter are two turnouts that give views into the valley. At the intersection with 245, continue on 180. A sign indicates you’ve crossed the Tulare County Line. Soon, a sign announces you are at 6000 feet. This is Big Stump Grove – a lovely forested stretch, with large stands of trees very close to the edge of the road. You will enter Kings Canyon National Park; at the sign indicating a choice Between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, turn left for Kings Canyon, east on 180. This next stretch of road has big boulders on each side. One of the least known aspects of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is Wilsonia, is a privately owned 100-acre village within the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park. The Wilsonia community is 212 buildings, mostly rustic mountain cabins constructed between 1919 and the present. Founder Andrew D. Ferguson subdivided the land into lots for summer homes. An supporter of Woodrow Wilson, he named the tract “Wilsonia” in honor of the President. In 1996 it became a Historic District. Wilsonia artist Jana Botkin has written a book filled with her gorgeous pencil drawings of The Cabins of Wilsonia: A Picture Book about a Cabin Community. To explore the possibility of an extended stay, check with the people of Wilsonia about renting a cabin there. You may just fall in love with the place.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree

Kings Canyon National Park Visitor’s Center at Grant Grove Village and the General Grant Tree, are key destinations on your drive. At Grant Grove Village see the Kings Canyon Visitors Center; also you will find a post office, ATMs, a gift shop, the Grant Grove Village Restaurant and the Grant Grove Cabins. The John Muir Lodge is here; it is an inn with rustic chic rooms. Visit the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world. Over 1600 years old, it stands 267.4 feet tall. You reach it by an easy paved road. At Grant Grove you can walk right through the Fallen Monarch, a giant sequoia stump that once served as a hotel, a bar and a horse stable for US Cavalry. Continuing along, consider seeing the Converse Basin Grove, the largest contiguous grove in the world. The Boole Tree is there; spared during the logging era due to its size. It’s the eight largest tree in the world. Stump Meadow and Chicago Stump are remnants of logging when the grove was privately owned. Forest Roads 13S55 and 13S03 are dirt roads providing access to the Converse Basin.

Hume Lake, Kings Canyon

Hume Lake

Hume Lake is a beautifully photogenic lake that is home to a Christian camp where you can stay and dine, as well as enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming at Sandy Cove. The setting is in the middle of trees and the mountains; it is a camp so it is busy and crowded in season. There is a gas station at Hume Lake. Junction View is considered the most visited turnout along Hwy 180. The view is of the Western Sierra and down in Kings Canyon 2200 feet below, the confluence of two forks of the Kings River. The Kings Canyon Lodge near 10 Mile Creek, is a quaint tourist cabin style no-frills lodge, it offers a beautiful setting, including visiting hummingbirds, and a pair of working 1928 gas pumps. If you plan to camp on your trip, consider the small campsite at Convict Flat, suitable for tents or small campers. Or camp at Princess Campground at Indian Basin Grove, where a paved, accessible trail leads through the remnants of a grove of ancient giants, past huge stumps and young sequoias. Also nearby is Millwood, a California Ghost Town; it was an historic mill town.

Grizzly Falls, Sequoia National Forest

Grizzly Falls

Boyden Cave is a must-see. It starts with a five minute walk along the roaring Kings river to the entrance of the cave. Then, a forty-five minute tour of the cave’s wonders. The tour, pathways and lighting are all first-rate. The cave has a constant 55 degree temperatures inside, so bring a sweater or sweatshirt. Tours run every hour during summer from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Spring and fall hours vary. Grizzly Falls is a beautiful 80-foot waterfall an easy tenth of a mile from the road. It is and easy stroll and a nice picnic spot. In the spring, the falls’ volume is impressive. Hiking enthusiasts may wish to head for Cedar Grove Outlook, via a strenuous five-mile hike, resulting in a wonderful view of Kings Canyon; not for the faint of heart, the hike has a 1,200ft elevation gain. For a more moderate hike with a waterfall view, visit Sheep Creek Cascade – it also offers views of the Monarch Divide. Allow over an hour for this one. Cedar Grove Visitors Center and Village has a snack bar alongside the river. Cedar Grove Lodge is on the river, too; it is open May through mid-October. Canon Viewpoint is a recommend stopping location, with a view of the rock canyon in the distance, framed by the tall sequoias. Not far away is Knapp’s cabin, a one-room building dating to 1925, built by George Own Knapp for storing his camping equipment. The cabin still stands, among some lovely specimens of Jeffery Pines. Roaring River Falls are impressive and easily accessible by way of a short walk; the drop is over 40 feet.

Kings Canyon Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow is a favorite of all who visit here. There is an easy mile-and-a-half trail through the meadow alongside Kings River. Cross the scenic bridge, and stroll where bears forage and mule deer graze, encircled by the tall timber and mountain peaks, North Dome and Grand Sentinel. Historic Muir Rock is one of the most popular Kings River access areas for Park visitors, and it affords wonderful canyon views. John Muir is said to have given talks about nature here. The view from the red bridge over the South Fork of the Kings River, looking downstream to North Dome, is a hike worth taking. If you missed some of these wonders on the way to Road’s End, you can see them on the way out, amid the Sierra Nevada mountain scenery, and the giant sequoia trees.