King's Canyon National Park

Home to several giant sequoia groves and the General Grant Tree, the world’s second largest measured tree, this park also features part of the Kings River, sculptor of the dramatic granite canyon that is its namesake, and the San Joaquin River, as well as Boyden Cave. Although Kings Canyon National Park was designated as such in 1940, it subsumed General Grant National Park, which had been established on October 1, 1890 as the United States’ fourth national park.


Kings Canyon National Park is the home of awe-inspiring geological features and resources

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are the home of awe-inspiring geological features and resources. The parks contain a significant portion of America’s longest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada. Included in the Parks’ mountainous landscape is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney, which rises to 14,491 feet above sea level. Eleven additional peaks taller than 14,000 feet are also found along the parks’ eastern boundaries at the crest of the Sierra Nevada. In Kings Canyon National Park, prominent ridges extend westward from the crest creating the Goddard and Monarch divides with mountains taller than 13,000 feet. In Sequoia National Park, a second prominent ridge of mountains, The Great Western Divide parallels the Sierran crest. It is the mountains of the Great Western Divide that greet visitors in Mineral King and that can be seen from Moro Rock and the Giant Forest area. Peaks in the Great Western Divide climb to more than 12,000 feet.

Between these mighty mountains lie deep, spectacular canyons. Most significant is Kings Canyon. In the parks, Kings Canyon is a wide glacial valley featuring spectacular tall cliffs, a lovely meandering river, green vibrant meadows and beautiful waterfalls. A few miles outside the parks, Kings Canyon deepens and steepens becoming arguably the deepest canyon in North America for short distance. The confluence of the South Fork and Middle forks of the Kings River lies at 2,260 feet, while towering above the rivers on the north side of the canyon is Spanish Peak, which is 10,051 feet tall. The south side of this canyon above the confluence is significantly lower. Dozens of other canyons also await visitors to the two parks. This includes scenic Tokopah Valley above Lodgepole, Deep Canyon on the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and deep in the parks’ remote backcountry, Kern Canyon, which is more than 5,000 feet deep for 30 miles. The parks are headwaters for the Kaweah River, the Kern River, two forks of the Kings River and small areas of the San Joaquin and Tule river watersheds.

Most of the mountains and canyons in the Sierra Nevada are formed in granitic rocks. These rocks, such as granite, diorite and monzonite, formed when molten rock cooled far beneath the surface of the earth. The molten rock was a by-product of a geologic process known as subduction. Powerful forces in the earth forced the landmass under the waters of the Pacific Ocean beneath and below an advancing North American Continent. Super-hot water driven from the subjecting ocean floor migrated upward and melted rock as it went. This process took place during the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago. Granitic rocks have speckled salt and pepper appearance because they contain various minerals including quartz, feldspars and micas. Valhalla or the Angel Wings are prominent cliffs that rise above the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.

While geologists debate the details, it is clear that the Sierra Nevada is a young mountain range, probably not more than 10 million years old. Incredible forces in the earth, probably associated with the development of the Great Basin, forced the mountains to grow and climb toward the sky. During the 10 million years at least four periods of glacial advance have coated the mountains in a thick mantle of ice. Glaciers form and develop during long periods of cool and wet weather. Today, a few small glaciers remain in the parks. They are the southern-most glaciers in North America. Glaciers move through the mountains like slow-motion rivers carving deep valleys and craggy peaks. The extensive history of glaciation within the range and the erosion resistant nature of the granitic rocks that make up most of the Sierra Nevada have together created a spectacular landscape of hanging valleys, towering waterfalls, craggy peaks, alpine lakes and gigantic glacial canyons.

The Sierra Nevada is still growing today. In fits and leaps the mountains gain height during earthquakes on the east side of the range near Bishop and Lone Pine. Rain and winter snows combined with the steep character of the landscape create an environment that includes massive movements of sediment and rapid erosion. The mountains are being removed by erosion almost as quickly as they grow. This erosion has created and deposited sediments thousands of feet thick on the floor of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys.

Small sections of the park contain areas of metamorphic (or changed) rocks. These rocks are the remnants of volcanic islands that were added to North America before the Sierra Nevada uplift. They include metamorphosed volcanic rocks, schist, quartzite, phyllite, and marble.

Surprisingly, the marble rocks in the parks contain caves. Marble is metamorphosed limestone and Sequoia and Kings Canyon together contain more than 270 marble caves. Caves form only under special conditions including the right kind of rock, fractures or spaces in the rock and enough water to erode underground rooms and passages. The caves of the two parks include the longest cave in California, Lilburn Cave, with nearly 17 miles of surveyed passage. Lilburn is a very complex maze cave with beautiful blue- and white-banded marble. Nearby mines attest to the unusual geology in the Lilburn area and the cave has displays of rare and colorful minerals including green malachite and blue azurite. Beautiful Crystal Cave features a trail and lights for park visitors. This commercialized cave has seen millions of visitors since it first opened to the public in 1941. It has beautifully banded marble, many cave formations, large rooms, and the creative Spider Web Gate. Soldier’s Cave has been a favorite with California cave explorers since its discovery in 1949. Three rope drops must be negotiated to reach the cave’s lowest and most extensive level. Several outstanding formation areas exist, one of which has high quality “dog-tooth spar” crystals. This cave has suffered due to inadvertent damage by cave explorers. People have accidentally broken cave formations and muddied extensive areas of white flowstone. Soldiers Cave was the site of a restoration and cleaning project between 1992 and 1997. Learn more about how we manage park caves and about the geologic features and organisms in the parks’ cave/karst systems.

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Native American History

Home of the Paiute and Yokut peoples

People have inhabited what is now Kings Canyon National Park for about 6,000–7,000 years. The Owens Valley Paiute peoples (also known as the Eastern Monos) visited the region from their homeland east of the Sierra Nevada, around Mono Lake. The Paiute mainly used acorns, found in lower elevations of the park, for food, as well as deer and other small animals. They created trade routes connecting the Owens Valley with the Central Valley west of the Sierra Nevada. The Yokuts, who lived in the Central Valley, also ventured into the mountains during summer to collect plants, hunt game, and trade. Because of the inhospitable winter climate, they did not establish permanent villages in the high country. Prior to European contact the Yokut population numbered between 15,000–20,000, and the Monos about 6,000.

Around the 1500s AD, some of the Eastern Mono migrated across the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley, where they created settlements adjoining Yokuts territory in the Sierra foothills near the Kings River. This group became known as the Monaches, or Western Mono. They eventually divided into as many as six distinct bands, of which one, the Wobonuch, lived in the area near Grant Grove.[53] The native population suffered greatly after Europeans arrived in the 19th century (a smallpox epidemic killed off most of the Monache in 1862), and very few remain in the area today.

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Park History

How Kings Canyon became a National Park

The Early Years of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing America’s second national park. Created to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging, Sequoia National Park was the first national park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum. One week later, General Grant National Park was created and Sequoia was enlarged.

A black and white photos shows a man atop a horse that stands on a fallen giant sequoia near a meadow.Tasked with protecting these new parks, U.S. Army Cavalry troops were detailed 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 was limited to little more than a pack road. Under the leadership of Captain Charles Young, then the only African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, the road into the Giant Forest was completed in August 1903. For the first time the “big trees” were accessible by wagon.

Steep and narrow wooden stairs lead up a rock face to the top of a granite dome.The growing popularity of automobile travel led to the building of the Generals Highway in 1926 opening up the Giant Forest to increased visitation. The Ash Mountain entrance became the main gateway to Sequoia — even in 1927, park visitors sometimes experienced traffic at the check-in station.

Better access to the Giant Forest led to the creation of amenities for the increasing number of visitors. One of the first projects undertaken by the New National Park Service in 1917 was the construction of the first steps to the summit of Moro Rock, a favorite destination. Those first wooden steps to the top of Moro Rock must have provided a thrill for many early park visitors.

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.

A black and white photo shows an early automobile parked in front of a giant sequoia trunk.A New National Park In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park to include the glacially-formed splendor of Kings Canyon. The newly established Kings Canyon National Park subsumed General Grant National Park into it. Since the Second World War, Kings Canyon and Sequoia have been administered jointly.

Over the past 125 years, these parks have grown to encompass 1,353 square miles of which 97% is designated and managed as wilderness. Today, more than 1.5 million people enjoy these special places each year. While we face new challenges in the 21st century that were not envisioned when the parks were created, the basic purpose of the parks remains essentially unchanged: to protect and preserve these public lands for future generations.

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The best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park

These parks offer a wide range of activities in diverse landscapes in any season. Whether you prefer an short stroll or a week in the wilderness, a quiet sunset or a roaring river, adventure awaits you here.

Whatever activities you choose, come prepared. Weather varies widely at different elevations, and storms can happen at any time of year. Read safety information before you visit.

Ranger Programs
Want to learn more about these parks? Join a ranger for a walk, talk, demonstration, or evening program.

Visitor Centers
Stop by our visitor centers and museums to explore exhibits, get trip-planning information, and shop in our park stores.

Explore Sequoia Groves
Whether you see them from your car or hike to a remote grove, giant sequoias inspire awe and wonder.

Day Hiking
Get out and explore! Wander through sequoia groves, look deep into wilderness, or experience wildlife.

Learn more about backpacking in these parks. Wilderness awaits!

Drives and Viewpoints
Explore our mountain landscapes along the Generals Highway and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

Junior Ranger Day 2019
Celebrate Junior Ranger Day with special activities for all ages. Participate and earn a free patch!

Nearly all of these parks is designated wilderness. This protects the high Sierra while providing outstanding opportunities for recreation.

Dark Sky Festival
Share your passion for the night sky! Join us for the Dark Sky Festival, hosted in partnership with the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

Climb Moro Rock
A stone stairway climbs this granite dome in the Giant Forest. From the top, enjoy views of the hills below and the wilderness to the east.

Crystal Cave
Explore underground! Tickets for Crystal Cave Tours are sold by our partner, the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

Skiing and Snowshoeing
Ski and snowshoe trails offer a way to travel through Giant Forest and Grant Grove in winter.

Rock Climbing
Granite cliffs and domes provide excellent opportunities for climbing in these parks. Climb on!

Junior Ranger Program
Kids of all ages can earn a badge by completing activities in our Junior Ranger book! Ask for a free book at any visitor center.

Look for picnic areas throughout the parks. Protect bears and other wildlife by storing food safely, even while you’re eating.

Horseback Riding
Whether you bring your own stock or use one of the pack stations in these parks, a trip on horseback is a great way to see the parks.

When snow falls, bring your kids to one of our three snowplay areas, but be safe! Snowplay injuries are common in these parks.

The rivers in these parks are powerful and cold, and drowning is our most frequent cause of death. Learn more about river safety.

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Extreme topographic differences and a striking elevation gradient in the foothills create a rich tapestry of environments

Extreme topographic differences and a striking elevation gradient (ranging from 1,360 feet (412 m) in the foothills to 14,494 feet (4,417 m) along the Sierran crest) create a rich tapestry of environments, from the hot, dry lowlands along the western boundary to the stark and snow-covered alpine high country.

This topographic diversity in turn supports over 1,200 species (and more than 1,550 taxa, including subspecies and varieties) of vascular plants, which make up dozens of unique plant communities. These include not only the renowned groves of massive giant sequoia, but also vast tracts of montane forests, spectacular alpine habitats, and oak woodlands and chaparral.

The richness of the Sierran flora mirrors that of the state as a whole–of the nearly 6,000 species of vascular plants known to occur in California, over 20% of them can be found within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Vegetation Zones
While the parks’ vegetation is diverse and complex, it can be categorized broadly into the following zones:
Foothills (includes oak woodland and chaparral shrubland)
Montane Forests (lower to mid-elevation conifer forests)
Subalpine (forest that extends to the limit of tree growth – treeline)
Alpine (perennial plants that grow at the highest elevations)
Vegetation changes dramatically along a west-east elevation gradient from the lowest elevation oak woodlands up to ancient foxtail pines, stunted whitebark pine, and alpine perennial herbs at the highest elevations. Visit the links below to learn more about these vegetation zones.

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Animal Life

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have an impressive elevation range from the low foothills to the Sierra Nevada peaks, and provide habitat for a diversity of animals

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have an impressive elevation range from the low foothills to the Sierra Nevada peaks, and provide habitat for a diversity of animals.

Below are highlights of animals you can find at different elevation zones of the parks, and links to learn more about park animals.

In the low-elevation foothills, summers are hot and dry and winters are mild. You will find oak woodlands, dense chaparral shrubs, and riverside vegetation like California sycamores, willows and cottonwoods. A number of animals live in this area year-round, while some only winter or breed here. Local species include the gray fox, bobcat, striped and spotted skunks, black bear, woodrat, pocket gopher, white-footed mouse, California quail, scrub jay, lesser goldfinch, wrentit, acorn woodpecker, gopher snake, California kingsnake, striped racer, western whiptail lizard, and the California newt.

Montane Forests and Meadows
In the low to mid-montane elevations are mixed forests of pine, incense-cedar, fir, and scattered groves of giant sequoia provide. Further upslope, grow pure stands of magnificent red fir and lodgepole pine forest. Scattered meadows are lush with many kinds of flowers in the summer. Winters are typically snowy. Year-round and seasonal residents include the chickaree, gray squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and a variety of birds. Resident birds include western tanager, violet-green swallow, white-throated swift, Wilson’s warbler, olive-sided flycatcher, hermit thrush, western bluebird, and pileated woodpecker. Reptiles are not common, but occasionally mountain kingsnake, rubber boa, western fence lizard, and alligator lizard can be seen.

Subalpine and Alpine Areas
The high country is a land of lakes, meadows, some open forest, and miles of granite. Mammals are less common here, and food is scarce. Mammals inhabiting these high Sierra landscapes include the marmot, pika, and white-tailed jack rabbit. Birds include the Clark’s nutcracker, mountain bluebird, American pipit, and gray-crowned rosy finch. In this region, you may also be lucky enough to find a mountain yellow-legged frog or a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, both endangered species for which recovery efforts are underway.

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Hiking Trails

The best hiking trails in Kings Canyon National Park

Permits are not required for day hikes, except if hiking Mt. Whitney. Whether you choose a short, paved trail or an all-day hike, exploring by foot is a great way to experience these parks. Check the park newspaper for general park safety tips and review the review trail safety guide before you go. There is a maximum party size limit of 25 people for day hikes in these parks. Check locally for updates on trail conditions.

Trail Maps
We recommend taking a map, especially for longer or unpaved trails. Even short trails can lead to unmarked intersections or unexpected detours, and it is your responsibility to be prepared. With hundreds of miles of trails in these parks, it’s difficult to provide detailed trail maps online. Buy trail maps at each park visitor center or through the Sequoia Parks Conservancy’s online store. You can also visit our digital map, the Sequoia & Kings Canyon Park Atlas, to create and print custom maps.

Foothills Day Hikes
Hot, dry summer shapes these lower elevations. The rivers are critical to life here. Watch out for poison oak and rattlesnakes as you travel. Consider hiking in early morning or evening hours to escape the heat of the day.

Giant Forest & Lodgepole Day Hikes
Giant sequoias, cool conifer forests, sun-splashed meadows, and exhilarating vistas characterize the Giant Forest and Lodgepole area. Climb the historic staircase on Moro Rock to see the towering Great Western Divide.

Grant Grove Day Hikes
Sequoias, easy trails, and solitude are all available on trails in the vicinity of bustling Grant Grove Village. Maps and guidebooks are available at nearby visitor centers—along with helpful rangers.

Cedar Grove Day Hikes
Looming granite walls, great vistas, quiet rivers, roaring waterfalls—some of the most level hikes in the parks can be found here as well as some of the most steep, hot, and strenuous. The road to Cedar Grove is open from spring through late fall.

Mineral King Day Hikes
Cooler temperatures and dramatic mountain scenery tempt day hikers here. Be prepared for steep trails and thinner air. West- and south-facing slopes can still be hot and dry, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Consider beginning your hike in in the morning when it is cooler. The road to Mineral King is open from late spring to late fall.

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