It may seem odd that I would begin this piece talking about Yosemite alongside Kings Canyon. With over twenty years of trail running, hiking, backpacking and nearly ten years of search and rescue in both locations, I have slowly come to the conclusion that while Yosemite may be the preferred tourist destination, Kings Canyon is the place for backpackers. This is not to say that there is not excellent backpacking in Yosemite. For example, the John Muir Trail travels through 37 miles of Yosemite with the northern terminus of the JMT in Yosemite Valley at Happy Isles.
The primary reasons for the notoriety of Yosemite and the lesser-known status of Kings Canyon is access. There are lots of roads providing access to many of the iconic sights in Yosemite with highway 120 bisecting the entire park. Word class views are available from the windows of an automobile in Yosemite. Conversely, one can drive to only a few of the many magnificent views in Kings Canyon. There is easier access to Yosemite itself from San Francisco for international travelers.
Yosemite was designated a national park in 1890 and Kings Canyon was designated a national park in 1940. Yosemite is better known and more visited. Most of the magnificent photographs of Ansel Adams were taken in Yosemite. The name of John Muir is most associated with Yosemite. Yosemite is nearly twice the size of Kings Canyon but with close to four million visitors annually, Yosemite can be one big traffic jam in July. Even the premier day hike to Half Dome now requires a permit that was introduced to reduce trail traffic and dangerous gridlock on the cables.
So, why is this about Kings Canyon? 75 miles of the JMT is in Kings Canyon National Park. I have completed this 211-mile trail, hiking it in sections over the years. This lack of access to the inner beauty of Kings Canyon, a park like Yosemite, also formed by glaciers, has also preserved much of the pristine beauty. Kings Canyon simply has a different feel about it. Kings Canyon is set up for backpackers with several backcountry rangers stationed along the JMT to assist backpackers. Some of the highest peaks in the Sierras are in Kings Canyon including North Palisade at 14,249’. If you want to see this hidden beauty, you will have to do it on foot unless you are only interested in seeing the Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias.
There are other sights in Kings Canyon worth visiting by less established trails like East Lake and 60 Lake Basin. Some sights have no trails for access like Gardiner Basin. There are two great rivers in Kings Canyon, the Kings River and the San Joaquin. They have carved deep gashes in granite providing awe-inspiring views for the traveler. There are also trails with wonderful views along Bubb’s Creek. The ‘roads’ of Kings Canyon are its trails. This photo essay is an ode to the beauty of this wild and beautiful place.
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