If I was allowed only one word to describe Kings Canyon it would have to be this: Underrated.
In fact, Kings Canyon is so underrated that most of the time it isn’t even referred to as its own park. It’s thrown onto the end of Sequoia almost as an after-thought. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is what you’ll usually hear.
But don’t be fooled by the casual misplacement of its name; this park has a personality that is completely unique from Sequoia, offering stunning views of the Sierra without the Yosemite crowds. On a flawless mid-July day we had the whole park to ourselves. Imagine- quiet winding roads through the Sierra mountains, crystal clear rivers, bears roaming yards away, and a peace so perfect you can hear pine needles dropping to the ground.
We drove through the thick forest of Sequoia National Park on 180 and came out on the side of an enormous mountain-face. That is when I realized without a doubt, that I was finally setting eyes on the granite monoliths that I’ve read about and gazed upon in so many books. I was in the country of John Muir and Ansel Adams. The SIERRA.
And almost like they were waiting for me, there were those wonderfully ubiquitous billowing clouds hugging the tops of the mountains.
The road took us down, down, down... sinking through 1,000 foot pieces of atmosphere like it was nothing, all the while keeping our eyes out for bears and stopping to let tarantulas the size of my palm cross the road.
The bottom of the road didn’t make itself visible for most of the journey down, but I could make out the snaking ribbon of the Kings River. Once we were at the basement of the canyon, a wide, wild river opened up that was lucid and still in some places and torrential with white rapids in others, all the while weaving itself around enormous pieces of fallen Sierra granite.
We reached the end of the road, which is a 360 turnabout that will take you right back the way you came. As it often does during monsoon season, a quiet summer storm moved in. The rain was innocuous as a breeze and didn’t stop us from hiking through a beautiful meadow. The sun was out while it rained and the drops looked like liquid gold in the air.
It was a storm that would have made Ansel happy as these sudden bouts of weather are what create the depth-showing clouds that he loved so much. For the first time I began to understand the magical quality that light has on the granite Sierra.
The clouds swept across the sun again and again, making a show of light and shadow.
We passed a few other hikers. They told us they’d spotted a bear just a few feet away in the direction that we were headed. We kept on our path but never came across the bear. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved (I’ve never encountered a bear outside of my car) or disappointed.
We sat alongside the wild King’s River.
The sinking sun, combined with the light from the clearing storm made everything turn golden.
We headed back up the King’s Canyon Scenic Byway. It’s rare that a road makes my stomach jump since I’ve become so accustomed to crazy mountain driving, but this one- with its sheer granite walls and no guardrails, the river below a thin line letting us know just how high up we were- my heart was racing.
The sun was setting, making layer upon layer of unique colors in the sky. Every so many feet on the mountain road I had to stop and gaze at it.
We reached the top of the mountains just in time to get one last glimpse of the sun.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in Kings Canyon National Park, but what I found moved me beyond words.