Kings Canyon National Park has been billed as a smaller Yosemite. While it lacks the famous highlights people expect to see in the larger park, it has a similar feel and is much less crowded. John Muir even blessed the place by designating a large granite slab, located alongside the south fork of the Kings River, as his personal pulpit. He was known to deliver lectures about environmental concerns from this rock, and the scene probably hasn’t changed much since then. Visitors to Kings Canyon can also enjoy easy access to the adjoining Sequoia National Park.
As soon as school got out, I hit the road with another community college instructor, Pam Kersey, only to head for the Sierras. We were prepared for comfortable tent camping—we certainly didn’t skimp on the food—and the urban sprawl of Southern California quickly fell behind us. Pam was particularly eager to camp near the Kings River, because she once learned the art of camping there. In those days she was a single mother of four young children, and she had few camping skills. She’s now remarried (her children are all grown up), and she’s long since become a seasoned camper, not to mention a backpacker.
I know these things about Pam, because during our trip we exchanged stories about how we each became competent campers. From there we moved into the benefits of camping and why we loved it so much. Indeed, the great thing about camping is that it is easy to engage in meandering conversations—the sort of discussion one rarely has time for during the academic year.
We had time for other things, too. Pam read. I started two poems on trees. We both stared at the river.
I began to learn the art of camping at the age of 4 or 5. My family often frequented campgrounds in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Mendocino area, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Southern Oregon. We owned a canvas tent weighing at least fifty pounds—it could have doubled as a small house. As a youngster, I quickly became fond of the Coleman brand. We owned Coleman sleeping bags, a Coleman cooler, a Coleman lantern that hummed loudly until my parents finally came to bed, and a Coleman stove. For this trip I tossed my own self-starting Coleman two-burner into Pam’s Subaru, and it served us well.
Pam was dead set on finding a campsite right next to the river so that we could fall asleep to the sound of roaring waters. She assured me we’d have no trouble finding a spot, as there are four campgrounds near the Cedar Grove Visitor Center (the campsites in this area are offered on a first come/first served basis). We arrived to find her top pick, Sentinel Campground, closed. So we ended up circling the other three campgrounds—this after some 8 hours of car travel—until we finally agreed on the perfect site.
Our first day of hiking proved to be a sampler. We tramped around the Zumwalt Meadow before checking out Muir’s Rock. Then we doubled back along the other side of the meadow—and through the forest—to take in Roaring River Falls. I have hiked the loop linking the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite, and this is definitely an easier way to enjoy a similar landscape.
Unfortunately, we faced unseasonably hot temperatures. By the end of the day, lovely though it was, both of us were privately wondering if we should finish up our trip in Sequoia National Park, which we knew was bound to be cooler, as it is several thousand feet higher. And while we had a rigorous 8.5 mile round-trip hike to Mist Falls planned for the next day, an afternoon of splashing in Hume Lake was quickly becoming the more alluring substitute. It was during one of our meandering conversations that we finally confessed these thoughts to each other.
The next morning found us packing in preparation for the big trees, and we did not look back. We enjoyed our afternoon by the lake (thoroughly), and the following day we embarked on a rigorous hike in Redwood Canyon, where we padded through several Sequoia stands (free of fences and plaques) on a trail we shared with few others at the peak of the wildflower season. This setting is roughly 2 ½ hours from Fresno, yet as we walked beneath those towing giants it was impossible to imagine the valley below (wilting in 109 degree heat).