Group Camping in Kings Canyon National Park
f your last blissful month of summer calls for watching the sunrise, hiking through the woods, jumping into swimming holes, and stargazing with a big group of your best friends, then look no further than Kings Canyon in the southern Sierras Nevadas of California.
Nestled between Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, Kings Canyon is a land of towering giants — between the granite walls and the deep canyons grow the largest trees in the world. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is a 30-mile road that leads to the heart of the park, snaking along the King River from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove. John Muir called Kings Canyon, “a rival to Yosemite.” The views are just as breathtaking, but without the modern-day crowds.
This past June, I took 14 weekend warriors on a camping trip to Kings Canyon. Sounds like too many people to coordinate? It's not as tough as you think; after all, nothing brings everyone together quite like sitting around a campfire under a canopy of stars.
If you want to take you friends to Kings Canyon this summer, you're in luck — I’ve planned out where to stay, what to do, and how to make the most of your experience (oh, and snacks). So gather your crew and get ready for a weekend adventure to rule them all!
Kings Canyon is divided in two sections: Grant Grove is at the entrance to the park, and Cedar Grove is at the end of the road. The park has three group campgrounds that can be reserved up to one year in advance: Sunset and Crystal Springs at Grant Grove and Canyon View at Cedar Grove. All regular campsites are first come/first serve, so head up early for the weekend.
Redwood groves, meadows, breathtaking vistas, and swimming holes await in the wide expanse of Kings Canyon. Here's how to tackle the park in a single weekend.
After four hours of driving from Los Angeles, we arrived at Crystal Springs Campground near Grant Grove in the afternoon. We built our tent city and settled in for the night with dinner and a warm campfire.
In the morning, we braved the 30-mile drive on Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Cedar Grove, about one hour from Grant Grove. Beginning at the Hotel Creek Trailhead, we hiked the five-mile roundtrip to Cedar Grove Overlook, where a 1,000-foot climb up the steep switchbacks rewarded us with a breathtaking view across the canyon.
After the hike, we took a short drive to Muir Rock, a giant boulder on the King River where naturalist John Muir used to give talks. We took advantage of this popular jumping spot to cool off in the snowmelt swimming hole below.
Back at the campground, we had dinner before heading back out to stargaze at Panoramic Point. The moon was just a sliver, allowing the Milky Way to shine bright across the sky. After snapping some photos, there was nothing to do but lay on the ground and let the magnificent view soak in.
After breakfast, we drove to Grant Grove for one last adventure. The trail begins through the center of a hollow stump and winds through a grove of giant sequoias, the biggest of them General Grant — named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant and coined the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge.
Before the journey home, we met for lunch at Pinehurst Lodge, a great local spot for a burger and a game of pool. Tip: turn left out of the parking lot to drive home, or you’ll find yourself on the longest winding road known to man.
- Prep meals before you leave home. Cooking for a large group is a serious undertaking, especially in the outdoors.
- Most group campsites have a limited number of parking spots, so plan to carpool. Identify overflow parking areas for additional vehicles.
- DO NOT FEED THE BEARS! They are hungry and will rip open your car to get at that Snickers bar you left to melt in your trunk. All scented items, including toothpaste, must be stored in the bear lockers at your campsite. Keep in mind how many ice chests you are bringing, as locker space is limited. Rangers drive around periodically and give citations for items left out.
- If you’re hiking with a group, you will probably end up breaking into smaller groups on the trail. Since there is no service in the park, walkie talkies are a convenient way to stay in touch.
- If you frequent national parks and federal recreational lands, consider investing in an annual pass to save on entrance fees. Fees are charged per vehicle, so it pays to carpool.
BBQ Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
The night before your trip, place chicken breasts (estimate about a half pound per person) in a slow cooker and cover with your favorite BBQ sauce. Heat on the low setting for 8 hours. In the morning, shred chicken with two forks and let cool before sealing in a ziplock bag. Keep cool in the bottom of your ice chest.
When you arrive at camp, reheat the chicken on your camp stove. Serve on hamburger buns with extra sauce, a side of homemade coleslaw, and sliced watermelon for a perfect summer meal. [H]
Alyx is the adventure guide and s'mores connoisseur behind Shoestring Adventures, bringing California weekend warriors into the outdoors.
She enjoys standing on top of mountains and turning strangers into friends over weekend camping trips.
You can follow her adventures on the Shoestring website and Instagram. Better yet, join Alyx on her next trip!
Images: 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 14; Alyx Schwarz. 1-3, 6, 9, 10-12; Cameron Gardner