-> an insider’s etiquette <-
We like National Parks. We like Peter Coyote! Peter Coyote, after all, was nice to E.T. As such, earlier this summer, we visited Kings Canyon National Park (passing through the adjacent Sequoia National to and fro). This was our second trip to Kings, so we paid keen attention to its ins and the outs so in order to provide this helpful guide for your own future trip.
As we made our way from the Los Angeles Basin up (and up, and up) to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which host three separate national parks—Kings, Sequoia, and Yosemite—we started wondering: what’s the absolute very best national park in our great golden state? Of course, anyone can have their own rationale for what they look for in national parks. Here’s ours:
- Hiking (variety/quality of trails)
- Variety( of features, eg wildlife, activities, settings)
- Navigability (getting there/getting around)
- Muir Factor*
To the scoring (1-worst to 5-best):
*Muir Factor: how much the sublimity of the natural world makes you want to slip into rhapsodic Scottish-accented King Jamesian reveries.
- Joshua Tree: you know how everyone says that Joshua Tree is a great place to stargaze? I mean, if the best part of a national park is the sky above….
- Channel Islands is more about the journey, as you boat to one of the several islands off the coast of Ventura; if you’re kayaking while there, so much the better. Yes, there are cool foxes. But really: it’s coastal California minus people (good) and beaches (shrug).
- Death Valley: oh—have you not been to Death Valley? There’s a reason some call it three millions acres of weird.
- Pinnacles: like the eighth coolest part of Death Valley! Without the other seven parts!
- Lassen Volcanic: never been, just made those numbers up. Honestly.
- Sequoia: the most remote part of Sequoia has alpine lakes without a soul in sight—that’s Mineral King, which somehow once was going to be another Disneyland. But it’s a huge pain getting there; the other parts of the park are much easier to access. They’re nice, too: walking through the Giant Forest feels a bit like being in Land of the Lost. Tokopah Falls and Moro Rock are perfect little day hikes. Sequoia is great. Just ask all the tour buses filling the roads.
- Redwood: the trees make day feel like night. You can drive through a tree! Which isn’t really that neat. But as with Sequoia and its sequoias, walking beneath and within a grove of redwoods has a still solemnity that is almost unsettling stirring. High Muir factor.
- Yosemite: amazing! And: packed! And the name changes are a disgrace.
- Which leaves Kings Canyon—the best national park in California.
Why? Hiking of all sorts: family-friendly (General Grant trail, Zumwalt Meadows), more challenging day hikes (Mist Falls, Cedar Grove Overlook), and wilderness adventures you can vanish into (Rae Lakes Loop, Copper Creek Trail). Variety: you can see groves of the biggest trees in the world. You can see literally the second biggest tree in the world. You can see the stumps of the biggest trees in the world post-clear cutting, evidence of the insanity of manifest destiny. You can stay at a rustic lodge (Cedar Grove) or nicer digs (John Muir Lodge); you can camp at campgrounds; you can explore that endless wilderness. The congestion mostly ceases at Grant Grove—before you enter the canyon itself, winding down and around the deepest canyon in the United States, passing waterfall after waterfall—and if you go late spring/early summer, you’ll drive along a river that looks as if it will, at any moment, charge over the road and sweep you away. Fun! While Kings Canyon isn’t as visually commanding as Yosemite, it’s still stupendous, still sublime, and in the best parts, there’s hardly anyone else there.
If you value the solitude of nature as much as the grandeur of it? In California, Kings Canyon, especially Cedar Grove, is the place to go.
Before finally getting into our insider dos and don’ts, remember that it’s important to have a sense of who you are when you visit a national park. A travel guide is basically a simulation that should adapt to who you are—and, as with any good simulation, it’s crucial to know which category you fall into. Review the choices! Choose honestly!
Foreign Idiot version
- Drives terribly.
- Gets tremendously excited about squirrels.
- Ignores paths.
- Stand/walk way too close to strangers.
- “How far is it to Yosemite?”
American Idiot version
- Blares music on trails.
- Drives too fast/too slow.
- Takes lots of selfies.
- Impatient–has to fit it all in TODAY.
Day Hiker version
- Oodles of new REI gear.
- Highly critical of idiot drivers.
- Sticks to detailed to-do list including park highlights, but also easiest recs from Lonely Planet.
- Sleeps in hotels.
- Extremely conscientious re: sunscreen.
- Takes artsy photos.
- Must shower daily.
- Has all the camping gear.
- Buys beer at the market.
- Expert at s’mores.
- Plays guitar badly.
- Smokes a little weed why not?
- Can go three whole days, but no more, without showering.
- What, drive? Walks to park, walks through park.
- Thinks Mt. Whitney is too popular anymore (hateshates Cheryl Strayed).
- Spends all time in wilderness.
- Nature is his/her shower *and* his/her high.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
- over it with this trip my boo insisted on whatevs let’s just get there & park & sip a glass of wine with a view.
… for the Foreign/American Idiot:
|Must Sees:||General Grant Tree|
|Best Place to Eat:||Fresno|
|Best Place to Stay:||nearest Holiday Inn Express|
|Etiquette:||always play music as loud as possible it’s your world|
|Factoid:||“what a wonderful Christmas tree it would be!”|
|Look Out For!||don’t even go, it’s a pain & it basically sux|
… for the Day Hiker:
|Must Sees:||Tokopah Falls (technically Sequoia, whatevs). Kings Canyon overlook.|
|Best Place to Eat:||Sierra Subs and Salads in Three Rivers|
|Best Place to Stay:||John Muir Lodge|
|Etiquette:||when hiking, always yield to uphill traffic|
|Look Out For!||The Midsommary Christian camp at Hume Lake.|
Factoid: Kings Canyon is the USA’s deepest canyon
… for the Faux Outdoorsperson:
|Must Sees:||at Road’s End: Mist Falls Trail. at Cedar Grove: Cedar Grove Overlook Trail|
|Best Place to Eat:||Cedar Grove Grill (get the chicken rice bowl!)|
|Best Place to Stay:||Cedar Grove Lodge campground|
|Etiquette:||Downshift going into/out of Kings Canyon.|
Factoid: pee on rocks – it’s good for pika!
Always Look Out For…
… for the Actual Outdoorsperson:
|Must Sees:||the wilderness|
|Best Place to Eat:||alone, in the middle of nowhere|
|Best Place to Stay:||everywhere you see no one|
|Etiquette:||“leave only footprints”|
|Look Out For!||Other People (aka America’s Worst Idea)|
Hint: Download offline maps!
… for the Reasonable Person:
|Must Sees:||Kings Canyon Overlook|
|Best Place to Eat:||Lukshon|
|Best Place to Stay:||Laguna|
|Etiquette:||half-heartedly offer to take pictures for strangers in need|
|Look Out For!||running out of gasoline|
Factoid: wine tastes better outdoors
And, lastly, a final few bits of advice:
Don’t: assume Kings Canyon squirrels will be smart enough to not get run over.
Do: feel tremendously guilty when you crunch a squirrel under your front right tire.
Don’t: start thinking about the squirrel’s family.
Don’t: do a deep internet drive into squirrel socializing.
Don’t: realize you killed not just one squirrel, but the whole squirrel’s family, since it was almost certainly papa squirrel you’ve killed. Or at the very least you’ve subjected the orphaned baby squirrels to a new and likely abusive alcoholic squirrel stepfather, an a-hole millennial squirrel who doesn’t even gather nuts and instead just hangs around (foreign) tourists, asking for food, eating all of said food, then comes home sugar-high or actually hungover because (American) tourists think getting squirrels drunk is hilarious (it is! it’s also awful, don’t do it) and, feeling poorly, is a total asshole to this new squirrel family and wakes up in the middle of the night to take a piss and goes outside and growls at the stars overhead and thinks, Why me? and Why can’t I be a better squirrel?
Do: three minutes after killing aforementioned squirrel, think, This is great cantaloupe!
(Don’t forget the cantaloupe. Have a great time. Look at this place—it’ll be impossible not to!)