Kings Canyon

Distance: 68 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 7980 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

I’m not a great fan of riding in National Parks.  They’re too crowded, they aren’t bike friendly, and they usually have only one or two paved roads, onto which thousands of cars are funneled and forced to fight for room.  Our Lassen Volcanic NP ride is an exception, made attractive only because almost no one goes there and you can have the road to yourself.  (The Yosemite tour is there because Yosemite is too imposing to ignore.)

Another exception is Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park(s).  They’re two parks, but they’re contiguous, so everyone thinks of them as one.  You often aren’t sure which of the two you’re in.  The riding is excellent and extensive.   While Yosemite offers you two roads and Lassen one, KC/S has no less than ten paved roads, and they’re all well worth riding.  Not a lot of people seem to know this.  In my five days of riding in the two parks, the only person I saw on a bicycle of any sort—road bike, mountain bike, BMX, cruiser—was me.

Of course there is always the traffic problem.  I wouldn’t go near any National Park in high season, and even during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) I adhere strictly to the EMOW rule: ride Early Morning, Only on Weekdays.  I did my KC/S riding in late September, and my EMOW rides saw a car per mile or less.

The ride outlined here is the best of the ten, by a long shot, one of the best rides I know of anywhere and a hands-down Best of the Best ride.     It’s an 8-mile descent into a rock canyon of indescribable grandeur, then an 18-mile meander between towering granite and marble walls and through a beautiful glacial valley along a perfect Sierra stream.  If you ride for the Wow Factor, if you love to be awed, this is the ride for you.  There may be other rides as pretty or as pleasant, but none more mighty and imposing.  Photos can’t do it justice.

I’ve mapped the ride from the obvious starting place, but if you want to get the climbing out of the way first (and I’m with you), drive to Convict Flat Overlook, park, ride back up the hill to the forest line, turn around and descend to your car, then continue on to Road’s End and turn around.

It’s a big ride—69 miles, 8000 ft of gain.  In Shortening the ride I’ll show you ways to cut it down that maintain the grandeur.

Our route starts in Grant Grove Village, one of the two large communities in KC/S.  Ride north on Hwy 180 until it dead-ends at Road’s End 34 miles later, then ride back.


An early glimpse of the canyon—click on photo to see your road in the center of the photo

At first the ride does not impress.  You do 3 miles of up, then 5 miles of down through plain Sierra forest.  The truth is, the forest here is dry, rather bedraggled, and often fire-damaged, compared to KC/S’s other highway to the south, Hwy 198, where the forest is  lusher, the road contour is more varied, and you ride by giant sequoias.  At Mile 6.7 you pass the turn-off to Hume Lake, and at mile 8 you emerge from the trees and see the canyon you are going to ride into, at which point your heart soars like a hawk (or trembles like a leaf, depending on your nature).  Kings Canyon is enormous and mighty—deeper than the Grand Canyon in places—and you’re going to spend the rest of the ride exploring its wonders.

img_9365Drop 8 miles and 2400 ft through a Best-of-the-Best descent.  You’re passing turn-out after turn-out with incredible views, but they’re easier to take in when you’re climbing out at 7 mph.  After you pass the foundations of Kings Canyon Lodge, destroyed in 2015’s devastating Rough Fire, the road takes a right turn and levels out and meanders up and down to Boyden Caverns (closed for years but recently reopened and worth a visit).  The few miles from the leveling-out to just past Boyden are the geologically richest and visually most spectacular miles on the ride—linger and take in your surroundings.  I know of no riding to match it.  Mother Nature has done some of her best rock work here.  Soon the road joins up with the Kings River, a boulder-strewn series of cascades and pools, to add to your pleasure.

img_9794Just past Boyden the nature of the ride changes.  The canyon goes from being water-carved (vertical V-shaped) to glacial (wide, open U-shaped), the river becomes tranquil, and you begin a steady, easy 10-mile climb to Cedar Grove.  The elevation profile makes this look harder than it is—you’ll climb about 1500 ft in 11 miles.  Halfway to Cedar Grove you pass Grizzly Falls (clearly signed), an unpaved 40-ft walk from the road.  Worth seeing.

Best rock anywhere

Amazing rock

One mile before Cedar Grove the road crosses the river on a large bridge and a smaller road, Cedar Grove Road (unsigned), takes off to the L (staying on the north side of the river).  It’s a back door into Cedar Grove, and if you take it (in either direction) it will save you one small but rather steep hill.  My mapping forgot to include it.  At Cedar Grove there’s a snack bar (with board games!), water, good bathrooms, lodging, and all the things  you expect from a National Park complex.  If you’re seriously out of season, check what’s open and what’s shut before you ride, so you don’t get surprised.

Kings River

Kings River

You could turn around at Cedar Grove, of course, but the 6 miles of road remaining offer three rewards.  1. Roaring River Falls, a .2-mile paved walk from the road, is an exquisite little falls into an emerald pool—don’t miss it.  2. Zumwalt Meadow is a classic Sierra meadow with an educational hike around its perimeter.  This takes walking shoes, since you can’t see the meadow from the road or from the parking lot.  3. The last 3 or so miles of the road enter a glacial canyon with towering rock walls surrounding you (very reminiscent of Yosemite and El Capitan).  The tallest of them, to the south of you, is Grand Sentinel.

img_9465The ride back to Boyden Caverns is effortless.  Not so the rest of the ride.  You’re going to climb 3600 ft in 13 miles.  None of it is really steep, and the vast bulk of it is 4-6%, but that’s still a lot.  Mind your water.  There is no water source after Cedar Grove, so if you aren’t going to wear a hydration pack you might think about dropping some water midway on your original descent (this is another argument for starting in the middle and riding up the climb first—you pass your car midway through the ride).  Be sure to stop at every turn-out, wide spot in the road, and overlook to take in the vistas.

The glacial canyon

The glacial canyon

Shortening the ride:   First, cut the first 8 miles.  It isn’t rewarding riding and it adds 1000 ft of climbing.  I drive to where I can see the canyon and start there.  Second, if you aren’t up for a big climb, drive to where the road levels out (past Kings Canyon Lodge) and ride to Road’s End and back—36 gorgeous miles that includes the best of the canyon’s geology.  Total elevation gain 3000 ft.  If you want less, drive to the Convict Flat Overlook, drive the obvious descent that follows, park when it ends, and ride to Road’s End.  That will save you 500 ft.  If you want even less and want to ride only the most spectacular geology, start at the same place and ride to Cedar Grove.

Hangin' at Roaring River Falls

Hangin’ at Roaring River Falls

Adding Miles: Surely you’re done for the day after this ride, but there are lovely rides all around you for other days.  My favorite is Big Meadows Road, 11 miles of pavement before it turns to dirt, with one nice descent and one nice climb, an almost deserted dead-end road used only by hunters and horse packers.  Also very nice is Hume Lake Road/Ten-Mile Road, 14 miles of not-too-steep, more domesticated back road that passes a very pretty lake with an interesting history (it used to be a logging mill pond).  It’s also the only ride in the parks you can do as a loop.  The ride to Panoramic Point is a brisk, sometimes quite steep 2 miles that’s a wonderful little luge run (and the panorama at Panoramic Point is marvelous—expect a short paved hike doable in bike shoes or bare feet).   All the other roads—Mineral King, Crystal Cave, Crescent Meadow, Buckeye Flat, Little Boulder Grove—have their appeal and will reward if you can catch them at a low-traffic time.  Just remember than the highways of KC/S are on a spine, so roads that leave them tend to go down, usually precipitously—then they come back up when you turn around.


Approaching Boyden Caverns

Hwy 198, the major artery southward through Sequoia NP, is a mixed bag.  It’s all very pretty—the best woods in the parks—but it has no shoulder and obviously can be busy.  From the intersection with 180 to Big Meadows Road it’s pleasantly up and down, nice if you can catch it early before the cars are out.  From Big Meadows to Giant Forest the road is more extremely up and down, but still quite rideable.  At Giant Forest the road begins a wonderful 23-mile descent to Three Rivers.  It’s a long climb back, but if you can arrange a shuttle or hitchhike I’m told it’s dreamy.  In the Giant Forest area you do get to ride right by some splendid Giant Sequoias.

See Jeff’s comment below for an excellent survey of rides in the foothills south of the parks.


The name of the park and the canyon is Kings Canyon, not King’s Canyon.  It’s a translation of Canon de los Reyes, “Canyon of the Magi.”

Most of the riding I’ve discussed isn’t actually in the National Parks.  The borders of KC/S are odd, so many of the rides are on roads in the surrounding Giant Sequoia National Monument or Sequoia National Forest.  Only the first 2 and last 7 miles of the Kings Canyon ride is in Kings Canyon National Park—in fact, none of Kings Canyon (the canyon itself) was in the park until recently, when the park was expanded to include the last 7 miles of Hwy 180.

9 thoughts on “Kings Canyon

  1. Patrick

    Another winner from Jay’s Best of the Best list. Looking forward to trying the next one, and thank you again for all the hard work that you’ve put into this site!

    Would definitely recommend cutting out the first eight miles as Jay suggests unless you’re up for a really long day on the bike. They pale in comparison to the rest of the ride.

  2. Danielle

    Fabulous route—thanks so much for the information! My husband and I did a shortened version of the route yesterday, and it was fabulous. Thanks again!

  3. Ken

    I really enjoyed the shortened version of the ride from just past Kings Canyon Lodge to the end of the road. As you note it’s still almost 3000′ of climbing so even though the main climb is eliminated it’s not a flat ride. It is as interesting and gorgeous as you note. I was worried about traffic since I rode in July. My worry was for naught—I would guess only 2 cars per mile passed me going up to the end of the road, and only 2 cars passed me the entire downhill (I went upstream in the morning, downstream in the early afternoon). The only thing thing stopping the downhill from being the best ever was a stiff wind through the canyon on either side of Boyden Caverns. More than once I felt like I was going to be blown into a rock wall or off the edge of the cliff. BTW the Caverns have re-opened — a nice young couple paid for the needed repairs out of their own pocket and now have the permit to run the place. Worth seeing. Thanks again for your great site.

  4. Ian Childs

    This is a magnificent ride. Did it on a Sunday a couple of weeks back and it was very quiet since it was the end of the season. There are plenty of places to park in pull-offs on the way down the main hill so you can tailor the difficulty level–we parked a mile or so up from Kings Canyon Lodge, which was about right for us. Zumwalt Meadows and Roaring River Falls are definitely worth a stop and the ten miles back from Cedar Lodge to Boyden Caverns is a lovely downhill cruise along the river.

    Best ride I’ve ever done. Thanks for the advice, Jay—really appreciate it!

  5. Jeff

    The Generals Highway (Hwy 198) south of the parks is a great ride as long as you get an early start in the summer to avoid both heat and traffic. Heat drives hordes of traffic up into the coolness of the mountains. I have climbed and descended the portion to the Giant Forest many times. The descent is pure “yee haw” for almost 20 miles.

    There are other nice rides in the foothills around Visalia, especially in the spring, but also great alternatives in the winter when the mountain roads are closed. There’s Highway 245—a steady, nicely curving road to go up and down as far as you like. There are several backroads that wind through the foothills with little traffic. The cattle get the best real estate here. Look for Drum Valley Rd (Negro Creek Rd. on Googlemaps), Boyd Drive, Ruth Hill Rd., and others in the area. Another notable mention is Yokohl Valley Rd off the 198. Just look for the skinny roads on the map off highway 245 and 180 if you like lonely roads.

    (Jay’s reply: All of Jeff’s rides are in an area around Hwys 245 and 198 east and northeast of Visalia (or, if you prefer, southeast of Fresno). Google doesn’t recognize either Drum Valley Rd or Negro Creek Rd, so I think Jeff is thinking of Google’s Drive 152. Boyd Drive is just west of Auckland. Ruth Hill Rd. is off Hwy 180. Google doesn’t recognize a Yokohl Valley Rd., so I’m guessing Jeff means Yokohl Drive. Streetview has worked up the area thoroughly so you can get a good idea of what you’re in for. It’s dry country, so spring riding is definitely recommended. Perhaps my favorite fantasy ride in the area is on what begins as George Smith Rd. and becomes, in turn, Ennis, Mistletoe Lane, Mistletoe Rd, Squaw Valley, Pepperweed, Sand Creek, Chuck Wagon, Sundew, and Dunlap. Ten roads in one ride! That intrigues me.)

    1. Nate

      2020/Covid19 Update from 9/6/20 ride (Hume Lake to road’s end and back):

      Cedars Grove is closed for the remainder of the year and can’t be counted on as a spot at which to refill on food/fluids. (I admittedly didn’t attempt to check if the water was left on at any of the facilities.) Best bet for water in the canyon is to bring some water purification tabs. There were numerous calm spots in King River that were nice for cooling off and refilling. Water is pristine Sierra snowmelt. Don’t risk trying to refill at a rocky, steep area—I guarantee there’s a nice spot just up the road from wherever you are in the canyon.

      Boyden Caverns sells cold drinks and a few snacks. Nice shady spot to relax before a long climb.

      The RV park/campground at the site of the old Kings Lodge (6.3 miles west of Boyden Caverns on 180—referred to as “Kings Canyon RV Resort and Campground” on GoogleMaps) is open 7 days a week and has ample cold drinks and lots of beautiful ice which they sell by the 4 lb. bag. Also a couple tables under shade tarps and a spigot.

      Thanks for your amazing site. It’s been an incredible resource for me as a relatively new cyclist. Cheers and happy riding!

  6. Lionel

    I am just back from riding King’s Canyon. The road was closed at Hume Junction gate. I kept riding. The road was in very good condition except some car-size boulders and branches. I had a fantastic ride—zero cars. The last 4-5 miles were snowed in. Fantastic ride.

    Thanks for putting this up—I’ll move on to the next one on your list!

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      As I’ve said, it’s always worthwhile to ride past a closed gate and see for yourself what the road is like. King’s Canyon is always closed in winter—the amount of snow on the road is, of course, dependent on the weather. One would also want to be extremely cautious about riding the big descent into King’s Canyon if there was any possibility of ice. The Hume Junction gate is at the meeting of Hume Lake Rd. and Hwy 180.


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