Not all adrenaline-pumping scenic drives are perched perilously the edges of cliffs… some wind their way around deep below, hugging the cliff’s base. Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (aka CA-180) is the only route into the rugged canyon, with its terminus at Road’s End, deep inside Kings Canyon National Park. You’ll pass through groves of massive sequoias and drive along the Wild and Scenic Kings River as you make your way into the heart of the Sierra Nevada wilderness. As you descend into the canyon, there are points when it feels like the walls are closing in.
The drive will take you through Sequoia National Park for a short bit before entering Kings Canyon National Park. You’ll get to experience the best of what Kings Canyon has to offer, taking you right past the General Grant Grove, home to General Grant, the world’s third-largest tree, which is estimated to be about 3,000 years old. You’ll also pass by a trail that will take you to the Boole Tree, the world’s sixth-largest tree, which is still impressively large.
As you drive further into Kings Canyon, you’ll encounter Boyden Cavern, which you can tour for an additional fee. It’s filled with mysterious and strange formations, including the Pancake Room, Mother Nature’s Wedding Cake, soda straws, and the Taco Shells. Anyone else getting hungry?
There are lots of scenic pull-offs and hikes just off the road, so you’ll want to leave lots of time for side trips. One must-see is Roaring Fork Falls, just a 0.3 mile hike from the trailhead. The powerful two-tiered waterfall is quite impressive. There’s also the 1.5 mile loop around Zumwalt Meadow; it’s one of the Cedar Grove area’s most popular day hikes, thanks to its flat trails, alpine greenery, and views of the river and granite walls.
Cedar Grove is pretty close to Road’s End, where the byway stops. CA-180 is a dead-end road, so you’ll have to turn around and head back the way you came (which, given the views, isn’t a bad thing at all.) Spending the night in Cedar Grove is a great option that allows you a little extra time to explore.