Last year, me, Darren, my brother and sister-in-law started planning an epic camping trip. The lone criteria: It had to be central to both of us, since we’d be heading up from Southern California and they’d be heading down from the Bay Area.
That central point turned out to be Kings Canyon National Park.
My feelings on the place are mixed.
The best part of Kings Canyon is that it’s holy gorgeous. If you choose to drive down into the canyon – and really, please do choose to do that – you’ll be smacked speechless as the road winds and reveals incredible new views. You’ll lean out your car window, searching for the tops of the cliffs. You won’t see them.
Kings Canyon is a much larger canyon than Yosemite, and for that, I think it suffers a little. The scale is so massive that it becomes difficult to comprehend. My camera couldn’t comprehend it, either. The pictures I took were so disappointing. This is a place you see in person, or you don’t see it at all.
Once down in the canyon, there are plenty of spots to stop and dip your toes in the river while you take in the dreamy views. Just… be careful. Don’t drown, okay? That water gets pretty rough in parts.
We arrived at Moraine Campground, and the cracks began to show.
Reading other reviews of Kings Canyon could easily give you the impression that this is some undiscovered, little-known gem. Believe me, people know about it. A lot of people. People with big RVs equipped with generators and large, loud families. It is in no way secluded.
We thought we’d have our pick of sites – in fact, those are the exact words the ranger used when I called to ask what sites and campgrounds they recommended.
Not so much! In every campground, all of the prime, river-side spots were taken. Only dry, scrubby, non-shady dregs were left.
Moraine isn’t all bad:
- The facilities are great. The bathrooms are very nice, with flush toilets, a mirror and a sink. You know, if by some small chance you want to see what you look like after camping for a week. I take after Charles Manson, myself.
- It’s dog friendly. Bring the pups, but keep them leashed up. It’s not only part of the rules, but there be bears here and Fido could become a tasty snack if you’re not careful.
- And we did see a bear! He was a cute, 200-pound dude.
- There’s water.
- You can gather firewood, though by late summer, there’s not a lot left.
What we were not so crazy about:
- Privacy in Moraine Campground is hard to come by. The sites aren’t quite on top of each other, but you’re definitely in full view of your neighbors. However, putting up a canopy or tarp remedies that nicely.
- When you’re camping in the canyon, there is one option for shopping and supplies: Cedar Grove Village. You might be better off just putting your money directly in the fire ring. Firewood here runs $12 a box. Ouch. On the way down into the canyon, you’ll pass a gas station selling firewood for $5 a bundle. That’s your last chance for savings!
- Make sure your car is filled up before you enter the park. Gas inside the park is hard to come by and really expensive, even by today’s standards.
- The flies are relentless. Bring plenty of bug spray.
Would we go back?
Kings Canyon is a beautiful place, as is the neighboring Sequoia National Park (where we have never camped). My recommendation is to make it a day trip. Take the scenic route, see the canyon and the sequoias, stop and take pictures, marvel at how lucky we are to live near such gorgeousness.
Pitch your tent elsewhere.