In case this is my first Kings Canyon post you’re reading, I should start by saying that Kings Canyon is divided into two halves, Cedar Grove and Grant Grove, with a long scenic drive through Sequoia National Forest connecting them.
Cedar Grove is the much bigger half, but it’s also less developed and less accessible. But you have to go in order to have the complete Kings Canyon experience. Each half contains very different features of the park, and it is the combination of both that makes Kings Canyon such a unique park. Grant Grove is full of the enormous sequoias, and Cedar Grove has waterfalls, granite canyons, and rushing rivers.
Here are my top picks for hikes in Cedar Grove:
Roaring River Falls, <0.25 miles
“A very short, shady walk to a powerful waterfall rushing through a granite chute. 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the Village road. Paved, relatively accessible.” (NPS website)
You can’t visit Cedar Grove without stopping at Roaring River Falls. The parking area for this “hike” is right next to the main road, and the trail is very short and easy. It’s so short, there isn’t even mileage listed for it on the park website. You can do it all in less than 10 minutes if you’re pressed for time, but you may find yourself mesmerized by the waterfall and lingering longer than that.
The waterfall itself is just ok. I mean it’s obviously cool, but nothing spectacular. The thing I found most interesting about this waterfall is how turbulent the water at the base is. It was actually a little scary. Definitely no swimming at this one!
Zumwalt Meadow, 1.5 mile loop
“This 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail passes high granite walls, lush meadows, and the Kings River. Trailhead parking is 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of Cedar Grove Village road. Purchase a trail guide at the visitor center. Allow 1 hour. ” (NPS website)
This hike was a lot of fun! It’s mostly flat, and the views change drastically throughout the short 1.5 miles. Zumwalt Meadow provides a good sampling of all the things that make the Cedar Grove half of the park cool, so if you only have half a day to spend there, this is the hike you should do. And if you have more time, then you should still do this hike. It is a very peaceful stroll through breathtaking meadows, forests, and canyons. Super cool.
At one point the trail forks and you have to choose which direction to do the loop. There is no wrong choice; they both circle back to the same place. But I think the progression of sights you see is more impressive when you start on the left fork, heading across the meadow on boardwalks first.
Mist Falls, 9 miles round trip
“This sandy trail follows the glaciated South Fork Canyon through forest and chaparral, past an impressive show of rapids and cascades, to one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The first part of this 8-mile round trip is relatively flat; during the last mile to the falls, the trail gains 600′. The average time for this trip is 4 to 5 hours.” (NPS website)
Ok, the website says it’s 8-miles round trip, but every other map and sign in the park calls it 9. So I’m going with 9 too, cause I say it’s always better to prepare for a longer hike and be surprised if it’s shorter, than to plan for a shorter hike and be stuck out on the trail for longer than planned, for safety reasons.
Despite its length, it’s actually a pretty easy hike and it goes quickly. We finished it faster than the website estimates, and we never felt rushed and took several breaks. I wish we had started it earlier in the day though, cause there were a couple spots that would’ve been PERFECT for swimming, but we didn’t have time. So my recommendation? However long you think you’ll need to do the hike, add an extra hour and bring your swim stuff!
Also, there were more little gnats on this trail than I have ever seen in my whole life. Be prepared, and take whatever you need to repel insects- bug repellent, face shrouds… trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
All of these trails can be done easily in one day. Get an early start though! I would suggest starting with Mist Falls, do some swimming on your way back from the falls, break for lunch, do Zumwalt Meadow, do Roaring River Falls, and of course, stop at all of the scenic viewpoints along the drive! That would be my perfect day in Cedar Grove.
For a complete list of all the hiking trails in Cedar Grove, visit the official park website.