How To Spend A Weekend in Kings Canyon National Park

So by now you have already seen all my posts about Kings Canyon, breaking down each part into pieces and offering up specific details. And if you haven’t, you should, cause they’re awesome ;-). You know which trails to do and where to camp, but how do you put it all together?

Of course there are hundreds of ways to see Kings Canyon, and tons more to do than we saw on our trip there. So go wild and create your perfect itinerary! But if you need some inspiration, here is a sample itinerary of what I believe to be the best things to do in Kings Canyon, fit into an extended weekend trip.

This is how we did it:

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Day 1:

  • Arrive in the Grant Grove section of the park just after lunch.
  • Check out the visitor center in Grant Grove to pick up maps, souvenirs, and ask the rangers any questions you may have. And definitely check out all the exhibits while you’re there.
  • Visit the General Grant Tree and walk the loop trail
  • Hike the North Grove Loop.
  • Head to wherever you are staying for the night and enjoy a relaxing evening.

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Day 2:


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Day 3:

  • Have a leisurely morning at camp – there is no need to rush today. Maybe brew some camp coffee using the GSI percolator.
  • Hike the Buena Vista Peak Trail.
  • Check out any scenic overlooks in the Grant Grove area that you haven’t seen yet.
  • Drive to Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day hanging out at the lake! Rent boats or mountain bikes, check out some of the hiking trails, dip your feet in the water, lay out and read a book…Taking time to just relax on vacations is important too!
  • While you’re there, treat yourself to some ice cream!
  • Return to your lodgings and have a chill night around the campfire.

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Day 4:

  • This is your last morning in Kings Canyon…make an awesome breakfast and take advantage of those last few hours in the campground.
  • If you have any last things you wanted to see or do in Kings Canyon, now is the time.
  • Pack up camp and return to civilization.

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And there you have it- 4ish days of adventuring and relaxing. If you want more detailed descriptions of all the awesomeness in Kings Canyon, check out all my other posts! And if you want even more specifics, visit the official park website!

And as always, if you have any questions or want extra itinerary help, drop me a line! Info is on the Contact page.


 

 

 

Kings Canyon National Park: Tips and Packing List

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“In the vast Sierra wilderness, far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is yet a grander valley of the same kind. It is situated on the south fork of the Kings River, above the most extensive groves and forests of the giant sequoia, and beneath the shadows of the highest mountains in the range, where canyons are the deepest and the snow-laden peaks are crowded most closely together.”

           – John Muir, 1891

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Kings Canyon is a national park that is often overlooked in favor of its more popular neighbor, Sequoia. Anyone who does that is really missing out though. Kings Canyon is a beautiful park full of amazing sights and natural wonders. Deep valleys with granite walls, towering sequoias, and a powerful roaring river running through it….there’s no doubt, Kings Canyon is an awe-inspiring park for sure.

The crowds can get intense though, and the weather can present some challenges. So here are my tips on what to do and what to pack in order to get the most out of your visit:

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Useful Tips

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  • Make sure to allow some time to explore the national forest area in between the two halves of Kings Canyon. There’s a lot of great hiking options there, plus a lake where you can rent boats!
  • The park is divided into two halves, Cedar Grove and Grant Grove. Make sure to visit both, and allow plenty of time to drive between the two (it’s a fairly long mountain road… roughly an hour or two).
  • Pack a swim suit! There are several points along the river that are safe for swimming, plus tons of surrounding lakes throughout the national forest.

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  • But stay out of the river in faster moving areas. The current is swift and deadly, and can be nearly impossible to get out of (seriously…people drown here every year). Enter the river only where it is mostly calm and shallow! Like in the above picture. Avoid areas like the picture below:

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Just kidding… obviously no one is dumb enough to swim in that. But for reals, don’t go in any of the rapids.

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  • Pack plenty of insect repellent and citronella candles (for back at camp). Where there is water, there are bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Tiny little gnats that constantly swarm your face and get in your eyes. Repellent and candles won’t make them completely go away, but they sure help!
  • Dress in layers. The temperature can vary greatly depending on where you are in the park and the time of day. Jackets are a must! But so are tank tops.

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  • Bring everything you think you’ll need. There is a small general store at Grant Grove, but it is a long drive to the closest town. So if the general store is closed for the night or they don’t have what you need, you are shit out of luck.

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Weather

Historic Average Temperatures
Giant Forest, Lodgepole, and Grant Grove
Average high Average low Extreme high Extreme low
Jan 42°F
6°C
24°F
-4°C
68°F
20°C
-6°F
-21°C
Feb 44°F
7°C
25°F
-4°C
70°F
21°C
-4°F
-21°C
Mar 46°F
8°C
26°F
-3°C
76°F
24°C
0°F
18°C
Apr 51°F
11°C
30°F
-1°C
77°F
25°C
8°F
-13°C
May 58°F
14°C
36°F
2°C
83°F
28°C
13°F
-11°C
Jun 68°F
20°C
44°F
7°C
91°F
33°C
22°F
-6°C
Jul 76°F
24°C
51°F
11°C
92°F
33°C
34°F
1°C
Aug 76°F
24°C
50°F
10°C
94°F
34°C
28°F
-2°C
Sep 71°F
22°C
45°F
7°C
90°F
32°C
23°F
-5°C
Oct 61°F
16°C
38°F
3°C
82°F
28°C
11°F
-12°C
Nov 50°F
10°C
31°F
-1°C
96°F
36°C
4°F
-20°C
Dec 44°F
7°C
27°F
-3°C
73°F
23°C
-4°F
-20°C

*** Cedar Grove is closed in the winter due to frequent rock falls ***

(Info obtained from the NPS website)

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Packing List

  • GSI Percolator. No camp breakfast is complete without a fresh cup of coffee brewed over a campfire. This 12-cup percolator from GSI is one of my favorite things in the whole world. It’s tough enough to withstand direct heat from the fire, and it brews a great pot of coffee every time. It’s a camping must-have!

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GSI Percolator

  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent. There are seriously more bugs in this park than I can handle, especially on the Mist Falls trail. This is a great natural insect repellent to help protect you from all those nasty diseases bugs carry, and also just to help keep them out of your face while you’re trying to hike. 

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Repel

  • Aleader Water Shoes. River rocks can get really slippery, plus there’s all sorts of gunk in the riverbeds. Water shoes are a great option to make playing in the river safer and easier! These ones dry fast, have good traction, and provide plenty of cushioning for your feets. Plus they are available in 15 different colors!

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Aleader

 
  • Roxy Beanie. The temperatures can vary quite a bit here, with cold nights and mornings and warm afternoons. I always like to pack a beanie to keep my head warm during those colder hours. I love this fleece-lined beanie from Roxy! Stylish and super warm. But if this one isn’t your jam, there are tons of other Roxy beanie options out there!

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ROXY

  • Coleman Cool Weather Sleeping Bag. Having a sleeping bag to keep you warm during those cold nights is an essential. You don’t need to buy one of those expensive ones from REI though in order to stay warm! This one from Coleman is made for temperatures as low as 30°F, and is only around $30. Who says outdoors gear has to be pricey? And if you’re in the market for a bag with different temperature ratings or different features, they have plenty more to choose from.

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Coleman

  • Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven. When it comes to cooking over a campfire, cast iron is the way to go! I love the 12″ oven, because it is so versatile. Soups, stews, cobblers, meats, veggies… you name it, it can be cooked in this oven. You can even flip the lid over to use as a griddle! Meaning less dishes for you to pack.

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Lodge Dutch Oven

  • Burt’s Bees cosmetics and personal care items.  Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to let your beauty routines slide. Pack items that travel easily and multitask, such as these makeup removal wipes and BB cream with SPF from Burt’s Bees. Made with responsibly sourced, 99% natural ingredients and no animal testing, this is a company who’s products you can feel good about using out in nature!
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Burt’s Bees


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So there you have it! Really the only thing you need in order to enjoy your visit is a little bit of advance preparation. This is an easy park to visit, and you don’t need much to have a good time here and experience all the best things to see and do. So get out there and see Kings Canyon!

And be sure to check out all my other posts on Kings Canyon for ideas on what to see and do during your visit!

For additional information on Kings Canyon National Park, visit the official park website.

Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in Grant Grove, though many of the facilities have shorter hours during the winter season. Cedar Grove is closed for the winter.

Entrance fee is $30 per vehicle.


 

 

Beer S’mores: Stout Chocolate Bars and Belgian Ale Marshmallows

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I want to start out by saying my photos suck for this recipe. The food got mangy by the time it was ready to be photographed (explanation to come), and it was REALLY dark in our campground. And since food photographs best with natural light, well, you can see how that would present a problem. I got this recipe from The Beeroness, so you should really check out her website to see how this treat is SUPPOSED to look (link to original recipe is at the end of this post).

I’ve always wanted to be an amazing cook who prepares incredible meals for Robbie and me, but in all honesty, I’m just not there yet. Everything I make comes out a little wonky. Though he sweetly tells me everything I make is good. Liar- I know it sucks. But that’s why I need to keep practicing! So I’m gonna keep trying out new recipes and posting my favorites on here, complete with tips on how to do it better than I did haha.

And then one day, I’ll finally gain the skills to create my own recipes.

So these s’mores… I found this recipe on Pinterest from The Beeroness and thought it would be something fun to try for our camping trip to Great Basin. Huge shout out to my friends for always letting me use them as guinea pigs!

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Beer S’Mores: Stout Chocolate Bar and Belgian Ale Marshmallows

AUTHOR: Jackie Dodd | COOK TIME: Roughly 30 min active, 2 hrs inactive

INGREDIENTS

For the Marshmallows:
  • Powdered sugar
  • 3 ½ envelopes unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
  • 1 cup beer (flat and cold – I used New Belgium Fat Tire)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
For the Chocolate Bars:
  • 10 (wt oz) dark chocolate (62% cacao)
  • 1/3 cup stout beer (I used Garage Brewing Co Marshmallow Milk Stout)
For the S’mores:
  • 18 graham crackers

INSTRUCTIONS

Make the marshmallows:
  1. Grease a 9×13 baking pan, sprinkle with powdered sugar until well coated, set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer add ½ cup cold flat beer. Sprinkle with gelatin. Allow to stand while the sugar is being prepared.
  3. In a large saucepan (mixture will bubble up considerably) over medium heat, add the remaining ½ cup beer, sugar and corn syrup. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Raise heat to high and allow to boil until the mixture reads 240°F on a candy thermometer (about 6-8 minutes).
  5. Once the temperature has been reached, turn off heat.
  6. Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin. Once all the sugar has been added turn the mixer on high until light and fluffy and tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.
  7. While the mixer is running, prepare the egg whites. Add the egg whites to a bowl with the salt. Beat on high with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form.
  8. Gently fold the egg whites and vanilla extract into the stand mixer ingredients until just combined.
  9. Pour the marshmallows into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Allow to set at room temperature until set, about 2 hours. Remove from pan, cut into squares.
Make the chocolate bars:
  1. In the top of a double boiler add the chocolate and beer. Stir until the chocolate has melted and combined with the beer. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Pour the chocolate into the prepared pan in an even layer. Chill until set, about 20 minutes. Cut into 9 squares. Can be made four days ahead of time.
Make the s’mores:
  1. Brulé the marshmallows (or roast over a campfire!) and sandwich one square of chocolate and one bruléed marshmallow between two graham crackers.

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The flavors of these s’mores came out awesome! I was particularly stoked on the marshmallows. I’ve never made homemade marshmallows before, so I was excited to see them actually work! That being said, they don’t seem to hold up as well as their store-bought, preservative-laden counterparts. They melted while sitting in a hot car during the drive from home in LA to Great Basin in Nevada, and turned into a bit of a disaster. We tossed them in the ice chest and they kinda firmed up again (at least enough to throw on a skewer to roast over a campfire!), but they were sticky and not as pretty as when they started. So don’t judge the photos too much…transporting food for camping during road trips is hard!

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Recipe by The Beeroness. Check out her website for more great recipes! And also prettier pictures of these s’mores lol.

Recipe by The Beeroness; all thoughts and photos are my own.

 

 

Where to Camp in Kings Canyon National Park (Sort of)

I don’t know how it works in national parks (or state parks for that matter) in other states, but here in California, good luck getting a campsite on a holiday weekend. You have to be waiting on your computer the very first day reservations become available for your desired dates, and then attempt to reserve your site the very moment the link goes live. Sorta like trying to register for classes back in college. And even then you still might not be successful.

On the one hand it’s awesome so many people want to visit and support our parks, but on the other, it sure makes life difficult.

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By the time we decided to make this Kings Canyon trip happen, that narrow window to book a site within the park had long since come and gone. Everything within the park was already booked, and all the sites in Sequoia were gone too. However, the park is surrounded by Sequoia National Forest, and it has tons of campgrounds of its own. We were lucky and found a spot at Big Meadow Campground, which is only a 20 minute drive from Grant Grove.

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The campground ended up being pretty cool. Lots and lots of space, plus less rules and regulations than the campgrounds inside the park. They actually allowed firewood gathering!

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It came with a picnic table and fire ring, plus a bear locker to store your scented stuff (this park is probably one of the most bear infested parks in the whole country). Tons of room for tents, easy access to bathrooms (pit toilets), and firewood sold onsite by the campground host.

There is no running water though, which isn’t a big deal to me, but is something to keep in mind.

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Gathering firewood, just because we can.

Despite its more primitive nature, this campground was really pleasant and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. I would definitely recommend this spot to others.

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To check out all of the available camping options in and around Kings Canyon, visit the park website.

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To check for available sites in any of the campgrounds and to make a reservation, click here.

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Two of the best scents in the world: coffee and bacon!

All the spots in Kings Canyon full? Click here to looks for availability in the national forest, near Hume Lake (which is what we did).

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And if you want to check out Big Meadow campground specifically cause it’s awesome, click here to make reservations.

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There is no shortage of campgrounds and lodging options near Kings Canyon, and even plenty of first come, first served sites available in case you couldn’t get a reservation. And the national forest area even allows people to set up camp outside of designated campgrounds (we saw tons of tents practically right next to the highway). So no matter what, you will be able to find a place to stay. But the longer you wait to get a spot, the worse your options become.

I mean, who wants to camp next to a highway? That just feels like tempting fate. Definitely not as fab as our spacious and secluded campground. So plan ahead and make those reservations folks!


 

 

Kings Canyon: Hiking in Cedar Grove

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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:

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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)

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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!

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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)

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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.

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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)

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This looked like a perfect spot to swim. The water was so calm and clear!

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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.

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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.

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For a complete list of all the hiking trails in Cedar Grove, visit the official park website.


 

 

Kings Canyon: Hiking in Grant Grove

So as I mentioned in my Scenic Drive Through Kings Canyon post, the park is split into two sections, with a big stretch of national forest dividing them. Grant Grove is the considerably smaller of the two, and also the more easily accessible and more frequented. But don’t let its smaller size fool you; some of the coolest sights in the parks can be found here, like forests full of majestic sequoias, the largest trees in the world.

Here is a list of what I consider to be the best things to see and do in Grant Grove:

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General Grant Tree Trail, 1 mile loop

“One of the world’s largest living trees. President Coolidge proclaimed it the Nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. Visit the historic Gamlin Cabin and the Fallen Monarch along this 1/3 mile (.5 km) paved trail. North and west of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center.” (NPS website)

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If you are looking for the most iconic or most popular sight in the park, this is it. This trail is unbelievably crowded, complete with giant tour buses and all, but the General Grant Tree itself does not disappoint. It is GIGANTIC, and beyond impressive to see. And incredibly difficult to photograph. There is no good way to capture the enormousness of these trees on camera… you just have to see it. It’s an easy loop, with lots of spur trail options to add on to your hike if you feel like doing more exploring. Despite the crowds, it’s definitely worth a stop.

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North Grove Loop, 1.5 mile loop

“This lightly traveled, 1 1/2 mile trail provides an opportunity for a close look at the big trees. Enjoy a quiet walk past meadows and creeks, through mixed conifer and sequoia forest. The trailhead is at the Grant Tree parking area.” (NPS website)

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The North Grove Loop starts in the same parking lot as the General Grant Tree Loop, so if you have an extra hour or so and want to see more trees, this is a good choice. It is much more secluded than the General Grant Loop and is a great place for a quiet walk through the forest. The views aren’t that spectacular though, so I wouldn’t go out of your way to do this one. This hike is perfect though if you have spare time and want to seek some peace and quiet. Maybe some woodland meditation or yoga?

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Buena Vista Peak, 2 miles round trip

“The 2 mile round-trip hike up this granite peak begins just south of the Kings Canyon Overlook on the Generals Highway, 6 miles southeast of Grant Grove. From the top of Buena Vista Peak, a 360-degree view looks out over the majestic sequoias in Redwood Canyon, Buck Rock Fire Tower, and beyond to a splendid panorama of the high Sierra.” (NPS website)

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Ok, this was easily the best hike in the Grant Grove area. I love hikes that pack a lot of bang for your buck, and this was definitely one of those hikes. Only 2-miles round trip, but look at those views!!! Pro tip: skip the King Canyon Overlook and just do this hike instead. The views are 100 million times better.

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And all of these hikes can be done in half a day, leaving plenty of time for other adventuring!

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For a full list of hikes in the Grant Grove area, visit the Kings Canyon official website!


 

 

A Scenic Drive Through Kings Canyon

I’m ashamed to admit that this was my first visit to Kings Canyon. I’ve lived in southern CA for 30 years (aka my whole life), just a few short hours from this extremely underrated national park. I mean, it doesn’t even get it’s own website or merch, being lumped together with Sequoia National Park.

Ok, in fairness, the two parks are literally right next to each other. If you think of the protected land as a giant “U”, Kings Canyon is the tip of each side of the “U” and Sequoia is the rounded bottom half, with the space in the middle being filled with national forest lands. It’s sorta a weird setup, so you can see why they all often get treated as one.

Anyways, to get from one half of Kings Canyon to the other you have to pass through Sequoia National Forest via a long, winding mountain road that takes an hour or so. Bummer for those prone to carsickness (like me, bleh), but awesome for the views along the way! There are several overlooks worth stopping at, and even an amazing waterfall right next to the road!

So here are my photos from the drive between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, the two halves of Kings Canyon. These stops aren’t listed on the park maps or website, since they aren’t technically in the park, so just keep your eyes peeled as you drive!

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Leaving Grant Grove

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Grizzly Falls, basically right next to the road

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Sunset back at Grant Grove again

The national forest is full of awesome things to see and do and is easy to overlook when jumping around between the national parks. We didn’t even think to spend a day or so just in the national forest part, and I really regret that. But at least we were able to check out some of its awesome scenic viewpoints! And now I have a reason to go back someday.

Chili Brown Sugar Campfire Beer Can Chicken

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I love camping, as I’m sure anyone who reads this blog knows. Tents, no TV, campfires, actually being able to see stars…ahhh. My friends and I always take at least one camping trip a year (a tradition for the past 10 years), and over time, I have become the designated camp chef. Of course we always have to have a hot dogs night, but this time, I wanted to step up my game. I found this recipe on The Beeroness and was immediately intrigued. Her recipe uses an oven, but what can be made in an oven can surely be done over a fire too, right? Plus I knew the photos of this would be ridiculous, and that is reason enough for me to do anything.

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Teamwork… my hands were covered in raw chicken, so I enlisted a beer-drinking helper

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CHILI BROWN SUGAR CAMPFIRE BEER CAN CHICKEN

AUTHOR: Jackie Dodd | PREP TIME: 15 min | COOK TIME: At least a couple hours (mine took 3hrs)

INGREDIENTS

  • Whole roasting chicken
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 can of beer (I used Fosters)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Remove the giblets and rinse the chicken inside and out. Dry very well with paper towels until all the moisture is gone.
  2. Sprinkle the inside cavity with 1 tablespoon salt.
  3. In a small bowl stir together the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, chili powder, onion powder and baking powder (this will help crisp the skin). *TIP: I mixed the spices at home and brought them ready to go in a ziplock bag so I wouldn’t have to pack all the spice containers*
  4. Rub the outside of the chicken with the spice mixture.
  5. Pour about ¼ of a cup of beer out of the can (or drink it). Place the can on a flat surface.
  6. Lower the chicken down onto the can until the can is well inside the chicken cavity. Set the chicken and can upright (use the two legs and the can to create a tripod) on a grill over the campfire. Roast until temperature reads 165° F on a meat thermometer, rotating (carefully!) as needed to ensure even cooking.

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The seasoning rub was Ah-MAZE-ing!!! And the chicken came out so incredibly moist. I had four very happy friends after dinner that night. On the downside, it took forever to cook. So give yourself plenty of time for this one (if you are using a campfire). Campfire cooking can be so tricky.

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Recipe obtained from The Beeroness. Check out her website for more awesome recipes!

Photos and thoughts are my own; recipe by The Beeroness.

Badlands National Park: Tips and Packing List

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Called “Mako Sica” (“land bad”) by the Lakota, and “les mauvaises terres à traverser” (“bad lands to travel across”) by early French trappers, Badlands National Park has long been known to be a harsh and inhospitable environment. The parks 244,000 acres of land contain sharply eroded buttes, colorful spires and pinnacles, deep gorges, and sprawling prairies. Harsh winds ravage the land, and thunderstorms, lightning, and tornadoes pose a constant threat. There are few trees in the park, and average temperatures in the summer can reach near 100°F, and drop as low as 30°F in the winter. If you are looking to find one of the most desolate and unforgiving landscapes in America, this is it.

However with that ruggedness comes exceptional beauty, and visitors get to experience the same untamed wilderness that early explorers encountered. But thanks to the National Park Service, we can see it safely. And with a little planning and preparation, your visit to Badlands can be smooth and easy! I have prepared this guide to help you in your endeavors. From useful tips, sample itineraries, to a packing list, here is everything you need to know before heading to Badlands National Park!

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • There are really fun tourist things located outside of the park at both entrances that should be included in any Badlands itinerary. Be sure to check out Wall Drug and Ranch Store.
  • In 2-3 days, you can see pretty much everything in the entire developed section of the park. Keep reading for a sample itinerary!
  • The weather varies a lot month to month (and even hour by hour!). Here is a chart to help you choose what month to plan your visit:

Badlands Weather Averages

Month Temperatures (F°)

Highs/Lows

Precipitation (inches)
January 34 11 0.29
February 40 16 0.48
March 48 24 0.90
April 62 36 1.83
May 72 46 2.75
June 83 56 3.12
July 92 62 1.94
August 91 61 1.45
September 81 51 1.23
October 68 39 0.90
November 50 26 0.41
December 39 17 0.30

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STAY SAFE:

  • Be respectful of wildlife. After all, the wildlife is indeed wild, making them unpredictable. Admire them from a distance, especially bison.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes. These guys seek shade during the hot day and will hide in places like under boardwalks and stairs, and within tall grass. Do not stick your hand (or any other body part) in places you can’t see (like crevices, overhangs, in holes, under plants, etc). At night they seek warmth on paved roads, so carry a light and watch your step. Keep your ears open for their warning rattle, and if you encounter one, back away slowly.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes (hiking boots are best). This will help protect your feet from cactus spines, accidental steps on rattlesnakes or spiders, and will help prevent you from slipping when walking on the rugged, unstable terrain.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help prevent heat exhaustion.
  • Use plenty of sunblock. There really aren’t any trees or shade in this park, and that sun is brutal.
  • Start your hikes early in the day to avoid the risk of heat exhaustion. Here is my blog post on preventing and dealing with heat exhaustion.
  • Don’t rely on your cellphones for anything. Reception is pretty awful in the park. Use park maps, bring a portable GPS system, and above all else, STAY ON THE TRAILS!!
  • Be prepared for sudden and extreme changes in the weather. The day could start hot and sunny, but quickly turn into wind or thunderstorms. Even tornadoes are a possibility. Check daily weather forecasts, dress in layers, and carry a rain poncho. If you hear lightning, seek shelter and avoid trees, high places, and dry washes that can quickly fill with water.

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SAMPLE ITINERARY:

Here’s how we did Badlands. Was it the best possible itinerary? Kinda yes, kinda no. But it did allow us to see everything we wanted to see. Our itinerary included two nights in the park, one full day, and two half days.

Day 1:

-Arrive in the late afternoon.

-Stop at the Visitor Center to obtain information and souvenirs.

-Check in to Cedar Pass Campground and set up tent. Click here for information on camping and lodging options in Badlands.

-Hike: Window Trail, 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. This short trail leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of an intricately eroded canyon. Please stay on the trail (NPS website).


Day 2:

-Hike: Cliff Shelf, 0.5 miles/0.8 km (round trip)
Moderate. This loop trail follows boardwalks and climbs stairs through a juniperforest perched along the Badlands Wall. A small pond occasionally exists in the area and draws wildlife, such as deer or bighorn sheep. Climbs approximately 200 feet in elevation. Please stay on the trail (NPS website).

-Hike: Notch Trail, 1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip) – My favorite hike!!
Moderate to strenuous. After meandering through a canyon, this trail climbs a log ladder and follows a ledge to “the Notch” for a dramatic view of the White River Valley. Trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. Watch for drop-offs. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Treacherous during or after heavy rains (NPS website).

-Hike: Door Trail, 0.75 miles/1.2 km (round trip)
Easy. An accessible ¼ mile boardwalk leads through a break in the Badlands Wall known as “the Door” and to a view of the Badlands. From there, the maintained trail ends. Travel beyond this point is at your own risk. Watch for drop-offs (NPS website).

-Lunch Break.

-Hike: Castle Trail, 10 miles/16 km (round trip)
Moderate. The longest trail in the park begins at the Door and Window parking area and travels five miles one way to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Relatively level, the path passes along some badlands formations (NPS website).

*This was our itinerary fail. You should never start your longest hike of the day in the middle of the afternoon, especially in hot weather. I ended up getting heat exhaustion and we were unable to finish the trail. My friend and I had to take the Saddle Pass Trail to get me back to the road faster. That trail doesn’t need to be on any itinerary, unless you are looking for a way to cut the Castle Trail short*

-Return to Visitor Center to cool off with a popsicle from the general store.


Day 3:

-Tear down camp.

-Hike: Fossil Exhibit Trail, 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. Fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed the area (NPS website).

-Stop at every viewpoint on the scenic drive on our way out of the park.


The only trail we didn’t have time to add in was the Medicine Root Loop, which is a moderate 4 miles round trip. An additional half day in the park would’ve allowed plenty of time for this trail. Two full days and one half day would be a perfect amount of time for everything. Three days is the most I would recommend staying in Badlands. If you only have one day to spend there, cut the Castle Trail/Saddle Pass from the itinerary, and don’t add in Medicine Root Loop.

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PACKING LIST:

  • Propane Stove. There are no open fires permitted in Badlands due to extreme fire danger, so propane stoves are a must when cooking. Wind shields, like on this one by Coleman, are VERY useful in this park. This is the stove I use, and it’s awesome. It has two burners, each with their own temperature controls, and it can fit two pans at the same time, which is great for cooking for groups like I do.

Coleman Classic Propane Stove

 

  • First Aid Kit. You never know what can happen out there, and this park has more than its fair share of things that can take you down. So it’s always good to be prepared! This kit has 275 useful, hospital grade medical supplies to get you through any situation. And it’s nice and compact, measuring only 12″w x 8.5″w x 4″d. For this particular park, having a snake bite kit on hand couldn’t hurt either.

    Thrive Brand First Aid Kit

 

  • Bandannas. If you read my post on surviving heat exhaustion, you already know that bandannas are a useful tool to help cool you off if you start overheating. Wide brimmed hats are also great to help keep the sun off of your face and shoulders. Gotta be prepared for that hot weather!

    Levi

     

    Quicksilver

 

  • Electrolyte Powder. When the temperatures get this high, you need a little extra boost to help keep you hydrated. This electrolyte powder can easily be mixed into your water, so it’s great to have on hand for when you are feeling a little drained or weak.

    Gatorade

 

  • Dome Tents. It gets crazy windy in Badlands, so a dome tent is more stable than a huge walled-tent with standard poles. The straight sides of those tents basically act like sails and catch the wind, whereas the wind blows right over the dome tents. Our big tent ended up collapsing from the wind, and worrying about it happening again lead to very sleepless nights.

    Coleman Sundome 4 Person Tent

  • Hydration Daypacks. Another easy way to make sure you keep drinking water? Have it strapped on your back with a convenient drinking hose right next to your face. When it comes to backpacks, I always turn to Osprey. These are some great options:
  • Osprey Syncro 3 Hydration Pack

     

    Osprey Packs Raptor 14 Hydration Pack

     

    Osprey Packs Women’s Verve 3 Hydration Pack

     

  • Portable GPS System. As mentioned earlier, cellphone reception sucks in Badlands (as it does in most national parks), so you can’t rely on it as your navigation system. If you follow park maps and stay on designated roads and trails, you probably won’t need any sort of additional navigation. The signs are pretty easy to follow. But if you enter the backcountry, you’ll definitely want a portable GPS system as a backup plan should things go wrong. Hell, they are always handy to have as a backup plan, even just to keep in your car for emergencies. This one is powered with AA batteries and lasts up to 20hrs. And it’s waterproof too.

    Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

 

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USEFUL INFO (OBTAINED FROM NPS WEBSITE):

Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Entrance fees are collected year round. The park is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Visitor Center

Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Hours of Operation – Mountain Time Zone
8am – 4pm (Winter Hours)
8am – 5pm (April & May)
7am – 7pm (Summer Hours)
8am – 5pm (early September to late October)

CLOSED on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day

Phone

(605) 433-5361

Location

Cedar Pass “Badlands Loop Road” Hwy 240

Nearby Facilities

Cedar Pass Lodge, Badlands Inn and Campground, operated by Forever Resorts, an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service, is only open during the summer season. The Lodge offers rental cabins, a gift shop, and full-service restaurant.
Call (877) 386-4383 for reservations.


Entrance Fees

Private Vehicle: $20 – Valid for 7 days

Motorcycle: $10 – Valid for 7 days

Individual (hike, bicycle, etc…): $10 per person 16 and older – Valid for 7 days

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For additional information, visit the Badlands National Park website.


 

Natural Hot Springs: How-to Guide and Packing List

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Visiting natural hot springs is awesome. Being able to relax in a natural hot tub after a long day of hiking is a perfect way to soothe sore muscles and remove the stress of regular life. Plus all the minerals in the water are amazing for your skin!

While once hidden gems and known to insiders only, travel sites and social media have made natural hot springs easier to find than ever. With that comes some pros and cons. So to help you get the most out of your visit and leave the hot spring feeling relaxed instead of annoyed, I have put together this guide including what to expect, safety tips, and some packing suggestions. So read on to learn anything you could possibly want to know about visiting natural hot springs!

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WHAT TO EXPECT:

  • A strong possibility of nudity, especially in the hot springs not run by any establishments (such as Sykes hot springs in Big Sur). So think twice before bringing youngins if you don’t want them to see boobies running wild and free. And exercise that same caution if you are also offended by nudity. If that is your case, then stick with commercialized hot springs (such as Tabacon hot springs in Costa Rica).
  • Big crowds. If you have dreams of a personal natural hot tub out in the wilderness, keep on dreaming. Cause that’s not gonna happen. Try adding a handful of strangers into the pool, plus some more standing around waiting their turn to use it. Time to get social!

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SAFETY TIPS:

  • Stay hydrated. The heat of the water causes you to sweat more, resulting in a higher than usual loss of the water in your body. Drinking lots of water will help combat the rapid water depletion and will also help keep you cool while in the hot water. Becoming dehydrated can lead to dizziness or make you feel lightheaded, which is no good on slippery surfaces.
  • Don’t stay in the water too long. Body heat is released through your skin, which is how your body temperature stays regulated. When submerged in water, the heat remains trapped in your body, causing you to overheat (yes, heat exhaustion can happen in the water too, which you can read about here). In addition, the hot water allows your skin to dilate (which is why it’s so awesome for cleansing your skin of toxins and impurities) resulting in heat escaping from your body too rapidly after exiting the hot spring. Which isn’t a problem in fair temperatures, but is something to keep in mind when using those hot springs in cold weather. The extreme temperature difference can lead to hypothermia.
  • Avoid consuming too much alcohol or drugs. The effects they have on your blood pressure and heart activity are multiplied by the hot water temperature. They can cause dizziness and balance problems, which can be dangerous on already slippery surfaces. Drugs and alcohol also mess with your ability to react, so if the water is getting too hot for your body, or you pass out from heat or intoxication, you’ll be less capable of fixing the situation. It can even lead to accidental drowning.
  • Don’t put your head under water!!! While not terribly common, every year a few Americans die suddenly after being infected by a brain-eating amoeba. These microscopic amoebas can be found in any body of fresh water that is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter (they can’t survive in salt water), such as lakes, slow moving rivers, untreated swimming pools, and hot springs. While most common in Florida and Texas, they can live in any warm climates around the globe. The only way this brain-eating amoeba can enter your body is through the nose, which is why keeping your head above water will keep you safe.

    It usually takes 2-15 days for symptoms to begin after being infected by the amoeba. Death occurs within a week from symptom onset. Symptoms feel similar to having a regular cold or flu, such as headaches, fever, a stiff neck, and vomiting, eventually growing more serious such as seizures or comas. There is no cure. The amoeba just eats away your brain until you die.

    The odds of contracting the amoeba are fairly low, but I say it isn’t worth the gamble. For more info on the amoeba, look up Naegleria fowleri.

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THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

  • Natural hot springs are just that: natural. Meaning no filters. For your own peace of mind, don’t think about, stir up, or grab the sediment that has settled on the bottom. It’s like a germaphobe’s worst nightmare.
  • To avoid big crowds, go during the week, on the off season, or at weird times of the day (ex. at sunrise, before most campers are awake and before the day trippers arrive).
  • If there is a big crowd and a wait to use the hot spring, limit your use to only 20 minutes so others can have a turn.
  • Don’t bring glass bottles. No one wants to step or sit on broken glass.

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PACKING LIST:

  • Underwater sandals with tread. As previously mentioned, wearing some sort of footwear in the hot springs will protect your feet from whatever nastiness has settled on the bottom. Having tread on the shoes comes in handy while traversing rocky or slippery surfaces. I like these pairs by Teva:

    Teva Sandals – Women’s

     

    Teva Sandals – Men’s

 

  • Reusable water bottle. These stainless steel water bottles with attached carabiners by Healthy Human will keep your water cold for up to 24hrs. Gotta stay hydrated!

    Healthy Human

 

  • Swim shorts. You never know what the surface will be like inside the hot spring, so I like to put a little more distance between my *ahem* business and the gunk lurking beneath the surface. As a CA beach bum, my go-to solution for board shorts is anything by Hurley:

    Hurley

 

  • Reusable plastic bag. Having a plastic bag to stash your wet stuff in is awesome for when you’re finished at the hot spring. It’ll keep your wet and dirty stuff away from your dry stuff. Plastic grocery bags also work great, but they are banned here in CA. Here is a more environmentally friendly option by Bingone:

    Bingone

 

  • Packable towel. It’s nice being able to dry off when you’re done soaking. These microfiber towels by EcoDept are super absorbent and dry quickly. Plus they are lightweight and pack down really small so they don’t take up a ton of room in your bag.

    EcoDept

 

  • Small backpack. You’ve gotta use something to carry all that water, dry stuff, and your necessities. Osprey is my forever favorite brand for backpacks, and these three packs are perfect for short adventures!

    Osprey Daylite Daypack

    Osprey Nebula Daypack

    Osprey Ultralight Stuff Sack

 

  • Waterproof camera or case for your phone. Taking photos and capturing memories is one of my favorite parts of adventuring. And it’s easier to do with the right gear for the occasion! You don’t want to have to worry about your equipment getting wet…so bring a camera meant for water! Or a waterproof case for your phone.

    FujiFilm FinePix XP90 Underwater Digital Camera

    FujiFilm QuickSnap Waterproof 35mm Disposable Camera

    FitFort Universal Waterproof Case


And there you have it! Everything you could possibly want to know before heading to a natural hot spring. Probably even more than you wanted to know.

Do you have any favorite natural hot springs to visit? Share it in the comments! I always need more ideas of cool places to check out.