Skip to Content

National Park Road Trip Day 4: King’s Canyon National Park

I will tell you up front that King’s Canyon was the shortest and worst of all our national park visits. It was New Year’s Even in California — a day of epic winter storms across the state. It was a messy — but fortunately not dangerous — day in our area. But hey, we were on vacation, and our whole family was together. Even our college kid! So we still had a pretty good day overall.

By Day 4 of our trip, the kids were pretty much tired of me telling them we had to get going as soon as possible to beat the weather. And to be honest, the weather had already arrived before the kids got out of bed. In fact, when Erik walked our German Shepherd that morning, white snowflakes studded her black hair. None of it stuck to the ground at our 4,000-elevation Airbnb, though.

After we ate our pancakes, crated the dogs and drove just 20 minutes to the King’s Canyon entrance, it was long past the 10 a.m. ranger-led snowshoe hike I’d hoped to attend. The road wasn’t icy or snowy, but a chilling rain was falling. Also, there were probably gorgeous views, but all we saw was a solid wall of fog on the side of the road.

Just five minutes from the entrance is the King’s Canyon Visitor Center and Grant Grove Village. Erik parked as close as he possibly could to the building entrance and we scrambled inside. Usually, I am the one trying to pry the kids out of the visitor centers to check out the actual nature. Today, we couldn’t stay in there long enough. We watched the video, which showed a bunch of gorgeous sights that we would mostly not see on this trip due to road closures and the crappy weather. I shopped lavishly, picking up an adorable pair of earrings, of course a sticker and magnet, and a Christmas tree ornament. We looked at the small exhibit.

But eventually, there was nothing left to do but go out in the rain. Erik and I made a few trips to the car to bring everyone more warm clothes, we bundled up, and only then did I think to ask the rangers to point us in the direction of General Grant Tree, the world’s second largest tree. To our annoyance, we learned that it was advisable to drive to a closer parking lot to visit the tree. Here we’d assumed that since we were in Grant Grove Village, we were there already.

No worries. Back into the Highlander we went.

Except, we couldn’t go.

Because the driver’s seat seatbelt would not fasten. Erik tried everything he could. Then we switched places and I tried. No dice.

Considering that this was New Year’s Eve and we were scheduled to drive to a much more remote area the next day, this was a big worry. It seemed like a terrible idea to drive for hundreds of miles without a seatbelt on. But no mechanic would be open on New Year’s Day, and after that, we’d be in Death Valley.

Erik decided he would try to fix the seatbelt once we got back to the Airbnb. We drove the short way to Grant Grove and parked again.

Despite the rain, we had fun walking around the paved path there. Part of the path is on a hill, and this part had become a very shallow, icy river, with water rushing down the asphalt. We found out which boots were waterproof (Toth’s new ones) and which were not (mine). We walked through a fun tunnel tree (that’s the photo up top).

And of course, we saw the towering General Grant Tree, aka America’s Christmas Tree.

We stepped inside the 1872 Gamlin Cabin, where it was raining less. This cabin was first built by a couple of brothers named Gamlin, who had a timber claim in Grant Grove. I’m very glad they didn’t end up logging all the trees here! Later the cabin was a home for the first park ranger.

Walking around the passable parts of the North Grove Loop didn’t take long, but when we were done, the kids were ready to get back in the car. I wanted to see more, or at least move a litle more. I proposed that they drive back to Grant Grove Village and eat their lunch in the car and wait while I snowshoed the 1.5 miles.

At first, I didn’t bother to put my snowshoes on. The trail was already packed down by other footsteps, and was pleasant and easy. What with the trail being covered with snow, I wasn’t always sure if I was still on it. But then I noticed colored markers on trees that kept me on track for awhile. Besides, the road was never far away; if I lost the trail, I could walk on the roadside. And I thought I was supposed to basically follow the river.

A couple of times, I ended up in places where the snow was untrammeled, and I considered putting on my snowhoes. But there was alway something like a road crossing just ahead, and I didn’t want to walk on the road with them on. So I kept hiking and just put up with my boots falling throug the snow a few times. I was wearing snow pants, so I didn’t mind too much.

Unfortunately, my glasses fogged up completely due to getting warm from exertion in the cold rain. I wiped them with my bandana until that got too wet to be useful. Also, becaue I kept taking it off to take photos, one of my gloves became too wet inside to wear. By the end of the first mile, I was glad this was going to be a short hike.

When I got to the Azalea Campground, I lost the trail. I ended up having to walk part of the remaining way on the side of the road, but that was no fun. So after awhile I decided to finally put those snowshoes on and walk through the trees alongside the road, even though there was no trail there. That was fun.

After about an hour, I was back at Grant Grove Village, soaked but feeling accomplished and happy. The family was less happy, since it turned out not all of the sandwiches I’d made for lunch had made it into the cooler. Also, Erik had forgotten about the seatbelt while I was gone and hadn’t made any more efforts to fix it. So we drove back through the rain and fog a little grumpy.

Back at the house, I walked the crazy dog around the property in the rain to make sure she had the chance to potty. Erik parked the car under the carport and started watching YouTube videos to see if he could fix the seatbelt. Then I took a bath and discovered that the Airbnb’s water heater didn’t provide quite as much hot water as I would have liked. Nutmeg took a bath which I supplemented for her with kettles of water from the stove.

We all (save Erik) got cozy as the rain continued outside. We drank hot cocoa. I went on Facebook and learned that at home in Alameda, streets were flooding. I began watching our security cameras for signs that water might be breaching the homestead. (Other than a little dampness in the garage, our house was fine.)

Eventually, Erik came in and showed us all a small piece of metal and a bent fork. He’d somehow figured out that the seatbelt was being blocked by a foreign object, and had used the fork to dig it out. It turned out to be the broken piece of a zipper pull that had fallen off one of our jackets. It was a huge relief to know that the seatbelt was working before our long drive to Death Valley!

Around 4 p.m., we decided to learn to play the game Toth had gotten for Yuletide, Wingspan. First, Erik and Toth spent some time reading the voluminous directions and watching online tutorials. Then, while I started dinner and rotated wet clothes through the dryer, the kids all pitched in to punch out the many cardboard tokens and such.

Finally, at some point, we actually played Wingspan. It took hours and it was very complicated. We played at the kitchen table, the same room where the very loud washer and dryer were operating. Still, it was raining outside, we were dry inside, and life was good.

We enjoyed a bunch of appetizers, then a late dinner. We had a minature pool tournament. Erik crashed out by 10:30 p.m., but the kids and I made it til midnight, so we could toast one another with cranberry Martinelli’s. (Which is much better than the apple kind, by the way!)

Happy 2023! The first thing we would do in 2024 was pack up this house and drive 373 miles to Death Valley.

Roadtrip Day 4 Destination: King’s Canyon National Park

Miles traveled today: 25

Total roadtrip distance so far: 587

Cost: $213 (one night at Hummingbird Hill, Dunlap)