Just returning from a mystical adventure among the clouds atop the Sierra Nevada mountains staying in the midst of Kings Canyon National Park at the John Muir Lodge. First and foremost I want to recommend the lodge to anyone visiting the area. The staff are incredibly gracious and the restaurant serves great food by a huge fireplace from breakfast until late in the evening for dinner. Now, I want to tell you how you can work up that appetite just by walking out of the lodge doors.
Of course there are a range of fun activities to do and see in the area surrounding Grant Grove. However, there are also a lot less worn paths that are just as, if not more, fascinating to explore. One of my goals in visiting the park was to thoroughly explore the immediate area surrounding the lodge. In order to accomplish this goal, I used a combination of the detailed descriptions of trails listed on Hikespeak, the All Trails app, the map shown above that we purchased at the Grant Grove Visitor Center, and a lot of missed turns and getting lost. Though my methods will certainly fall well short of those used by the contributors to the resources listed above, I hope to provide a compilation of my wanderings which were not featured on any resource I could find in hopes that perhaps someone reading this or looking for information will benefit.
1. Grant Tree Trail
The first adventure I set out upon was to find the one mile trail that connects the Grant Grove Village to the General Grant Tree. Despite the short distance, this was no simple feat and I found no information that actually describes the trail. The ranger who sold us the map mentioned the trail but cautioned us against taking it as she was unsure of its conditions. The trail is, in fact, pristine, but a bit difficult to navigate (it took me about three tries to finally get it right with the help of my astute companions who have enabled me to share this map!) Naturally, I now wish I had taken more photographs to provide direction but hopefully my description and the directions in the map will be adequate:
Upon leaving the Grant Grove Visitor Center, go directly towards the road (Highway 180). Just to the left of the Grant Grove Village entrance, adjacent to the visitor’s center, you will see a pedestrian crosswalk. Follow this and you will see the wooden sign for the Grant Tree Trail with an arrow indicating to follow it to the left. The trail is paved at this point. Follow it until you see the Amphitheatre. Now, here is where I got really confused because the sign that says “Grant Tree Trail” is essentially facing the wrong way so when you reach the Amphitheatre basically turn with you back to it and you will see the sign. Otherwise, take the path that leads down to the right (if you are again facing the Amphitheatre). [NOTE: The trail to the left leads to another destination described below and the if you go behind the Amphitheatre you will see a spectacular view of the Joaquin Valley from Sunset Campground.]
From here, wind your way down through boulders and mountain laurel bushes until you reach a bridge which leads to the Azalea Campground. You will cross the Azalea Campground road twice and there are signs at both crossings.
Continue to follow the path behind Columbine Picnic Area along Lion Meadow. If you follow the bridge to the right here is a rest area and the road which also goes down to General Grant Tree. To stay on the path, though continue straight.
From Lion Meadow, the path is more straightforward. You will descend by a waterfall to cross the road which cars use to go to the General Grant Tree and then continue to walk next to the stream. You will begin to see the Sequoias and when you come to a fallen tree labeled as the Michigan Tree, you can choose to go to the right and follow the path directly to the General Grant Tree or head straight into the parking area. [NOTE: if you go to the right you will follow a well-marked path to join with the paved loop that goes to the General Grant Tree but you can also take the faint path up the hill (possibly part of the North Boundary Trail) which leads to the horse stables and then across the road back to the Grant Grove area via the Crystal Springs Campground.]
2. Panoramic Point
Panoramic Point is actually easily accessed via Panoramic Point Road, a two-mile paved road that switches back and forth up past Park Ridge to an elevation of around 7500 feet. The road was closed during our stay but is fairly easy (despite the change in elevation) to climb. However, a more interesting route, in principle, would be to take the Manzanita Trail up to Park Ridge and then carry on to Park Ridge Fire Lookout Tower. I found the entrance to Manzanita trail before discovering this map, but nevertheless, I could not get far along the trail for the overgrowth of thick and painful brambles which could only be avoided by risking disturbing the soil up the steep grade. It seems that the path, once active, is now out of use.
Another way we discovered to reach the top off the beaten path is to, as the map above illustrates, follow the Crystal Springs Trail to the North Boundary trail which runs parallel to the road but on the other side of various meadows and forest. Unfortunately, I could not find the entrance to the trail in the Crystal Springs Campground so I took the road but, on the way down, I did spot the trail via the little bridge pictured here in Round Meadow, located about 3/4 of the way from the top. One trick is that when you see the trail sign that indicates the highway, you will also see an unmarked path seemingly leading in the wrong direction. In fact, this must have been the Crystal Springs Trail which I wish I had followed because I ended up walking along the highway some distance to return to Grant Grove.
[NOTE: The Park Ridge Trail that leads away from Panoramic Point is stunning and the views are well worth the effort of the strenuous uphill and less maintained trail. I recommend following the trail for adventure and returning along the fire road if the weather conditions change (which they did for me), or simply take the fire road (on the right before Panoramic Point) for an easy stroll which unbelievable views.]
3. Sunset Trail
The last neglected trail I want to publicize here is the Sunset Trail. This trail is a compilation of many different trails with various destinations and is featured on All Trails, but getting to it deserves some discussion:
From Grant Grove, the Sunset Trail may be accessed from the Sunset Campground/ Amphitheatre. The entrance to the trail via the Sunset Campground/Amphitheatre is well marked with signs; just take the opposite direction to the Grant Tree Trail shown above. However, the trail descends quickly down a steep and rocky ledge that was an unpleasant undertaking in the fog (pictured above). Upon taking it, I found that the Sunset Trail meets up with the South Boundary Trail which in turn leads to the Azalea Campground. All Trails lists the path but the entrance is unmarked and trying to get there using the directions feature did not work so I just located the point on the All Trails map and walked until I found the trail, pictured here:
Via the Sunset Trail, you can follow the South Boundary Trail through Wilsonia to Viola Falls and all the way to the Big Stump Park and trails, or take the North Grove loop which leads to interesting paths such as the Dead Giant Trail and down to the privately owned Lake Sequoia. The best way to visit these trails is to read about them on the links or follow the map pictured above which was purchased at the Grant Grove Visitor Center.
One other plug I wanted to make here is for my new hiking boots, purchased at the Mast General Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The brand was hitherto unknown to me, as were real waterproof boots. All the rain and now melting snow this year has caused creeks to become rivers and springs to become waterfalls. On more than one occasion I had to ford fjords and these boots seemed to actually repel the water. I’m also a long-time minimal footwear user so most boots feel quite constrictive but these gave me the support and comfort to walk among the clouds.