From Fresno to Kings Canyon… with an unexpected detour

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The drive from Fresno into Kings Canyon National Park should be an easy one, taking California Rte. 180 the entire way.  But for me, that wasn’t meant to be.

Just a few hours before I left Fresno, deadly chaos played out along highway 180, east of town.  Deputies tried to arrest an arsonist, but he didn’t want to go easily.  In a hail of gunfire, one deputy died, another was wounded.  A police officer who responded to the shooting was also shot, and was removed from life support a few days later.

As I rolled up to the traffic light at Academy Avenue and Highway 180, about 13 miles east of Fresno, I didn’t know about any of this.  All I knew was, the road was closed, and there were a lot of police cars and people standing around.  A deputy waved me off to the right, and I used my GPS to find some roads that would eventually loop back to 180.  When I got there, I found more deputies, once again forbidding me to drive towards Kings Canyon.

There isn’t any good alternate to Highway 180, but somehow I managed to find one — and in the process, I discovered a beautiful part of the Sierra Nevada foothills that, I imagine, is mostly unknown to outsiders.

I ended up on Trimmer Springs Road, which travels northeast towards the community of Piedra.  From there, Elwood Road competes the arc back to highway 180.  I didn’t know any of this at the time.  All I knew was the know-it-all Australian voice coming from my GPS was sending me up a narrow road, barely wide enough to have a dashed center line.

Trimmer Springs Road roughly follows the Kings River.  If you stayed on Trimmer Springs Road beyond Piedra, you would wind along the edge of Pine Flat Lake, which is just up the road a few miles from the turn.

Even though I didn’t drive on to Pine Flat Lake, I’d strongly recommend you do so.  From pictures I’ve seen of the lake, it’s quite beautiful, and since the road hugs the shoreline, you’ll have plenty of places to stop and take in the view.  And, it’s only about a 20 mile (round trip) detour.

On Trimmer Springs Road, watch for a sign pointing towards Wonder Valley.  You’ll turn right onto Piedra Road, and cross the Kings River.  Just after crossing the river, turn left on Elwood Road.  If you stay on Piedra Road, you’ll follow the Kings River south, parallel to Trimmer Springs Road, on the opposite side of the river. 

The weather wasn’t perfect, but despite the clouds, this is a beautiful scene.

After passing through a residential/ranch area that’s appropriately named Wonder Valley, the curvy, narrow road climbs again into the hills, but eventually reconnects with Highway 180.  Thankfully, this time, there were no deputies there to send me on another detour.

I didn’t stop to take many pictures along this detour, so be sure to watch the Drivelapse video for a better idea of what to expect.

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