A scenic drive into Kings Canyon is pretty great, but it’s capped off with the Zumwalt Meadows hike — quite possibly the prettiest spot in the canyon. Best of all, the hike is mostly flat, not very long (about 1.5 miles round-trip), and the scenery is rewarding throughout the hike.
Zumwalt Meadows is located near the end of California Highway 180, at the far end of Kings Canyon. Watch for a trailhead and parking area on the right (south) side of the road, about one mile before you reach Roads End.
Kings Canyon has a lot in common with Yosemite to the north. In both cases, you can drive into a deep canyon surrounded by granite cliffs. But, the truth is, Kings Canyon isn’t as iconic as its sibling. The views of the canyon walls are limited, and you won’t see anything as dramatic as El Capitan or Half Dome. I suspect that Kings Canyon’s best features are beyond the end of the road because it feels like you’re just getting to the good part when you reach Roads End.
That said, the views at Zumwalt Meadows are about as good as you can get without a long hike beyond the end of the highway.
Zumwalt Meadows Hike
The Zumwalt Meadows hike is a loop that begins and ends at this suspension bridge over the Kings River. Once you’ve crossed over to the other side…
… the loop splits. I’d imagine almost everyone goes left since the most beautiful spot on the trail is right there.
A boardwalk cuts across the meadow, with the Kings River flowing on one side, and a marshy wetland on the other. Without any trees in this spot, the views are wide-open and awe-inspiring. Sure, it’s still not quite as grand as what you’d find in Yosemite, but it’s still a great spot.
The Zumwalt Meadows hike flirts with the Kings River for a while, as you walk clockwise along the trail. You’ll have some nice views of the river, and walk through some forested areas, with views occasionally appearing.
My favorite part of the Zumwalt Meadows hike is on the far side of the meadow. Here, the trail gets rough, as it climbs through a boulder field. It’s the only part of the trail that could be considered moderately difficult. The reward for that effort is a great view of North Dome – one of the dominant granite peaks that loom over the canyon.
Before I knew it, the hike was over. It left me wishing there were more fairly easy hikes in the area.
Here’s a look at the drive into Kings Canyon on Highway 180…
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… the drive into Kings Canyon…
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… and the drive south on Generals Highway to the Giant Forest Museum:
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The Bottom Line
The Zumwalt Meadows hike should be the one trail you definitely tackle during your visit to the end of the road at Kings Canyon. It’s easy, short, and rewards you with some of the best views of the canyon that you’ll find.