Kings Canyon is often compared to Yosemite Valley and considered the other great glacially-carved U-shaped valley of the Sierra. While there are similar traits between the two, there are also quite a few differences. Kings Canyon, for instance, lacks the sculpted, cathedral-like granite domes prevalent throughout Yosemite, and it has more forest than meadow along its valley floor. It also sees only a fraction of the crowds and has significantly less development. In that regard, it can be a breath of fresh air compared to the crowded summer months in Yosemite Valley. Also, unlike Yosemite, Highway 180 is the only road that leads into the park.
Road’s End in Kings Canyon National Park is the terminus of Highway 180 near the eastern end of Kings Canyon proper. The highway provides vehicle access to a scenic corridor along the South Fork of the Kings River, the only road that penetrates the park. Along that corridor are an abundance of riverside access points, trails, and campgrounds exploring the areas around Road’s End and the other focal point of the canyon, Cedar Grove.
Perhaps best known as the starting point for hikers setting out on the 41-mile Rae Lakes Loop (the Park Service maintains a Wilderness Permit State here during summer), Road's End also contains highlights much closer to the road. Muir Rock, a flat-topped riverside slab of granite, affords a scenic view over a soothing stretch of the emerald Kings River. It’s purported that the rock was frequented by John Muir, who orated from the stage-like boulder to promote the importance of preserving Kings Canyon as a national park. Nowadays it’s a popular swimming/cliff-jumping spot. Just upriver form Muir Rock is a family-friendly beach that provides additional river access.
The Road’s End area is also the starting point for a handful of exceptional day hikes and excursions that explore the banks of the Kings River and beyond. Notable trails include the Kanawyer Loop and a trail to Mist Falls, the River Trail, and Zumwalt Meadow.
Five miles west of Road's End is the visitor center and lodging/camping hub of Cedar Grove. Named for the abundant incense cedar found throughout this stretch of canyon, Cedar Grove houses the one and only lodge in Kings Canyon National Park. The lodge stocks a small store and runs a cafeteria-like restaurant. Public showers and laundry facilities are also on site. Across the river from the lodge is Sentinel Campground, one of four campgrounds situated around the canyon floor.
Cedar Grove also has a couple of notable hiking trails. The Hotel Creek Trail climbs to Cedar Grove Overlook, providing a view 1,200 feet above the canyon floor. Across the canyon, climbing up the south wall, is the Don Cecil Trail. This was the main access route to Cedar Grove prior to the construction of Highway 180 in the late 1930s. Shorter excursions around the Cedar Grove area include Roaring River Falls and the vista from Knapp’s Cabin.
Access to Kings Canyon, Road's End, and Cedar Grove is seasonal and depends on when Highway 180 is open, typically the end of April through mid-November.