It’s considered blasphemous in some circles to say this, but I’m prepared to weather the backlash: I think Yosemite National Park is overrated. Don’t get me wrong — it’s stunning. But I find another California park to be far and away the more breathtaking option for some outdoor rejuvenation.
Kings Canyon National Park — with its glacier-carved valley, steep cliffs, jagged mountain peaks, rushing rivers and giant sequoia trees — offers as many awe-inspiring views as Yosemite and yet sees only a little more than 10 percent of the visitation of the popular park. Which is all the more reason to consider Kings Canyon for a weekend getaway without the crowds.
I suggest a hike deep within the park to get the full effect. Take a drive along State Route 180, which winds up and down in elevation through mountainous and forested terrain and along the South Fork of Kings River, until you reach Road’s End (which is, as the name suggests, the end of the road). From here, trekkers can head east on Bubbs Creek Trail, north on Copper Creek Trail or west along the river toward Zumwalt Meadow, arguably one of the most scenic spots in King’s Canyon.
And here’s where the payoff comes: The meadow sits on the valley floor, surrounded by cedar trees and featuring a view of North Dome, a nearly vertical granite rock face, as well as more steep cliffs beyond. It’s reminiscent enough of Yosemite to bring on deja vu but still retains its own unique twist. For a little more of a workout, head a little farther up the trail to Roaring River Falls to encounter even more natural beauty.