Kings Canyon National Park by Train, from San Francisco

Adventure by Train: Kings Canyon National Park

There were several things we wanted to get out of Labor Day weekend this year: travel somewhere new, go hiking and somehow make it all possible without a car. Thanks to the Amtrak® San JoaquinsSM connection to Big Trees Transit at the Fresno Amtrak Station, we were able to plan an amazing trip and explore Kings Canyon National Park.

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The Travel

Friday evening - After work, we took the F Market down to the Ferry building where we caught the San Francisco Bay Ferry from San Francisco to Oakland. From there, we boarded the San Joaquins southbound 718 train out of Oakland at 5:55pm and arrived in Fresno at 10:03pm. We stayed in an Airbnb for the night, and had a wonderful host who provided us rides to and from the train station.

(Elizabeth catching the F Market, Sam catching the Ferry and San Joaquins train)

Saturday morning - We caught the Big Trees Transit bus from the Fresno Amtrak Station at 9:00am and arrived at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park just after 11:00am.

Monday afternoon - After three days of hiking and two nights of camping, we returned to Grant Grove to catch the 3:30pm Big Trees Transit bus back to the Fresno Amtrak Station, arriving around 5:30pm. From there, we connected with the northbound San Joaquins 717 train at 5:47pm back to Richmond where we crossed the platform and connected to the Richmond BART Station back to San Francisco.

*Note: For Sacramento, or destinations south of Fresno, you can catch a later train.

Big Trees Transit provides a seasonal service from Memorial Day to Labor Day with two morning departures (7:00am and 9:00am from the Fresno Amtrak Station) to the Park and two evening departures (3:30pm and 5:30pm from the Grant Grove Visitors Center) back to the Fresno Amtrak Station.

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The Adventure

When we arrived in the park on Saturday morning, we spoke with a Park Ranger in the Grant Grove Visitor Center (Star #1 on the map below) about available backpacking routes. She informed us that although Grant Grove is not an ideal spot for overnight backpackers, the 6-mile Redwood Canyon trail would be our best option.

Because we were looking for a more challenging weekend, we chatted with some other hikers in the Visitor Center about heading over to Cedar Grove (Star #2 on the map) for some more intense hiking options. They were kind enough to give us a ride, and the ranger in Cedar Grove helped us plan our route. But, before setting off on the trail, we HAD to stop and swim in this amazing river.

After a quick dip, we headed out for the Don Cecil Trail, and hiked 4.8 miles before stopping for dinner and camping just outside of the park boundary (Star #3 on the map). You can find more info on dispersed camping in National Forest land here)

Sunday morning, we wanted to catch one last view of the valley before hiking into the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, so, after breakfast, we did a quick hike/scramble up Lookout Peak (1 mile up and down) for this amazing view of Kings Canyon.

In order to connect the Don Cecil Trail with the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, we had to walk 5 miles on a few dirt roads connecting the Wilderness Area with the National Park. This part of the hike ended up being much more enjoyable than expected, and we were surprised by some of the amazing views.

From the Rowell Meadow Trailhead, we set off for Weaver Lake (star #4 on the map), our destination for the night. The trail took us around a beautiful canyon with a variety of terrain. After the 8 mile hike, we arrived at our campsite just in time for dinner. The lake was a bit crowded on a holiday weekend, but we were able to meet some fellow hikers and had a wonderful evening.

Monday morning, after breakfast and coffee, we hiked 3 miles out to the Big Meadows Trailhead (Star #5 on the map). The hikers we had met the night before offered to drop us back at Grant Grove on their way back to San Diego.

Once we were back at Grant Grove, we had some extra time, so we checked out the famous General Grant Tree and even had time for a quick (and much needed) shower at the John Muir Lodge. Once clean, we hopped the 3:30pm bus back to the train station for a pleasant ride back to the Bay Area.

P.S. On the train ride back, we met some backpackers doing similar trips via the San Joaquins train and Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YART) buses to Yosemite--that may have to be our next trip!

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Things to Know:

  • You need overnight permits for backpacking, and they run out quickly on holiday weekends. We would recommend reserving them ahead of time here.

  • You will definitely need a bear box for your food in the backcountry! They are available at most ranger stations, or you can bring your own.

  • Grant Grove is home to numerous campgrounds and lodging spots.

A big thank you to Amtrak San Joaquins for sponsoring our trip!

Until our next adventure by train,

Sam + Elizabeth


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