Kings Canyon

~Here’s How You Do It

This, out of the box, $40 (yes $40!) weekend in Kings Canyon is available to one and all and has officially become On A Dime’s new template for traveling on a bare bones budget while celebrating joyful abundance.

Our article will start with the west side of Kings Canyon and finish with an eastern, Onion Valley trip. And we’ll also lead off with one “oops” that jumped front and center when five of us tried to pack the car as if we were headed for a trip around the world and yes, the photo is correct.

photo (6)

We wound up off-loading some items but pulled out of the driveway still bursting. Better planning next time on what kitchen items to bring as a collective and we cannot implore you any stronger to invest in a stuff-sack for your sleeping bag. This space saver is worth the money spent and you will cheer when you create room for your free firewood. This adventurer is a firm believer in no fee wood and had some leftover from a previous trip but folks; please check Craig’s List (especially in the summer) for listings for free firewood and stock up. Wood runs between $4-$10 a bundle and the wood is generally pretty awful with a whopping burn time of maybe an hour per bundle. This can get very pricey as well as aggravating. Another cute little “oops” can only be shared via dialogue. *Names have been changed to protect… me.

Sassafras – “Hey who has the directions?”

Calamity Jane – “It’s off #395, right?”

Sassafras – “No, that’s the east side, we’re doing the west.”

Pocahontas – “That sounds like the #5? Or would it be the #99?”

Calamity Jane – “We can just start driving toward it and figure it out”


Yep, that’s the way we roll and I would not advise it. We got lucky. After checking online and stopping twice to try and figure out burn permits and how far the dispersed camping was (uhm 45 min. out of the way!), we asked a local citizen and he set us straight on location of the Visitor Center, camping, and yes, the actual park. Dispersed (free) camping is peachy but not when it’s 45 minutes away and with five people, $18 a night works out to a little over $3 each which means, heck yeah!

 We arrived in time to set camp at the Potwisha Campground (elevation 2,100), duly note that the three campsites across from ours were the best in the park (#s 18,20,22), and then drive up in elevation to a pristine forest filled with sequoia trees that bring to mind Jack And The Beanstalk. We noticed signs heralding programs that take place in peak season such as nature walks and a tour of Crystal Cave. A half-hour from our campground and along very curvy roads (note to those who get carsick, pack Dramamine) and we arrived at Moro Rock. For anyone who has ever dreamed of Half Dome but felt the length of the hike (7-8 miles one way, a good deal straight up) and elevation gain would be too challenging, Moro Rock (elevation 6,725) is your place. Four hundred steps/300 feet up concrete stairs and you find yourself on a rock formation that juts powerfully into space, offering a majestic view of the entire area. Having done Half Dome numerous times, I can state that Moro Rock is a perfect stand-in and offers some sunset scenery that can’t be beat.

Sunset Moro1

 It is at this point that we’ll include a fabulous little link on the five scenic drives listed for Kings Canyon. We are very aware that many folks are limited in hiking capability but wish to access the great outdoors and we are grateful that Kings Canyon offers an answer.

 After a glorious sunset on Moro Rock, we headed back to camp for night-one of our potluck. Your On A Dime creator had been up 23 hours at this point, after working overnight, and crawled in the tent only to be enticed back to the campfire by the camaraderie and smell of food. Our camping potluck, which had divvied up duties, made for the hugest chunk of heaven this camper has ever experienced. My pre-made Mex Soup required that I do nothing more the entire weekend as my meal was consumed that first evening. Our article on potlucks shares the beauty of community effort in meal prep and the delivery of true relaxation when your one contribution is complete and your compadres take over.


 Saturday brought a trip to the Foothill Visitor Center and the decision to hike to Marble Falls was made. The trailhead was 50 feet from our site and the hike 3.9 miles (one way) to the falls was scenic and tranquil. Do take into account that it is a bit of an uphill experience and starting early will keep heat challenges to a minimum.

Our March trip was smooth and weather cooperated, with sunny days and temperate nights (20 rated sleeping bag was perfect). A future visit would have to include more time in the Moro Rock area with its gorgeous sequoias including the largest (by volume) tree in the world.

Kings Canyon’s west side is the most frequented but if you are looking for a very low key, weekend getaway, check out Onion Valley which accesses the canyon on the east side. We paid $18 per night to camp and every single site was private and surrounded by trees and greenery as well as deer at dusk.

Camp view moon
View of moonrise from the campsite

We chose a walk in site, which meant we had about a 1/2-block distance to ferry our gear but we were against the mountain with no site next to us.

Our two hikes along the Kearsarge Pass trail, one very short the first evening and then a longer hike the following day, took us to Gilbert Lake where we stumbled across a field of butterflies lazily fluttering around the water.


Our super-hiker cousin continued and hiked to the Kearsarge Pass Peak at 11,760 feet while we took a leisurely route, in other words reversed and made our way back to camp.

Hike 2

Onion Valley offers some stellar sunrises for the early birds and we rolled out of our tents and took advantage of this as well as coffee in at Jenny’s Cafe in Independence.


For adventurers from Los Angeles, the drive to Onion Valley is 225 miles and the route along highway #395 is scenic with a stop off in the Alabama Hills along Mount Whitney a worthy possibility. This area, lush with diverse beauty, is a hiker’s paradise and an endless playground for those who love the outdoors.

To end where we began, yes an entire weekend can be done for $40. The West side expenditures were $90 for gas (round-trip), $36 for 2 nights camping, and approximately $75 for food. This broke down to about $40 per person with five of us splitting the cost. On our east side trip the cash outlay was split 2 ways therefore totaling roughly $85 each for an entire weekend. On the west side only, there is a $20 park entrance fee. Kings Canyon, whether enjoyed from the west or the east is a winning getaway. And when you split the finances, it can be a – not to be missed – jackpot.

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