Kings Canyon ended up being a paradoxical place for me- it was the site of my favorite hike but least favorite campsite. In fact, we were so unimpressed with it that we cut our trip there one night short and ended up heading back to the town of Alice Springs earlier than we had planned. While I would advise you to attempt to find anywhere else to camp if you are coming here during the summer months, there really aren’t a lot of options considering you are in a very remote part of the desert. So here are some warnings:
- Even though the campground was about 90% empty, they forced everyone there to camp in one crowded little cluster with no empty sites in between. The lights and noises of our neighbors meant a very restless sleep.
- Only one facilities building was opened, and it wasn’t the one closest to the crowded cluster of campsites. Four out of the five times I tried to use it, there wasn’t actually any running water.
- There are four restaurants at the resort, but because of “seasonal adjustments” only one was opened. It was not air-conditioned even though it was over 40 degrees Celsius outside, and we weren’t allowed to sit near one of the ceiling fans because “those tables are reserved for parties of three or more”. So even though there was a grand total of SIX people in the entire restaurant, no one was allowed to sit near the fans. Also, the menu is small and the food is bad.
- The general store was even more expensive than the one at Ayers Rock and didn’t have as big of a stock of campsite-cooking foods, which is what led us to the subpar restaurant.
- There isn’t actually a lot to do- we completed both the easy Creek Walk and the strenuous Full Rim Walk with less than 24 hours in the area.
However, don’t let my little complaints stop you from seeing Kings Canyon itself, because this hike truly made everything worth it.
Because of the hot, hot weather, no one was permitted to begin the full Kings Canyon Rim Walk after 9am. When we set off on it around 6am, the sun was already out and strong. We hadn’t slept well the night before and as a result, the beginning was really challenging. A very, very steep and rocky incline greeted us, and we tackled it with lots of water breaks. Once you conquer that initial ascent, the rest of the walk is much more tame.
The views out over the rim of the canyon are truly magnificent. Every so often there is a little outcrop trail, adding more than a few dozen yards to the walk, but the views from those are even better. The top of the canyon is so dry and rocky, with the sun hitting it directly and dust kicking up with every other step. Tufts of green sprout out of cracks in the rock while desert trees seemed to literally spring from nothing. Peeking down over the edge and into the valley, you could find lush green plants and pools of cool water. The high rock walls made shady, serene hideaways where everything was dim and still. It was like different worlds, seamlessly colliding into one.
The walk took us up high first, then dropped us down into the canyon, at a water hole known as the Garden of Eden. The guidebook we had, which was printed only a year ago, had touted this as a swimming area, saying that hikers often brought their bathing suits so that they could cool off before continuing the hot and strenuous hike. When we reached it, we weren’t altogether surprised to see signs asking visitors not to swim as a sign of respect for the Aboriginal people who found the water here to be sacred. Hopefully this will be reflected in the next edition of the guidebook. In the meantime, no one was swimming but there were quite a few hikers down there taking long breaks in the shade- we were among them, taking our time to enjoy the peaceful vibe.
As we pressed onward we were ascending again, and eventually we reached a small bridge with a gate. There was no sign on our side of the gate, so we went through and let it close behind us. We then realized that it had actually locked behind us, and the signs on that side told us where we were. For those looking for a shorter hike along the rim and not wishing to dip down into the Garden of Eden, there is the South Wall Return Walk, which leads you to this gate and then directs you to make an about face and return the way that you came.
Once we left the high rim and were descending back to the parking area, the views weren’t nearly as epic but were still pleasant. With all of our resting stops along the way, the hike had still only taken about 3.5 hours so we made excellent time. It was already very hot though, and only due to get hotter, and so I understand why they are so serious about not starting the hike after 9am.
We had initially planned to spend the rest of the day and night at Kings Canyon Resort, but finishing the hike so early (over an hour earlier than we had estimated) sealed the deal on last night’s decision to pack up and check out. We hit the road before noon and though we weren’t happy with the campground, we were very happy that we had stopped here and were able to do the canyon rim hike. Many of our issues were simply because of the summer season, so hopefully if you get the chance to visit you can do it during one of the better times of year!