We left SD around 5am on the 4th and drove the 5+ hours to Pine Flat Lake where we reserved a campsite because the National Parks were fully reserved or first-come, first-served and we didn't want to risk not having a place to stay when we arrived. Our plan was to commute from Pine Flat lake to Kings Canyon and spend the days hiking, playing tourist and taking pics. We were in the foothills of the Kings Canyon/Sequoia area and it didn't look too far from the map.
Pine Flat Lake is around 13 miles off the main road (Rt. 180) so you have to weave and wind your way through the foothills to get there (ugh, makes it feel like 50 miles). We were both concerned about the heat but from the pictures of the lake and campsites found on the web we felt we could always jump in the lake if it was too hot. The campsites sit adjacent to the water's edge. BUT! When we arrived (12:30 and 103 degrees) we discover that the picture was taken a few years ago and the lake had receded (dried up and drained) about 100 yards downhill from the campsites. There was no footpath to the water which meant driving down and back. It was blistering hot and by 3:00 was 107F with a hot, dry breeze blowing through that made it feel like we were standing in front of an oven. It was too late to do anything but set up camp and get through the day. We drove down to the lake on a torn up dirt and rock road that used to be the lake bottom. The lake itself felt refreshing even though the water was murky, warm and had trees along the bottom that you had to watch for. We should have been in 20 feet of water if the lake was at proper levels but today it's shoulder height.
Around 7pm we decided to hop in the car (yes! A/C!) and drive...well, anywhere. There's a small town called Sanders where we ended up and had some fast food and cold drinks, filled the tank with gas and headed back to camp. When we arrived at 9:30 it was still 98 degrees. Even without the rain-fly the tent was too hot to sleep in so I pulled up a reclining camp chair (chaise lounge style) and tried to sleep. Katherine tried the tent but eventually came outside with me in our second recliner and we both managed 10-15 catnaps throughout the night. At 7am we looked at each other through sleep deprived eyes and decided that since we're adults we really don't have to suffer another day here so we packed up and by 8:30 were on the road to Kings Canyon to test our luck on finding a campsite. It was then we discovered that our thoughts of commuting to the park were just plain screwy. It took us over an hour to get up the mountain (Pine Flat is at 1000 ft, The entrance to the park is around 7000 feet) over miles and miles of winding roads. Plus, we had to stop every few miles to see the scenery at the view points. Once at the gate we noticed that two campgrounds were still open. A note: Kings Canyon is a "Canyon," duh. The entrance to the park is, like I said, around 7K feet, not exactly canyon elevation. But, it's here that most of the touristas go because the giant sequoias are here. The true nature of the park is down in the canyon at around 4,000 feet. So, down we go; a 32 mile drive down winding roads to Kings River and the bottom of the canyon. Oh, but what a beautiful canyon we found. We grabbed a spot in the Cedar Grove area of the park. A few hundred of our best friends were already there but it only felt slightly crowded. The campsites were shaded, relatively cool (82, NOT 103 degrees), with a lush pine needle floor, and soft light coming through the pine and cedar canopy. Nights dropped into the high 50s. Heaven.
Set up camp and went exploring. Found a spot on the river where Katherine took a dip in the cold mountain water (I got in up to my thighs, just too cold to go all in). Spent Friday and Saturday nights there, did 3 hikes (5 miles, 3 miles and 7 miles), saw trees that forced me to redefine the word "big"; 3 bears, 5 deer, 1 fox, 1 snake and a hundred or so butterflies, birds and lizards. Took nearly 600 photos and drove over a thousand miles total getting back Sunday night after midnight.
Great trip but I will not want to go on a national holiday again. I think from now on July 4, Labor Day, Memorial Day are stay at home days.