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Lodging in the Parks: John Muir Lodge, Kings Canyon National Park
It's a rare occasion when a lodge is built somewhere in the National Park System. As a result, even though the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park was built in the late 1990s, it's still considered one of the newer lodges in the park system. That said, don't expect a four-star accommodation.
The lodge, operated by the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Park Services Company, is a two-story building with interior hallways and is similar in style and layout to a modern lower-to-mid range motel. Upon arrival you register at the front desk, which is in a separate building adjacent to the Grant Grove Restaurant. After registering you proceed around the meadow and up the hill to the lodge, which is about a block away.
The John Muir lodge has a wide covered porch next to the lobby, and smaller porches on the end of the guest wings. Each porch has rocking chairs for enjoying the evening mountain air. Upon entering the main doors of the lodge you find yourself in a large lobby with open beam ceilings, a stone fireplace and a redwood mantle. The mantle for the fireplace was salvaged from an old cabin in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park. The comfortable lobby is furnished with several sofas, as well as game tables and chairs. For entertainment there are boardgames, a small reading library, and a large chest filled with children's toys.
There are no public TVs in the lodge, and none in the guest rooms (there is a TV in the back room at the restaurant if you are desperate for a TV fix.) Most cell phones do not work in the Grant Grove Village area. And yet, the John Muir Lodge lobby and restaurant both have WiFi access.
Come evening there is almost always a fire burning in the fireplace (tended to by the guests, not the staff) and often there is a small group of newly-found friends sitting on the couches around the fireplace sharing their day’s adventures. The lack of TV seems to bring out the social side of people! You might also want to bring a favorite book, or go out for a walk. You can almost always find deer in the early evenings grazing in the meadows along Panoramic Point Road behind the lodge.
Guestrooms in the John Muir Lodge are clean but basic. The furniture is simple and has a log cabin motif. Bed mattresses are standard commercial style (firm). The lighting in the rooms is minimal; if you want to read you might prefer the lobby. The rooms have coffee makers, ice buckets, and telephones. There is no air-conditioning in the rooms; however, each room has a fan and thermostat-controlled heat.
Summer days at Grant Grove can be very warm, so if you're staying during the summer you might want to get to your room in the early evening to open the windows and let it cool off before going to bed. Housekeeping is minimal. If you stay over more than one night you can get your towels replaced if you request, but don’t expect anything more. Summer months can bring extremely high visitor levels, especially on weekends.
Even-numbered rooms have the best view, odd-numbered rooms face the parking lot. Which rooms will be quietest is hard to predict. The building has wood floors, so upstairs rooms will generally be quieter. The second-floor odd-numbered rooms might be quieter on busy summer weekends, even though they face the parking lot. The seasonal employee housing area and tent city across the creek on the even-numbered side can be loud at times.
A major design flaw at Grant Grove Village is the lack of a walking path linking the lodge and Meadow Camp cabin areas with the restaurant, store and visitor center, which are on the other side of a small, wet meadow. This forces guests to walk in the narrow roadway, which is not great if you have young kids. Like most national parks, there is minimal outdoor lighting, so it is best to bring a flashlight with you. The road surface and the few pathways are rough and full of small holes.
The Grant Grove Village restaurant was originally called the coffee shop. If you look closely at the architecture, you'll notice a similarity to a Denny's, although in recent years they've removed the counter seating and dressed it up with curtains, new tables and chairs, and other cosmetic touches. The infamous Sequoia Room bar has been removed to create more restaurant seating room. Although the bar is gone, the restaurant does serve wine and beer. (The Sequoia Room was well known back in the '80s for the male employees who hung around trying to pick-up female tourists during the evenings.)
Be prepared for long waits at the restaurant on summer weekends and holidays. At the other extreme, during late fall, winter, and early spring visitation is very low and you could easily have the place almost entirely to yourself, as we did in late October. October through mid-November is one of the best times of the year to visit, the weather is generally beautiful, although cool, there is less smog, and there are only a few other visitors.
The Grant Grove Village also contains a gift shop, well-stocked convenience store, post office, and a NPS visitor center. During winter the store rents cross country skis. The area surrounding Grant Grove Village has numerous hiking and skiing trails; you could spend several days hiking the various trails. Several campgrounds are also in the immediate vicinity and Park Service interpreters offer evening camp fire programs during the summer months.
About a mile down the hill from the village is Grant Grove, which is King’s Canyon’s most popular and easily accessible grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The General Grant tree in the grove is the official Nation's Christmas Tree, declared as such by President Calvin Coolidge on April 28, 1926. The grove also features a large, hollowed out tree that children can walk through, an experience that is a big hit with the kids. (The tree you could drive a car through was in Yosemite National Park, but it blew down in a storm many years ago, thus proving that cutting a large hole through the base of a Giant Sequoia is not a good idea.)
In addition to the John Muir Lodge, the Grant Grove Village has several other overnight accommodations available. There are several historic “duplex bath cabins” (built 1927-1928) that have been recently renovated. These are heated, have private baths, and are open year-round. Each duplex cabin has a shared porch with chairs. The gas wall heaters in the cabins have a shared flue between the two units, so don't talk loudly in your room unless you want to be sharing your conversation with your neighbors. You may want to bring earplugs.
The only stand-alone cabin with a bath, #9, is known as “the honeymoon cabin” or “log cabin.” It is the oldest existing structure in the village, built in 1910. Originally it was a stage stop at nearby Hume Lake. It was relocated before 1930 to a hillside above the meadow where it served as a reading room for guests. It has now been converted into a guest room with private bath. It has a queen bed, carpeting, refrigerator, and a coffee maker. Cabin #9 is popular, so book early if you want to stay in it.
The “Rustic Cabins” are small individual cabins that feature double beds, and have been recently remodeled with new electric lights, insulation, carpeting, and propane wall heaters. They date back to the 1930s or earlier. Each rustic cabin has a small outdoor porch with a tarp covering, picnic table, and a wood stove. A brand-new central restroom and shower building was just completed at the beginning of 2009. The area around the cabins has also been improved, with better paths and night lighting for late-night trips to the restrooms. The restroom building can be up to a block away from some of the cabins.
The “Camp Cabins” are similar to the rustic cabins, with double beds, electricity, and heaters, but have bare wood floors, no insulation, and no porch. Bring a flashlight.
For a camping-with-beds experience, try the “Tent Cabins”. These tiny cabins have 2 double beds, wood floors, wood walls, and a canvas tent roof. There is no heat or electricity, and a battery-powered lamp is provided for light. They do not have a porch and cooking is not permitted in the vicinity. Both the camp cabins and tent cabins share an older, common restroom facility. The area is dark at night; a flashlight is a necessity for nighttime trips to the bathhouse!
The Sequoia-Kings Canyon Park Services Company also operates several other lodging facilities in and around King’s Canyon N.P.. These are Cedar Grove Lodge, Stony Creek Lodge, and Montecito-Sequoia Lodge (also sometimes called Montecito Lake Resort.) All feature small, simple rooms with baths and very modest, perhaps even Spartan, facilities. Cedar Grove has a snack bar and camp-store, Stony Creek Lodge has a café and store. Montecito Sequoia Lodge is run as a quasi-all-inclusive resort (a buffet dinner and breakfast are included in your room rate.) Campgrounds are also found at Grant Grove, Cedar Grove, and Stony Creek.
For lodging reservations, check out www.sequoia-kingscanyon.com or call (866) 522-6966 or (559) 335-5500. For the front desk of the lodge call (559) 335-2314.
Traveler note: I’m working on a history of the Grant Grove Village concessions. If you have memories or old photos of the facilities at Grant Grove I would love to hear/see them, and will pass on anything relevant to the Park Service historian at Sequoia/Kings Canyon. Because much of the written history here has been lost, anything you have might be of great help! Even as recently as the 1970s information about the facilities is sketchy. Contact Jess Stryker at http://www.historic-hotels-lodges.com/links/contact.php
For a virtual tour, that includes many more photos of all the lodging, and a detailed history of Grant Grove Village see http://www.historic-hotels-lodges.com/grant-grove.htm.