If you want to skip the narrative scroll to the bottom for my tips on how to best do Boyden Cave with kids.
We have really begun to appreciate the varied and beautiful natural sites in and around Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. For our most recent day trip we slowly made our way up and into Kings Canyon National Park. Traffic was bad as we neared the park entrance due to the busy holiday weekend (Labor Day). We had a slightly late and quick picnic lunch at the lovely Big Stump picnic area. It is a great place to picnic at a shaded table, use the clean restroom, and hike down to Big Stump (one of our future excursions). We spent more time here earlier this summer when we were less focused on our destination and enjoyed a delicious charcuterie board spread and an unexpected rain shower for my birthday, but today was mostly about exploring Boyden Cavern, so a quick lunch was needed.
With a little food in our bellies and a small hike around to stretch our legs, we were off again for the hour drive through Sequoia National Forest to get to Boyden Cave.
If you are unfamiliar with Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks like we were, it is a bit confusing where one park ends and another begins and when you are in Sequoia National Forest versus Sequoia National Park. Shortly after entering Kings Canyon National Park on HWY 180 you exit into Sequoia National Forest. However, you are still in Kings Canyon, just not the national park. (Did you know that Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in the United States?!?) The drive through it is about an hour, but it is so beautiful with tons of places to stop for pictures or just to take in the waterfalls, the incredible canyon, and the varied landscape and rock colors from your car, that it feels much shorter.
Once there, Boyden Cave has a large parking lot and a really nice picnic area over looking the Kings River. If you get an earlier start, this would be a great place to eat… we’ve always gotten a late start, so we have yet to enjoy it! Tickets for the tour are sold in the gift shop and the rangers will guide you from there!
The hike up to the cave is very steep but it’s beautiful. Kellan and Bridget handled it like champs. There were people of all ages, but I would definitely recommend bringing water and giving yourself time for little breaks up to the top if your group has any really young or older visitors.
The hike and tour takes about an hour with a guide taking the group through the spectacular marble cave. The guide explains the history and science of the cave, and showcases some of the amazing formations including the pancake and the Christmas tree. If you visit in spring or early summer you will get to see a waterfall toward the back of the cave, but if it is later in the summer (like when we visited) the waterfall no longer is flowing but there is an unguided adventure trail that visitors can explore along the riverbed in the cave. (The guide warned that there are portions that are ankle to calf deep in the river, so if you are interested in checking this out, definitely wear waterproof hiking shoes.)
This was such a unique experience that the kids absolutely loved. If you are looking for a way to escape the Central Valley heat, this is a great family day trip where you can enjoy the steady 55 degrees of the cave plus all of the beauty of Kings Canyon.
Tips for a Successful Trip to Boyden Cave with Kids
1. Wear good shoes for hiking. (Waterproof if you plan to do the secret hike down along the riverbed.)
2. Bring a sweatshirt if you get cold easily. The cave is a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Set expectations with your children before the hike. The hill leading to the cave is very steep and was crowded when we went. Also, the cave itself is dark, slippery in places, and has unstable rocks. There are also sections that are open to the riverbed below with about a ten foot drop. There is a railing but it was exactly Bridget’s height and if she wasn’t careful, she could have fallen through. (These are not reasons to avoid the cave but things to be aware of in order to prepare yourself and your kids by knowing what to expect.) Explain to them how you expect them to behave to keep themselves safe and to not bother the other visitors.
4. Bring a water to hydrate. The steep uphill is a good little workout and I wish we’d have had something to quench our thirst along the way. (Only water is allowed in the cave.)
5. Avoid holiday weekends if possible. We went Saturday of Labor Day weekend and the parks and cave were busy. They were running tours every 30 minutes instead of every hour which helped but it was a crowded tour and there was a lot of traffic in the cave and on the hill as we crossed paths with the tours before and after our own. We’ve been up to the area where the tour starts on a regular weekend and there were far fewer people.
6. Here are their hours of operation. Times vary so check this schedule.