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California State Route 180 east of Fresno to Cedar Grove (Kings Canyon Highway)

Back in May California State Route 180 opened east of the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park through Kings Canyon proper.  I took the opportunity given the somewhat early clearing to take the Challenger out on a scenic mountain drive.



I made my way to CA 180 at Reed Avenue in Minker at about 400 feet above sea level.  From Minker eastward CA 180 is signed with scenic placards.  The road ahead is about 33 miles to Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park which is at about 6,000 feet above elevation.


The view of the Sierras was especially good after a rainy winter.  Usually in early mornings near sunrise the mountains are the most visible before the farmers start kicking up crop dust.


The first big climb on CA 180 east into the Sierras is from Cove Road to the north terminus of CA 63.



The road east on CA 180 flattens out through Squaw Valley.


This isn't the best picture but before 1942 CA 180 used to climb uphill on Dunlap Road on the right.  The modern CA 180 is much more straight but has a substantially higher uphill grade.


The sight lines on CA 180 eastbound are huge above Dunlap.  The village and old alignment can be seen to the south at the boundary for Giant Sequoia National Monument at an overlook at about 3,000 feet above sea level.




 There are some decent overlooks to be had from 4,000 feet at a couple pull-outs.


CA 180 meets CA 245 at approximately 5,000 feet above sea level.  CA 245 north of Dunlap Road is part of the original alignment of CA 180.



CA 180 crosses the 6,000 foot mark at the park entrance for the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National park.  CA 180 technically doesn't exist within Grant Grove but is signed like a normal Caltrans maintained highway.



East of the Kings Canyon National Park gate CA 180 junctions the northern terminus of the General's Highway which takes traffic south to Sequoia National Park and CA 198.


CA 180 passes the Kings Canyon National Park visitor center a the Grant Tree Grove.


The Caltrans maintained section of CA 180 resumes at the end boundary for Grant Grove.  Most of Kings Canyon is within the Giant Sequoia National Monument portion of Sequoia National Forest and not Kings Canyon National Park.  The Cedar Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park is 28 miles to the east.



Near the Chicago Stump Trailhead there is a viewing area above Abbott Creek along westbound lanes of CA 180.


The only major junction east of Grant Grove on CA 180 is at Hume Lake Road.  Hume Lake Road takes traffic south to Hume Lake and the General's Highway.


East of Hume Lake Road CA 180 comes into Kings Canyon.  The views are spectacular of the 8,000 feet deep canyon.  The lower section of CA 180 near the Kings Canyon Lodge ruins can be seen below near Tenmile Creek.




 CA 180 begins to rapidly dropping elevation as it descends further into Kings Canyon.



Below the 5,000 foot elevation line CA 180 approaches the Confluence View of the South Fork Kings River, Middle Fork Kings River, and Tenmile Creek.  CA 180 follows the South Fork Kings River deeper into Kings Canyon.








CA 180 loops around to past Tenmile Creek before passing the Kings Canyon Lodge.






The Kings Canyon Lodge burned in 2015 during a forest fire.  in 2016 the Lodge grounds were accessible but they were blocked off upon my return in 2017.  There was a fundraiser attempt to reopen the Lodge but I'm not sure if it made enough money.


Below the Kings Canyon Lodge heading eastbound the cliffs of Kings Canyon are close to sheer and the drop-offs would certainly be fatal if driven off of.





CA 180 crosses Redwood Creek and the accompanying waterfall.  The waters generally are barely visible but the fall was quite active with all the water snows.




CA 180 drops further into Kings Canyon as it narrows approaching Horseshoe Bend.


There has been four fatalities in the summer of 2017 at Horseshoe Bend.  In two unrelated accidents there was two vehicles that went over the barrier into the waters of the South Fork Kings River.  One of the vehicles was so obscured by the rushing waters that it was only found when parts of a second car were discovered by mistake.  There is currently no known cause for either of the two crashes.  The cliffs of Horseshoe Bend is almost completely vertical and make for some great road pictures.









East of Horseshoe Bend CA 180 finally drops to the Kings River.



There is a nice old button copy guide sign near the Boyden Cave Parking Lot on the westbound lanes of CA 180.


The 1933 Kings River Bridge was the early terminus of CA 180 until was completed to Cedar Grove.  The waters below in the South Fork Kings River were extremely fast and only widened to the east.  The Kings River Bridge is about 3,000 feet above sea level.






CA 180 follows the north bank of the South Fork Kings River eastbound as it gains elevation heading to Cedar Grove boundary of Kings Canyon National Park.  The end placard for CA 180 is missing but the asphalt quality change is obvious enough to indicate the highway has ended.  The road continues east to Cedar Grove.




On the way back westbound to Grant Grove I believe that I found the reason two cars went off the cliff at Horseshoe Bend.


The sun was in a higher position heading back west and was better for taking panoroamics.






An interesting wrinkle to CA 180 that I think deserves further looking into is that really there certainly could have been some potential for a Trans-Sierra route.  Grant Grove is at about 6,600 feet but CA 180 drops down to about 2,800 at the bottom of Kings Canyon and somewhere in the 4,000 foot range by Cedar Grove.  It wouldn't be feasible to stay open all year given the amount of rock fall in Kings Canyon and snow in the High Sierras.  That said, it is interesting that a member on AAroads web forum once posted a vintage map showing a CA 180 implied connection on what appeared to be Onion Valley Road.

Either way the possibility would have been much more viable prior to the reformation of General Grant National Park into Kings Canyon National Park by 1940.  The 1935 map of Fresno County shows General Grant National Park far to the south of CA 180 through Kings Canyon:

1935 Fresno County Highway Map.

Conversely Inyo County barely shows any evidence of Onion Valley Road the same year:

1935 Inyo County Highway Map

A link to the state highway map showing an implied Trans-Sierra crossing for CA 180 can be found here.

CA 180 Kings Canyon Highway Web Topic on AAroads

CA 180 east of Fresno was originally part of Legislative Route 41.  LRN 41 was first surveyed in 1909 according to CAhighways.org and partially opened from General Grant National Park (Grant Grove) towards he floor of Kings Canyon.   By 1919 another bond measure was authorized to extend LRN 41 into Kings Canyon properly.  It wasn't until 1933 that LRN 41 was fully extended to the Kings River.

CAhighways.org on LRN 41

The 1934 State Highway Map shows LRN 41/CA 180 completed to the Kings River.

1934 State Highway Map

Sometime between 1938 and 1940 CA 180 was extended eastward to Cedar Grove which can be seen by comparing the maps from the two years.

1938 State Highway Map

1940 State Highway Map 

Interestingly when CA 180 was defined in 1934 as a Signed State Route the legislative wording defined it having an eastern terminus at CA 7 (future US 395).  It would certainly seem that the creation of Kings Canyon National Park was a measure to stop the approaching roadway from entering the High Sierras or possibly draw logging operations.  More detail can be found on CAhighways.org.

CAhighways.org on CA 180

Prior to 1942 CA 180 used to run on Dunlap Road.  A full history of the alignment swap can be found on this blog I wrote featuring Dunlap Road.

Old CA 180 on Dunlap Road

Edit 6/21/19:  Since this article was published a 1934 Department of Public Works Guide has come to light which clearly spells out CA 180 was intended to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains to a terminus at CA 7 (future US 395).  A 1935 Goshua State Highway Map implies that the route of CA 180 was intended to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains somewhere in the vicinity of Onion Valley Road.

1934 Department of Public Works guide announcing the Signed State Highways

1935 Goshua State Highway Map

CA 180 has been a frequent topic of discussion of on Gribblenation, the other articles can be found below:

Signed County Route J1 and Old CA 180 on Panoche Road
Old CA 180 and CA 41 surface alignments in Fresno
Old California State Route 180 on Dunlap Road
CA 180 from CA 99 west to CA 33
CA 180 Kings Canyon Expressway and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Freeway

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