The Sierra Gateway Highway, Fresno County's designated Scenic Highway, is a road of great joy and transition. It starts in the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley, ascends through the “Golden Hills of California", traveling upward through magnificent displays of California Poppies, Lupine, and Redbud and a forest of Valley Oaks, climbing to the majesty of the Giant Sequoias, before descending into the canyon of the Kings River to end on the floor of Kings Canyon.
This is a road of ever changing views in terms of time of year, time of day, and the direction you are driving:
- At the very start on our roadway, the spectacular Sierra Nevada mountains are seen in the distance, snow-covered in Winter, massive granite peaks in Summer.
- From our start at only 400 ft. elevation, our road climbs to 6,500 ft. at General Grant Grove, from which we descend to the floor of Kings Canyon at 4,600 ft. – an ascent and descent offering an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
- This is a highway not only to great beauty (Kings Canyon National Park) but through great beauty.
- This is a road for eyes, for ears, and for memory – hidden history and the ever changing sights of wildflowers, trees, and geologic formations, and the ever changing sounds of an astounding variety of birds.
Length of Byway or Route
From Fresno go east on Highway 180 to Centerville where the Scenic Highway begins its climb to the southern Sierra Nevada.
From Sequoia National Park, our road is encountered shortly after entering Kings Canyon National Park. Highway 180 goes west towards Fresno and alternately north and east to Kings Canyon and Cedar Grove.
In Winter, the road to Grant Grove is normally open while, beyond that, the road to Cedar Grove is normally closed.
There are entrance fees to Kings and Sequoia National Parks.
Highlights and Key Points Along the Route
KINGS RIVER - Early on our road, you cross the Kings River with a wide and deep flow in early Spring, dwindling to almost nothing in the Fall. The Kings River is the major source of irrigation water for the fertile farmlands seen from the highway.
IRRIGATED FARMLAND - In Spring, the stretch from the small town of Minkler to the crossing of Cove Ave. serves as part of Fresno County's tourist-attractiing Blossom Trail, and later in the season, the Fruit Trail, centered in an area of major agricultural importance to our country. Today’s orchards and vineyards stand where once stood vast unfenced cattle ranches of the 1880s.
UNSEEN HISTORY - Just beyond the old brick Frankwood School, you cross the historic (c. 1883) Alta Canal, and the more modern Friant-Kern Canal – both providing water coming from the Sierra Nevada mountains delivered to our valley via the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers. As you cross these canals, you pass through Dunigan’s Gap with majestic Jesse Morrow Mountain to the north and Mt. Campbell to the south – both rich in local Native American history.
PACIFIC BIRD FLYWAY - While unmarked, the first mile of your ascent is beneath the Pacific Bird Flyway – the great North-South migration path which sees millions of birds make their annual transit every Spring and Fall.
MORE UNSEEN HISTORY - In another mile, look carefully to the south as you cross Wahtoke Creek. Within the shade of those granite boulders and oaks a Choinumni village once stood – for perhaps thousands of years.
GOLDEN HILLS - As you leave the San Joaquin Valley and ascend towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the lush green grasslands of Spring soon turn into the “Golden Hills of California” by early Summer.
KINGS CANYON SCENIC BYWAY – As you pass the Hume Lake U.S. Forest Service District Office just east of Clingan’s Junction, our road from here on also encompasses the federally-designated Kings Canyon Scenic Byway which includes a number of highlights to visit including Boyden Cave, Grizzly Falls, and several others.
GRANT GROVE - You can pause for a moment at the General Grant Grove to visit some of earth’s largest living things – the most notable being the General Grant Tree, a living National Shrine and our Nation’s Christmas Tree. Grant Grove, the original National Park in this area, started the preservation of the Giant Sequoias. Quoting the National Park Service, “It is difficult to comprehend the immense size, age and stature of the General Grant Tree, but it is easy to let your mind and spirit rise as its trunk carries your gaze toward the skies.”
SIERRA VIEWS – As our road descends into Kings Canyon, there is a continuously changing viewscape of meadows, mountains, and canyons. On this stretch, we pass the Converse Basin Grove, the Indian Basin Grove, and the expansive Princess Meadow.
TURN-OFF TO HUME LAKE – This lake has a historic dam, the world’s first reinforced concrete multiple arch dam, built in 1908.