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USA Boyden Cavern

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Between the Grant Grove and Cedar Grove sections of Kings Canyon National Park, California State Highway 180 passes through the Giant Sequoia National Monument, although you will see precious few giant sequoias along this stretch of highway (the individual groves are on dirt side roads or must be reached on foot….see descriptions for nearby spots closer to Grant Grove). This spot is the first “name brand” stop coming from Grant Grove and it’s a stone’s throw from the South Fork of the Kings River spot that I recently added. However, it is so different that it deserves its own spot.

At this spot, you have finally climbed down from Grant Grove to reach the South Fork of the Kings River. To the east, Hwy 180 follows the north bank of the river back into Kings Canyon National Park where more adventure awaits. The USGS Wren Peak Quadrangle (7.5’ topographic map) gives an elevation of 3,062.8 ft (933.5 m) for the bench mark on the west end of the bridge over the river. The trailhead for the cave, which is next to the modest Boyden Cavern Visitor Center, is only a few feet higher than this.

Boyden Cavern is one of two show caves in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon area, the other being Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park. Boyden Cavern is a relative small marble cave that sits about 125 feet (38 m) above the Kings Rivers. The total length of the cave is about 1,000 ft (300 m) and the tour takes you into the cave about 800 feet (240 m). Crystal Cave is a much longer cave, measuring nearly 2.5 miles (4.0 km), although its tour doesn’t cover much more length than the Boyden Cavern tour.

Boyden Cavern is estimated to be about 100,000 years old. As a result, many of its formations are relatively dry and have muted colors. The most colorful feature in the cave is a piece of “cave bacon” that has been helpfully backlit. Many of the features in the cave are small and delicate. Fortunately, most of these are out of arm’s reach (to protect them), yet close enough to appreciate and study the details.

During my most recent visit (Aug. 7, 2021, or about a week and a half before I created this spot), I noticed that the cave was drier than it had been the last time I visited, which was at least a decade ago. I suspect this is because California is currently in the middle of a long drought, so less water has been available to seep into the cave. On this trip, I only saw a few active drips from stalactites, but during wetter times there would be more. Also, we were able to exit the cave via “the river,” which is a small creek bed that I have seen wet during several previous visits.

Photography Tips

The cave is reasonably well lit, but light levels are low in places. Flash photography is permitted and I highly recommend you have one on your camera. On my most recent trip, I used the little FL-LM3 flash (Guide Number 9) on my Olympus E-M1 Mk III. It was strong enough for most of the photographs I took. However, to reduce shadows behind some of the features, I should have brought either my ring flash or my twin-head macro flash, both of which have similar guide numbers. In a larger cave, I would want a stronger flash.

For a lens, I used only my 12-40 mm f/2.8 zoom (24-80 mm “full frame” equivalent). I didn’t miss having a wider lens, but a longer lens would have let me better isolate specific small features.

Because cave features vary quite a bit, I uploaded more photographs than I would for most other spots.

Travel Information

From the Visitor Center in Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, drive 19.4 miles (31.2 km) north/northeast/east and make a right hand turn into the parking lot for Boyden Cavern. If you cross the adjacent bridge over the river, you have gone too far. Be sure to also stop at the South Fork of the Kings River spot, which you can see from the Boyden Cavern parking lot.

Boyden Cavern is closed in the winter because the road to Cedar Grove is closed in the winter.

You can purchase tickets for the tour inside the Boyden Cavern Visitor Center on a “walk-up” basis, but you are better off booking in advance through the Boyden Cavern website. This will guarantee that spots are available for the time you want to do the tour.

The path to the cave entrance is short (about 800 ft / 240 m) and is steep in places (the total elevation gain from the parking lot to the cave entrance is about 120 ft / 35 m). Fortunately, the path is paved so traction is good. Neither the path nor the cave are handicapped accessible.

If you exit via “the river”, I suggest bringing a small headlamp. Portions of this route are not as well lit as the path above.

For more information about Boyden Cavern:

For more information about some of the other caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (from here you can backtrack the website for more information about the parks themselves):

For more information about the Giant Sequoia National Monument:

For more information about the Kings River:
Spot Type Outdoor
Crowd Factor A decent amount of people
Best Timing Daytime during summer
Sunrise & Sunset 05:51 - 20:11 | current local time: 19:27
Photo Themes Cave Cavern

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Thank you Fred Lusk for creating this photo spot in USA.
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