Day Hiking Kings CanyonThis is a trip report from early August 2008, I was in Kings Canyon with family, not serious hikers. For four days in a row I went hiking, mostly easy but one harder day, 17 miles to Avalanche Pass. In the bottom of the canyon, near the roads, trail heads, and campgrounds there is about 10 miles of easy flat trails, so if you want to spend more than one day hiking, plan on longer hikes up out of the lower canyon and into the higher country. Here are the four day hikes that I did. I hope you will find these day hike route descriptions useful.
Day 1 Mist Falls
As is typical with a large group, we got a late start. Seven of us took off from roads end toward Mist Falls at about 8a. The flat walk across the valley floor was easy and with a few photo stops along the way we made the two miles to Paradise Valley in about an hour. Great scenery walking through the forest and along the river. The bugs were bad in spots and we weren't walking fast enough to get away from them. We turned up Paradise Valley and the trail steepened, but was still very moderate. Now we were walking along the South Fork of Woods Creek. Evidence of the glaciers is there if you look, the polished rock from the glaciers traveling down the canyon in the prehistoric past, is still evident in places although erosion has erased most of it. There is also glacial striations, scratches in the polished bed rock from smaller rocks trapping the the glacier, scratching along the bed rock. The short hike up the canyon to Mist Falls was nice in the morning coolness. There were fewer bugs due to less standing water in the steeper Paradise Valley. We met a few people completing the Rae Lakes Loop, 42+ miles, most hikers were on day 6 or 7 of their hike and almost back to civilization. We turned around and headed back, on the return we crossed over to the South side of Kings River and took the slightly longer trail back, that side is a little less forested and a little drier. Total trip 10 miles and about 5 hours.
Day 2 Copper Creek
The previous day killed off everyone but my sister in law, a letter carrier. She is much more used to walking. So we took off up the Copper Creek trail. This trail has a Southern exposure, and looks like it would be brutal in hot weather. A much steeper trail, but smooth and a constant grade. We started in the cool of the day and we made up the past the tree-less side of the canyon up into the pines and shade. There were lots of deer tracks and for a while we could see bear tracks on the trail. The trail was just starting to be interesting, we were up on the rim of Kings Canyon Heading into Granite Basin when my sister in law announced that she had enough. So we turned around and headed back down. We passed a few pack trains of mules on the way up, taking people and supplies up into the high country. There were also a few backpackers that had started late heading up as well. We made it back to the campground by 11a, round trip was about 8 miles. Later in the day the T-boomers came in and I could see lightning and rain further up the canyon. But it stayed dry at the campground.
Day 3 Avalanche pass
After sitting around the campfire drinking coffee for a while, I started off rather later than I should have from Roads End, about 7:30a. No one else was willing, so I was hiking solo. I had no watch so my day was divided into early and cool and later and hotter. I hiked the main trail up the canyon past the Paradise Canyon cutoff at 2 miles in, the ground was wet, it had obviously rained quite a bit the day before and the ground was saturated. I headed on up the switch backs along Bubbs Creek in the main part of the canyon. I passed a few solo backpackers and talked a few minutes with them, getting their story and heard about their rain and lightning fun from the day before. At Sphinx Creek I turned South and followed that creek up the steep side canyon with the namesake Sphinx rock looking down, it is easy to see the resemblance to the real Sphinx. The trail up the canyon switches back and forth and strays far East of the creek, finding the best way up. The trail is cut into the rock and is a couple miles of steep stairs, before coming back along side the creek. Water cascades down the steep canyon out of the forest above. Once gaining the trees in the part of the forest that wraps down from the rim into the top of the side canyon the trail eases and is much more scenic. I met a large backpack group coming out of a three week trip in the higher country, it was obvious that hadn't talked much for a while and had mixed feelings about being nearly back. When I asked where they had been, one guy started to try to explain but it seemed to hard for him, he just stopped trying to use words and with a perplexed look he waved his arm over a 180 degree swing and said, "up there".
I continued to move up higher through the Lodgepole pine and through a grove of Sequoia that looked ancient, but not a large as others in the park. The trail followed along the Sphinx creek and past a beautiful and large camp next to the creek. I had used all of my two liters of water so I refilled straight from the creek without filtering. I continued on up and passed through a meadow of tundra and flowers. Now I was within site of Avalanche pass, about a mile away. A combination of a scree slope ahead and gathering storm clouds convinced me to turn around and head back down, I assume from the angle of the sun that it was around 11a, it was cooler up high, I was around 9500' in elevation. I had come up about 5000' and a distance of 8+ miles, in about 3 1/2 hours and I was starting to feel it, but going down was fast. I made it back to camp at 1pm for a round trip of about 17 miles.
Day 4 Roaring River and Zumwalt Meadows
I was sore from the day before, but a few other hikers were now game to go out again, and I thought that an easy day of walking was just what I needed anyway. So we started at Roaring River and hiked up the paved trail, then climbed rocks over some class 4 terrain, where we could see up the canyon. I will definitely go back, and head up that canyon, it looked narrow, steep, and fun. There is no indication of trails and nothing on any map, I would assume that there would be a few water crossings so fall might be best. Maybe I will try to go up the canyon and scramble down one of the drainages a little further West, oh well that's for another trip. We headed back down and then across the forest and along the river toward Zumwalt Meadow, passing some fly fisherman along the way. We did the loop around the Meadow and then crossed the river and headed back toward Roaring River going cross country on the trail-less but easy North side of the river. We made it back after about 4 hours and about 10 miles of easy hiking.
In 4 easy days of hiking we just scratched the surface. Up Roaring River Canyon will be a must. If I can get someone to do the car swap, and head the opposite way, the trail from Onion Valley to Roads End would be a long and fun day hike of about 22 miles, but it would cross the Sierras, so I am working on getting that trip organized. I also really need to get up into the high country and put some miles on the trails there.