This page is about the centerpiece of Kings Canyon National Park — the canyon itself. For coverage of the park's sequoias, which are in a different part of the park, see the Grant Grove page.
Kings Canyon is a 1-hour drive from the Grant Grove entrance on winding mountain roads. The road descends through hot, dry, chapparal-covered hills with views of the forbidding topography around Kings Canyon. It passes through a narrow, vertical-walled gorge before bottoming out and following a pleasant stretch of the Kings River for the last few miles. Due to the danger of falling rock the road is closed each winter, usually from late November through April.
Because it doesn't have the waterfalls or distinctive rock formations of Yosemite, Kings Canyon gets relatively few visitors and still feels like a backwater. The concessions center, Cedar Grove Village, consists of a single building, and on most trails you can walk for hours without seeing anyone.
The canyon trail system consists of a trail that loops around the valley floor and seven trails that climb out of the canyon. The Paradise Valley Trail to Mist Falls and the Zumwalt Meadow Trail are heavily used by day hikers, and the Hotel Creek Trail gets moderate use. The other trails are used by backpackers to access the scenic alpine lakes and basins some 5,000 feet above the valley floor, particularly the extremely popular Rae Lakes. As day hiking destinations the backpacking trails aren't especially rewarding, since they start from a low altitude and it takes more than a day of hiking to reach the scenic payoff of the alpine zone and then return.
Noneless, there are some excellent day hiking options in Kings Canyon, particularly Zumwalt Meadow, Mist Falls, and the first two miles of the Copper Creek Trail. I'd also recommend wandering the trails along the south bank of the Kings River, which are enjoyable and little-used: it's immensely enjoyable to hike around on the valley floor without seeing any development and without crowds.
**** Zumwalt Meadow (1.5 miles, 90 feet)
Located in the most scenic part of Kings Canyon, this short hike around a canyon floor meadow is one of the park's most popular and enjoyable trails.
*** Mist Falls and Paradise Valley (11.7 miles, 1530 feet)
After Zumwalt Meadow, Mist Falls is the most popular hiking destination in the canyon. The real scenery, however, starts after the falls, where the trail climbs through a side canyon to the lush Paradise Valley.
*** The Copper Creek Trail (15.7 miles, 5220 feet)
The first two miles of this trail are the place to go for the best views of Kings Canyon. Determined hikers can continue on to climb out of the canyon entirely, to the edge of the alpine zone.
** The Lewis Creek Trail (11.7 miles, 3440 feet)
Although it doesn't have any dramatic vistas, this trail rambles through a very pretty shallow valley filled with meadows and sparse subalpine woods.
** The Hotel Creek Loop (7.2 miles, 1910 feet)
This popular loop starts near the Cedar Grove Lodge and climbs to an viewpoint overlooking central Kings Canyon.
* Don Cecil Trail (10.6 miles, 3760 feet)
The Don Cecil Trail is the least scenic of the trails that climb out of Kings Canyon, partly because it's wooded throughout and offers few scenic views.
© 2012 David Baselt