The trail to Mist Falls is one of the most popular in Kings Canyon. Families out for a short stroll from Roads' End, day hikers going to the falls, and backpackers starting the Rae Lakes Loop all share the first few miles of the trail. The hike to the falls is long but relatively easy because much of it is flat. Although most hikers turn around at the falls, a surprising number continue on to Paradise Valley.
Start at Roads' End. The wide, sandy Kanawyer Loop Trail is flat for the first three miles. The pine forest that it passes through is, at first, so open that the trail is fully exposed to the sun, offering views of the high canyon walls rising on either side. After the first mile and a half, the trail enters denser pine forest and begins to undulate up and down slightly.
At the first trail junction, which is about two miles from Roads' End, take the trail to your left. This trail is narrower but after a brief climb it remains more or less level, running through pine forest alongside a roaring river.
At mile 3 the trail begins to climb along some dramatic cascades in the boulder-strewn river, reaching Mist Falls at mile 4.5. The falls are quite impressive: the river rushes down a steep, smooth granite slope before pouring over a precipice. The roiling water does in fact produce a lot of mist.
There are a lot fewer hikers after Mist Falls, but you'd miss some great views if you turned around at the falls. Just after the falls, the scenery improves dramatically as the trail breaks out of the pine forest and begins to climb in earnest. There are a lot of steps, which gets kind of annoying since they're rough and tend to slow you down. At the top of a series of switchbacks is the best view of the hike, a look down into the deep, conifer-covered granite canyon. The stretch between Mist Falls and the top of the switchbacks is the best part of the hike; in fact, you won't miss too much by turning around at the top of the switchbacks.
After the switchbacks the trail continues to climb, running alongside a lively cascade in the river. The trail tops out in Paradise Valley, an attractive green valley where the river runs placidly and forms deep green pools. It's hard to believe that this part of the river is carrying the same amount of water as the violent cascades just downstream.
Pretty much everyone turns around by the Lower Paradise Valley campground. After this point the trail is nearly level for several miles as it runs along the valley floor, but it's densely wooded and there isn't much to see.
Return the way you came, or, as an alternate route, try the southern branch of the Kanawyer Loop Trail. This narrow, quiet trail is completely different from the busy northern branch. It feels like you have the canyon to yourself as the trail runs first through deep shady woods, then through sparse woods with a few big boulders. This route adds about a half-mile to the hike.
© 2012 David Baselt