If you only drive through you’ll be disappointed: Sequoia and Kings Canyon have the superlative scenery and postcard views of other national parks, but you have to hike to find them.
Naturally, sequoia groves are the primary draw to both namesake Sequoia as well as Kings Canyon national parks. But the parks offer pleasant excursions to lakes and waterfalls, as well as some challenging hikes high into the High Sierra.
The hiking season is fairly short. The middle elevations--4,000 to 8,000 feet--are often snow-covered from November through May. In Mineral King, and higher in the High Sierra, the season is even shorter.
No waterfall connoisseur will mistake Kings Canyon’s cascades for Yosemite’s renowned falls, but some, such as Mist Falls, are very special in their own way. Next time you visit, add a waterfall hike to your walk among the big trees.
Wind whisking water through the canyon of the South Fork of the Kings River makes the mist.
Mist hovers around the lip of the falls and sprays the mossy rocks and trees down river. Sometimes it’s so misty, one can scarcely discern Mist Falls.
Like other High Sierra waterfalls, Mist Falls is best in spring when the Kings River is most vigorous. Later in summer the falls diminish considerably.
Mist Falls Trail (eight miles round trip) crosses Copper Creek on a wooden footbridge and sets out over flat, sunny terrain with a scattering of incense cedar and ponderosa pine. A mile and a half out, the path leads into thicker, wetter forest with more ferns.
At the two-mile (halfway) mark you reach a signed junction. The right fork leads over a bridge and along Bubbs Creek. Stay left for Mist Falls.
Continue low along the canyon wall above Kings River. The path heads north, passing through both thick, shady forest and exposed, open areas of brush.
Four miles out, the trail nears the falls and a short, signed trail takes you down to the riverbank.
On your return route, back at the trail’s halfway point, consider returning via the path that extends along the other (south) side of Kings River.
Access: Take California 180 to the park’s Big Stump entrance and Grant Grove. Proceed 37 winding miles to a parking lot and information station at Road’s End.
Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia National Park’s major recreation hub, is at the bottom of a dramatic canyon cut by the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. For the hiker, this hub’s canyon bottom means it’s all uphill from here.
Happily for the casual hiker, there is a fairly mellow trail--Tokopah Valley Trail (3.5 miles round trip)--that parallels the Marble Fork and delivers the hiker to Tokopah Falls. The falls--most vigorous in the spring when windblown spray can soak you as you approach--cascade over the dramatic granite cliffs.
The trail offers close-up views of Marble Fork, a glacially carved tributary of the Kaweah River.
This is a popular hike, particularly with campers staying at Lodgepole Campground.
Follow the woodsy trail along the Kaweah River, emerging from the forest in half a mile to get a pretty good view of the Tokopah Valley. You’ll cross a meadow and about a mile out, cross Horse Creek on a wooden footbridge.
As you near the falls, you’ll cross bouldery terrain on a well-engineered length of trail, then lift your eyes to behold Tokopah Falls.
Access: Begin at Lodgepole’s east end by Log Bridge over the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. The trail begins just north of the bridge. Parking is on the south side of the river.
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Mist Falls Trail
WHERE: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
DISTANCE: To Mist Falls is 8 miles round trip; to Tokopah Falls is 3.5 miles round trip.
TERRAIN: South Fork Kings River Gorge, Marble Fork of Kaweah River.
HIGHLIGHTS: Lovely Mist Falls, Tokopah Falls.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
PRECAUTIONS: Stay away from edge of falls.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Three Rivers, CA 93271; tel. (209) 565-3341.