Exploring the Canyon of the Kings

Canyon of the Kings
The confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Kings River, the destination of this hike.

“Bathed in such beauty, watching the expressions ever varying on the faces of the mountains, watching the stars, which here have a glory that the lowlander never dreams of, watching the circling seasons, listening to the songs of the waters and winds and birds, would be endless pleasure. And what glorious cloud-lands I would see, storms and calms, a new heaven and a new earth every day.” – John Muir, January 1911

Originally published December 6, 1996, in The Kaweah Commonwealth

Listening to the songs of the waters and winds and birds was the endless pleasure enjoyed by our family of four last weekend as we explored the Kings Canyon and its mighty rivers. In fact, we experienced everything mentioned in the above John Muir quotation. Canyon of the Kings

We spent two nights at Kings Canyon Lodge that is currently the “road’s end” on Highway 180.Canyon of the Kings

Until this season, Hwy. 180 was closed at the top of the hill at the Hume Lake junction for the winter months. Now the gate is located about one-half mile below Kings Canyon Lodge or one-half mile before Yucca Point. Canyon of the Kings

During summer, through-traffic would be flying by on their way to the true road’s end at Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. We were treated to quiet days and serene nights with the only sounds being the canyon winds and the roar of Tenmile Creek hurrying on its way to meet up with the Kings River at the bottom on the canyon, more than 1,000 vertical feet below.

And this is the area we set off to explore on Saturday. We awoke to find that the previous day’s clouds had moved out and a beautiful, clear, crisp fall day awaited us.Canyon of the Kings

The Yucca Point trailhead is located about one mile below Kings Canyon Lodge, located in Sequoia National Forest (Giant Sequoia National Monument). If parking in the turnout just above the locked gate, it is an approximate three-quarter-mile walk on the highway to the trail.

The beginning elevation at the Lodge is 3,800. The elevation at trail’s end, the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River two miles below, is about 2,200 feet. This makes it the perfect autumn outing.

This trail is a well-traveled fishermen’s route. Be forewarned, however, that the fishing restrictions are catch-and-release only in this portion of the Kings River.

Canyon of the Kings

The trail is a steady decline that switchbacks down the mountain on the east side of Tenmile Creek. The vegetation consists of many plants we are familiar with here in our foothills environment – redbud, live oak, manzanita, yucca, buckeye, and the pungent laurel. Watch out, too, for poison oak, which currently has shed its leaves but not its irritating oils.

Soon our destination came into view. We were looking straight down to where the two forks of the Kings meet and up the deep canyons these two powerful rivers have carved since the beginning of time.

This view is in sight during most of the hike. Other awe-inspiring vistas include Tombstone Ridge to the northeast, Windy Cliffs to the east and, farther up, Tehipite Dome. Canyon of the Kings

Windy Cliffs

Near the end of the trail, we met up with Tenmile Creek. In the distance, an amazing 200-foot waterfall cascades down smooth granite into a large pool. We were just in time to see a small bear or some other medium-sized animal swimming across the calm pool. We couldn’t get the binoculars out in time to make a positive identification before it disappeared behind some rocks but, nonetheless, it was a rare sight.

Our final approach to the river bottom was through a canopy of live oaks and laurel. The trail ends abruptly at the confluence.

We headed downstream looking for a sunny lunch spot and a good fishing hole. The river, even though at one of its lowest levels all year, was swift and extremely cold. It was obvious that if anyone fell in, especially one of the kids, there would be no saving them.

Since the water levels were lower than spring or early summer, however, we had quite a bit of beach and many boulders on which to play. We ended our hike about a quarter mile downstream where Tenmile Creek meets the Kings.

Although the hike back to the highway is entirely uphill, the grade is gradual enough not to be too strenuous. The two-mile jaunt will take about an hour, not including the walk on the closed stretch of highway to the car… or the Kings Canyon Lodge.

Midmorning the following day, there was a light rain with intermittent sun and a beautiful rainbow that ended in the canyon bottom where we hiked the day before. Snow was falling on Tombstone Ridge. It was a fitting end to our autumn outing.

What’s left of the Kings Canyon Lodge. It was burned to the ground in the Rough Fire of 2015.

The Kings Canyon Lodge will be open until the end of December. They will then take a short break and be back in business just in time for Spring Break.

It’s a funky, eclectic, rustic place owned and operated by Lewis Evans. The Lodge is located 13 miles north of Grant Grove on Hwy. 180. It’s about a two-hour drive from Three Rivers, no matter which park entrance is used.

Other areas we explored this weekend in the parks and adjacent forest were Hume Lake and the Quail Flat Road, Lost Grove, Cabin Creek, and Wolverton.

The crowds are gone, the scenery is spectacular, and it’s all so close to home. Discover Sequoia and Kings Canyon this fall!

History: The Kings Canyon area was first proposed as a national park by John Muir in 1891, the year after the creation of Sequoia National Park, but the park was not fully established until 1940. It bears the name of the river that in 1805 a Spanish explorer dubbed Rio de los Santos Reyes, or “river of the holy kings.”

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall. In spring, water levels will be dangerously high. In summer, early morning is best for the outing due to hot temperatures. Canyon of the Kings

Update: Kings Canyon Lodge was destroyed by the Rough Fire, a lightning-caused fire that jumped the Kings River and raged through the area in the fall of 2015.


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