King's Canyon National Park
Distance: 10 miles Time: 3 hours Type: There and back
The hike into Paradise Valley is apparently one of the most popular in King’s Canyon but we only passed a few other walkers on the trail when we visited the park in mid-September. With the season coming to an end and many of the campsites shut, the park was quiet and peaceful. Walking in the late afternoon with the sun low in the sky, there was a calm in the air; the light was soft and the walls of the canyon burnt a soft red against the deep blue of the sky. Atmospheric to say the least.
The hike starts from the end of King’s Canyon Scenic Byway (highway 180), from a car park aptly named Road’s End. The drive along the 180 into the canyon is, as its name would suggest, very scenic indeed. The road offers stunning views at every turn, winding lower and lower until it eventually reaches the floor of the canyon.
It’s important to fill up with petrol well in advance because there are no stations in the park itself. There is one station along the 180 before the park entrance at the King’s Canyon Lodge which I had wagered on stopping at to fill up but unfortunately no-one was around when we arrived. We stuck around for a while, however, hoping that someone might turn up.
It turned out to be a pretty atmospheric spot. The lodge is a traditional way station with classic gas pumps from the 1920s and the owner has placed a feeder for hummingbirds on the side of the building. We spent a good 20 minutes watching 10 or 11 hummingbirds drinking from the feeder and whizzing around the lodge and through the nearby trees. Eventually we ended up having to make the drive back to Grant Grove to fill up, which was a fairly long detour but necessary given our low tank level.
For the first couple of miles from Road's End the hike shares the Kanawyer Loop Trail along the canyon floor. Then the path takes off to the north, entering Paradise Valley and starting to climb. It stays fairly close to a river and eventually reaches Mist Falls, low waterfalls that gently crash against some large granite boulders. It is possible to continue on the trail after the waterfalls but most people turn around at this stage and head back to Road's End along the same path.
The real highlight of the hike is a viewpoint on a large rock platform looking back down the valley. It's the kind of classic beauty I associate strongly with the Sierra Nevada: white granite mountains covered in endless coniferous forest with the crashing of rapids against broken boulders echoing through the valley. A frontier beckoning.
After the long drive out of the canyon we headed back to our camping spot on a granite plateau along a dirt road outside the national park boundary. We made a fire from the plentiful deadwood nearby, and being very dry the fire burnt tall and brightly.
A map of the park can be found here: