Kings Canyon National Park is a large park, and most places to visit are within the backcountry. But there are some great trails in the front country that give you a taste of exploring the backcountry. Hiking the Rae Lakes Loop is a popular backcountry trail. But if you want a sample, consider hiking to Mist Falls, a portion of the route, which is a great alternative to exploring Kings Canyon National Park.
Kings Canyon National Park is in a narrow valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, and the trail to Mist Falls takes you deep into this wonderfully beautiful valley. With towering peaks 3,000 to 4,000 feet to your left and your right, hiking to Mist Falls is a great way to immerse yourself deep within these rocky mountains. When hiking this 8-mile out-and-back trail, you really feel the “canyon” in the name Kings Canyon.
I used Falcon Guide’s “Hiking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park,” to help me plan. The author details hiking to Paradise Valley. I chose not to do a 13-mile day hike, so I just went to Mist Falls.
Finding the trailhead
The trailhead for the Mist Falls trail is at Road’s End, which is pretty self-explanatory. There is only one road in Kings Canyon National Park, and the hike to Mist Falls begins at, well, the end of the road.
Kings Canyon National Park is divided into two sections, the Grant Grove section and the Cedar Grove section. The trailhead for Mist Falls is within the Cedar Grove section.
Trailhead to Bubbs Creek Trail
The trail begins by heading east along the South Fork of the Kings River. Here it takes you through a beautiful Sierra Nevada meadow surrounded by granite peaks on either side. At this point, the trail is wide, flat, and easy to walk. Some parts of the trail are a little sandy, which usually isn’t easy to walk on, but it’s not too hard here.
The trail also weaves in and out of evergreen forest and chaparral, a type of shrubland. It also provides you with peaks and glimpses of the South Fork of the King River.
Bubbs Creek Trail to Mist Falls
Right around mile 2, you come to an intersection with the Bubbs Creek Trail. To continue to Mist Falls, you want to continue straight or veer to the left. The Bubbs Creek Trail turns right from the main trail to Mist Falls and crosses the South Fork of the Kings River via a footbridge. If you find yourself crossing the river on a footbridge, you’ve gone the wrong way.
At mile 3.5 the trail zigzags up a granite slab. It also begins to climb a little. When you get to this part, you almost get slapped with the most amazing view that I have ever seen. This view is one reason why Kings Canyon National Park is one of my top favorites of all the parks. It shows you mountain folds piled upon mountains folds and shows just how deeply cut the Sierra Nevadas are.
It hugs the base of Buck Peak giving you views of the scree and rockfall which makes these mountains so rugged. At mile 2.9, you can look across the river and see the confluence of Glacier Creek. This view also shows you how rugged the area is.
Here the trail begins to head north and into the beginning of Paradise Valley. It continues to follow along the South Fork of the Kings River on the west side of the river through the narrow canyon.
Mist Falls Kings Canyon National Park
Around mile 4 you arrive at Mist Falls. Mist Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Kings Canyon National Park, cascading down about 100 feet on a granite slab. A log and rock jam creates a deep pool below the falls and then a smaller cascade as a sort of encore. The water is crystal clear and cold, but I saw a few backpackers take a dip.
From the waterfall, you simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead. But just because this trail is an out-and-back, doesn’t mean you see the same thing again. As you hike out of this narrow valley, you are treated to a whole new perspective. Because it’s so narrow and twisty, it’s hard to take it all in looking one direction.
- 8-mile out and back
- Elevation gain and loss 800 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed on this section