Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 6 out of 10
Distance: 9.2 miles (round trip)
Max Elevation: 4500 feet
Elevation Gain: 800 feet
Kings Canyon National Park has all the beauty and features of Yosemite without the huge crowds and miles of roadway. It is perfect for hikers and backpackers with fewer roads to the best attractions than more congested parks. I have also found it to be cooler in the summer than Yosemite.
Allow 3 to 5 hours for this hike depending on your fitness level, how fast you hike, the age level of your group, and how long you stop to enjoy the view. The first two miles of the trail follow along the northern shore of the Kings River. The trail is easy with good views of lots of rock formations, Manzanita, and pine trees. There was a fire a few years ago so it is really open with good views of Kings Canyon.
Eventually the trail drops a little into a cedar grove and the trees get thicker from then on. After a couple miles the trail forks with the trail to the right going to a large metal foot bridge that crosses the Kings River.
The trail to the left continues on to Mist Falls. There is a sign with clear directions on which path to take. It is worth walking the extra hundred yards or so to the bridge and looking at the river.
The trail gets a little more challenging at this point as it follows along the river. More cedar groves provide an excellent fragrance. You will hear the falls before you see them which will give you an indication that you are almost there. The trail gets a little more steep and rocky the last half mile.
We stopped at the falls, sat down on a large rock, ate our lunch, and took pictures of the falls. The falls are more of a cascade down steep rocks than the huge drops people see in places like Yosemite. In the spring the volume of water can be so great that the falls creates a mist that can make viewing the complete falls difficult. Summer offers a better view but with less water volume the sight is not as spectacular. Still the falls were loud enough that we found it difficult to talk without yelling even in a dry year during August.
The return trip was fast with the first part being mostly down hill. We saw a bear and her cub in the river about a mile down from the falls and took the short detour to the foot bridge again for the view of the river. Bears can be a problem. There are bear boxes at the parking area. Day hikers are encouraged to put all food in the boxes or keep it out of sight. Packs carrying food should be kept with the hiker at all times. Overnighters must put everything including toothpaste, lotions, gum, soap, and anything else with a fragrance in the boxes. There are restroom facilities (drop toilets) at the trail head but nothing on the trail.
WHERE IS THE HIKE?
The Mist Falls Trail begins at the end of Highway 180 east of Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Highway 180 can be accessed from either Highway 41 or Highway 99 in Fresno, CA. It is a bit of a drive to get to the trail head time wise due to how windy the road is even though it is only about 35 miles from the HWY 180 entrance gate to Sequoia National Park. Plan on about an hour drive from the gate.
The road (HWY 180) ends in a parking area with small Ranger shack where the overnight backpackers get info, permits, etc. There is a sign right next to the shack at the start of the trail that lists the distance to Bubbs Creek, Mist Falls, and Paradise Valley. The trail is well marked and easy to find. This trail is the launching and ending point for many different backpacking trips into Kings Canyon National Park so it is well traveled.
The National Park charges $10 per person or $20 per vehicle as of August 2012. You can get an annual vehicle pass for both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks for $30. This is a significant savings over the annual pass for all National Parks and will save you money if you plan on making more than one trip to these two parks with family or friends. Additional fees may apply for overnight permits, campgrounds, and tours of the Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
A day pack with a good supply of water is recommended. Summer temperatures can reach the high 80s to low 90s but the average is usually in the 70s. Check the weather forecast before you go. Make sure everyone in your party has enough water, particularly any children. While the rivers are crystal clear they contain all sorts of nasty bugs that will make you sick. Do not drink the water out of the rivers and streams.
Summer in Kings Canyon also is frequented by afternoon showers so a rain poncho is recommended. Our visit only had light rain that did not require the use of rain gear. Sun screen and bug repellent are highly recommended. The mosquitoes were not bad on the day we went but I have been there when they have been hungry. Good shoes or hiking boots are recommended but we did see some barefoot hikers on the trail.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Ideal hiking days are spring to fall. Check road conditions and weather forecasts. The road to the trail head is closed in the winter because of snow. Early spring and late fall visitors may need to pack tire chains in case of snow fall and/or be prepared for delays because of snow removal.
Because of the friendly terrain of this hike, normal walking a few miles a day or the fitness level to be able to walk a few miles are all that is required. Consult your physician if you have any physical limitations. Check the weather before going and be prepared for changes.
Day Pack, Hydration Bladder or large canteen, insect repellant, rain poncho, energy bars or other snacks, sweat shirt or something more for the spring and fall periods. Layers are always good so you can shed them when it gets warmer or add them as it gets cooler. Toilet paper and a trowel or small shovel if you need to go on the trail.