The Kings Canyon National Park Backcountry, Wilderness

Muir Pass and Evolution Basin have been separated out into a separate page Evolution Creek to Muir Pass. These are a special area, and are part of the San Joaquin River drainage, not the Kings River. The pictures of Elizabeth Pass, Bubbs Creek, Mist Falls, Junction Meadow, Avalanche Pass, Charlotte Lake, Rae Lakes, Center Basin, Forrester Pass (13,160ft), Bullfrog Lake, 60 Lakes Basin have been moved to a separate page to improve loading time.

Like Sequoia, most of Kings Canyon is managed as Wilderness (essentially everything more than 1 mile from a road -- wilderness is best defined by what the Wilderness Act of 1964 says, and by various designations, not by anything else). Overall, in these 2 parks 93.43% is designated and 3.5% more is managed as wilderness. The Sequoia park site has added an extended description of the wilderness with trip planning information and rules. Important information includes camping/grazing/fire restrictions, guides on food storage (use the approved portable container or camp near a storage locker), and rules on invasive plants and animals (snails primarily).

Wilderness is accessible by foot (either your feet or an animal's feet). Horses are allowed on most of the trails -- like everything this is both good and bad (it means trails need to be well constructed with limits on their steepness, but also that trails can be worn and dusty). In many areas, the routes taken by horse (mule) groups are obvious, just from the condition of the trail.

Most people who hike the Kings Canyon backcountry enter from some other wilderness rather than directly from the Kings Canyon road (and when you hike UP out of Roads End you will know why -- though something like Sawmill Pass is not much better). This (entry from Inyo National Forest) may account for a large drop in 2004-2006 (not charted) if these people are not counted by the park. From the east you have 3 hard passes Sawmill (11347ft), Taboose (11400ft), Baxter and one "easy" one Kearsarge (11823ft). The main difference between the easy and hard passes is where you start, around 4,000 to 5,000 ft for the hard or 8,000 to 9,000 for the easy. These last two primarily lead to Rae Lakes and Kearsarge Lake. From the North (and West) trails leave from the hydro power lakes (Courtright, Edison, Florence) built by SCE or PGE in the National Forest (unlike Hetch Hetchy where San Francisco destroyed part of Yosemite.

Twin Lakes, Muir Trail, Sawmill Pass Trail, Kings Canyon Twin Lakes. One of several dozen Twin Lakes in the Sierra. You could spend a year on a Twin Lakes loop. This one is at the junction of the Muir Trail and the Sawmill Pass Trail.
Martha Lake, Goddard Canyon, Hell for Sure Pass, Kings Canyon Martha Lake (upper Goddard Canyon) (11,000ft), August. Still frozen. Need I say more. It is a long trip to the lake, but is one of the better locations. This is located the north eastern part of the park (out of the Kings River drainage, near Evolution Basin). One access is the long slow climb from Florence Lake or cross country from Evolution Basin. But the best access is via Hell for Sure Pass (11297ft), like many names of features in the Sierra, there is a reason. (Remember best access is a comparative term not an absolute judgement.)
Hell for Sure Pass, Kings Canyon
Dusy Basin, Bishop Pass Trail, Kings Canyon Dusy Basin (11,300ft), a good day's hike in from the South Lake road end (9700ft) over Bishop Pass (11,972ft). The ideal stopping point to prepare for the drop that leads to the Muir Trail at Little Pete Meadow (8720ft) and the climb to Muir Pass (11,955ft). Part of the popular 5-7 day North Lake/South Lake hike through Evolution Basin. This area also provides access to the less travelled Palisades Basin.
Knapsack Pass, Dusy Basin, Palisades Basin, Kings Canyon Knapsack Pass (this route was a horse trail when stock grazing was allowed in the Palisades Basin). The pass provides the access from Dusy Basin to Palisades Basin.
Palisade Basin, North Palisade, Middle Palisade, Split Mountain, Kings Canyon Palisade Basin -- This is the back side of the Palisades. They are visible from the Big Pine area. (And are over 14,000) North Palisade (14242ft) is above this basin, Middle Palisade (14040ft) and Split Mountain (14058ft) (maybe it should be South Palisade, but the notch at the top gives it the Split Mountain name) are to the south.
Pinchot Pass, Sawmill Pass, Taboose Pass, Muir Trail, Kings Canyon Pinchot Pass (12050ft). This region between Sawmill (11347ft) and Taboose (11400ft) Passes to the east is some of the best high country along the Muir Trail. This is one of the strenuous hikes due to the distance to any road. Taboose Pass is the shortest access, but it is one of the famous exteme passes on the east side. Pinchot was the "father" of the forest service, he tended more toward use (as in the Forest Service Multiple Use) than preservation (as was the case for Mather, the "father" of the park service).
Taboose Pass, Kings Canyon Taboose Pass trail. The view is to Bench Lake. This area between Mather and Pinchot is worth a trip. The road ends (and the trail starts) at 5300ft with Taboose Pass a 7 mile hike to the 11,400ft crest. Mather (the "father" of the Park Service favored preservation) and Pinchot had different views on parks and preservation but their passes are consecutive along the Muir Trail.
Palisades Lake, Muir Trail, Golden Staircase, Kings Canyon Palisades Lake (10,650ft) -- on the Muir Trial -- is below the Palisades Basin region (did you expect Palisades Lake to be in the Palisades Basin?). Located below Mather Pass (12080ft) and above the Golden Staircase this becomes the obvious place to stop going in either direction.
Golden Staircase, Muir Trail, Kings Canyon The Golden Staircase. It passes through some yellow (golden) strata (not so apparent in this picture), it is essentially a staircase. Enough said.
Little Pete Meadow, Muir Trail, Bishop Pass, Le Conte Canyon,, Kings Canyon Between Muir Pass (11,955ft) to the north and Mather Pass (12,100ft) to the south and below the Golden staircase you pass through the Little Pete Meadow (in Le Conte Canyon 8729ft). A nice meadow, but with a lot of traffic for something so remote. The main access is from South Lake (9700ft) over Bishop Pass (11,972ft) which meets the Muir Trail here. Everyone else is on a longer trip or on a pack (mule) trip.
Kings Canyon Backcountry Visitation
Backcountry visitation depends on the weather. Few people visit through the winter. Visitation declined substantially in the 1980's due to many factors. Some was caused by the application of a trail head quota system that limits damage to popular areas and encourages people to try less used trails or times other than weekends. In some cases over used lakes were made off limits for camping and the grazing of livestock (pack mules and horses) was restricted. Today you see the improved conditions as some of these meadows are looking better. Why is October 2003 so high? It is also high for Sequoia.

Return to my Sequoia Kings Canyon home page.