Posted by: GeekHiker | September 21, 2009

HIKE: Mist Falls

Mist Falls, with its relatively small elevation gain, can easily be done as a half-day hike.  I don’t recommend it, though.

Instead, the trail out and back to Mist Falls in Kings Canyon National Park is more worthy of slower ramble.  Take time to enjoy the quiet canyon, the sound of the South Fork of the Kings River, a lunch with Mist Falls in the background, and a lazy return.

Well, it’s just a suggestion.

From the trailhead, walk past the Ranger Hut.  Here you can obtain permits for overnight use in the backcountry, for trails such as the Rae Lakes Loop, but you won’t need one just for a dayhike.

The first couple of miles are relatively flat, dipping in and out of shady pine groves.  Occasionally the view opens up to reveal Grand Sentinel above you, and paths lead off to the side down to the river.  Other times, the trail plunges into relative darkness when the trees and underbrush become thick.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 01
Starting out on the trail in the flat, open section, often hot in the summer

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 02
Soaked by the previous night’s rain, “steam” rises from a log near the river

At about two miles, the trail crosses some rough granite, goes through a cluster of thick horsetails, then reaches a split.  One path heads off to the right, heading south over a bridge across the river and towards the Bubbs Creek Trail.  Our path continues uphill to the left (north), starting a gentle ascent.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 03
Heading through a dark, shady section of forest

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 04
Looking up at Grand Sentinel

At about about 3 miles, the trail emerges from the shade, crossing over large slabs of granite as the view widens to the south.  Here and there the rock appears smooth and polished.  This is glacial polishing, evidence of days long ago when giant glaciers swept down through this valley.  The South Fork of the Kings River, though it sometimes disappears from sight, is almost never unheard.  Here and there it peeks through, its rushing cold water sliding over slick granite.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 05
Looking down the canyon towards The Sphinx from along the trail

Kings Canyon - Kings River Photomerge 02
Rapids along the river

Newer evidence of nature’s work can as the trail ascends high above the river, where down and to the right you can see where the water has carved cauldrons in the solid rock.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 08
Water-carved bowls in the solid granite

The trail again enters the forest until, at 4.4 miles, you finally arrive at Mist Falls.  In early summer, the falls swollen with spring snowmelt, the Mist Falls certainly earn their name.  By late summer, when these pictures were taken, the water is significantly less, but you can still get close to the falls and have the mist cool you.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 06
Mist Falls

Spread out your lunch on a rock and enjoy.  Or, ascend the trail a few yards further and look at the long stretch of rushing waters that leads down to the brink.  Note: the rocks everywhere around the falls is VERY smooth, and even with late summer’s low flows can be dangerous.  Exercise caution.

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls Photomerge 01
Water rushes over smooth granite towards the brink of the falls

Be sure to look to the eastern wall of the canyon as well, where the “Man of the Mist” looks down over the scene

Kings Canyon - Mist Falls 07
The “Man of the Mist” casting his stern gaze

You can return by the same route or, as an alternative (with a slight .1 mile distance addition), you can cross the river at the Bubbs Creek Trail junction and pick up the Bubbs Creek Trail on the other side, turning right and heading West.  This trail winds through the flat valley floor on the south side of the river, further away from the water than the north side trail.  Here and there, massive boulders cleaved from the valley walls sit on the flat earth (one can only imagine the sound they made as they fell).  The trail also enters wide open patches where you can easily see the high valley walls soaring above you, the distinctive “U” shape of the valley evident, much like Yosemite Valley to the north.

After 2.4 miles of walking, take another bridge across the river, delivering you back to the Road’s End parking lot.

Total Distance: 8.8 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 790’/790′


Directions: From CA-99 in Fresno, exit Highway 180 east towards Kings Canyon National Park. Follow the road into the park, paying the entrance fee at the station, then through the park, into Sequoia National Forest, then back into Kings Canyon, heading towards Cedar Grove (the road will cease to be Hwy 180 at the second crossing into Kings Canyon). The road will end at, appropriately enough, the Roads End parking area, about 5.5 miles past Cedar Grove Village.

Hike Profile:Mist Falls Profile
NOTE: This hike profile graph is only ONE-WAY; elevation gain reverses on the return. (Sorry, batteries died at the falls and I didn’t hear the “beep” over the roar!)



  1. I never hiked kings canyon and now I regret that. Sounds wonderful.

    Oh yeah, always carry extra batteries and check your GPS periodically says the man who often doesn’t do that himself.

  2. Kings Canyon…my favorite place on earth!

  3. Awesome photos!!! Love the “steam” one and the Mist Falls one. The stone man is funny!

  4. What kind of conversations does one have with the stone man? Is he a wise thing? Or is he just stoned all the time? It would be an interesting story.

    I like the pictures and the descriptions as well. Very, very cool 🙂 And you know what else I liked? I did not see one bug in these pictures 🙂

  5. The thing I like much with your country is that you *do* have all sorts of landscapes, mountains etc. It’s a real pleasure to discover them.

  6. Never hiked Around there, but It looks awesome!

  7. Homer-Dog – I hadn’t been since I was a kid, so it was all new to me too. Now, of course, I can’t wait to go back.

    Hebba – When was the last time you were there?

    K – The steam in the mornings was cool, and it was everywhere, backlit by the sun

    MissMcCracken – Well, he’s actually hundreds of feet up the canyon wall, so it’s a little tough to chat… as for the bugs, you should have seen the flys at the start of the hike!

    Gany – I agree; California has so much variety!

    Jean – It was indeed

  8. Hiked the trail 5/16/2010. It was beautiful! Your comments about the hike were spot on!

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