The southern Sierra Nevada region has so many great things to do, it’s difficult to know what’s best to do when. There’s even more choices during this unprecedented late spring run-off season of how best to use one’s limited time or vacation days. Here are a couple recommendations of can’t-miss sights that are optimal for touring right now.
1. KINGS CANYON
For unbelievable waterfalls and way-above-the norm-whitewater in the Kings River, this canyon rivals Yosemite, but without the crowds.
In fact, John Muir called the canyon of the Kings “Little Yosemite.” In 1891, he addressed the Sierra Club on a granite slab on the riverbank near Road’s End. A protracted battle ensued that lasted five decades, finally culminating in the creation of Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, which encompassed this grand canyon in its boundaries.
Must do and see— Stop at a scenic overlook on the way down and marvel at the deepest canyon in the lower 48. Yes, that’s correct, it’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and much more accessible.
Picnic at Grizzly Falls. Feel the cold spray and the power of water up close and personal.
Take the short walk to Roaring River Falls. These powerful falls demonstrate how water can carve a steep cut in solid granite in only a couple million years.
Take the boardwalk hike around Zumwalt Meadow. In the upper gorge of the Kings River in Cedar Grove, the channel spreads out and the flow slows, watering one of the most beautiful meadows anywhere in the Sierra Nevada.
Stand on John Muir Rock, the same granite slab where John Muir advocated preservation of Kings Canyon. Feel the vibe and be inspired.
Travel recommendations— Set aside all day for this loop trip. From Three Rivers, enter Sequoia National Park at Ash Mountain and drive across the Generals Highway to Grant Grove and continue north into Kings Canyon. On the return, bear right at the Y just past Grant Grove and take Highway 180 to the Highway 245 turnoff. Follow 245 past Miramonte then take Dry Creek Drive (turning south on Highway 216 for a mile to return to Highway 198).
2. MINERAL KING
What’s occurring in the Mineral King valley and its surrounding granite cirques is truly remarkable. In the past 30 years, June runoff events like 2019 on the average only occur once every 10 or 15 years.
Must do and see— Once in the Mineral King valley cross the bridge over the East Fork and park in the lot at the end of the road. This is the trailhead parking for Eagle/Mosquito Lakes and White Chief Canyon. Each of the these sublime destinations are popular backpacking routes after the snow melts and make great day hikes too.
Incredibly, the parking lot and some adjacent acreage is still owned by the Disney Company. That’s another story for another day.
For now, be content with hiking the first .50 mile of the trail to the Spring Creek crossing. With the rapidly melting snow obscuring the footing, no need to chance the crossing until the trail crew installs the footbridge. That will happen when the water recedes.
After experiencing the thunderous power of all that melting snow, return the way you came and cross the East Fork bridge, but before you head over to the Franklin Lakes trail, take a photo on the bridge with Farewell Gap in the background. It’s an iconic view of some of the best scenery that Mineral King has to offer.
Next, take the Franklin Lakes trail on the north side of the valley past the pack station for approximately one mile to where Crystal Creek crosses the trail. The creek will be hard to ford currently so this is a good turn-around spot to keep your feet dry. But take note along the entire route of the beautiful stream-side meadows and sandy beaches and venture on down to the river and stake out a spot to relax. There are many scenic spots to break out a picnic lunch.
Upon leaving Mineral King and heading back down the road, stop at the Silver City Store and Restaurant for pie with a scoop of ice cream. After dessert, order a French press pot of Mavericks coffee and relax on the expansive deck. With the driver perked up and alert, negotiate the last 22 miles of the Mineral King Road and return to Three Rivers safely.
Travel recommendations— The Mineral King Road is 25 miles in length from Highway 198 to the road’s end. Allow about 90 minutes one way during to the narrow, curvy, mountain road. The road is open and clear but the dirt stretches have deep ruts and potholes. Slow down, be patient, and watch for eroded and damaged places in the road surface.