If Sequoia and Yosemite had a secret love child, Kings Canyon National Park would be it.
At Kings Canyon National Park you’ll find trails leading through landscapes filled with towering granite walls, giant trees, lush meadows, and soaring waterfalls.
Although Kings Canyon National Park is only a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles, it’s not very well known and doesn’t attract nearly the crowds that Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks do.
Mostly this is because 90% of the trails at Kings Canyon National Park are located in the backcountry and require a multi-day trip to complete.
But if you’re planning a trip to Kings Canyon National Park, there are still plenty of day hikes to do that your whole family will enjoy.
Here are 6 of the best day hikes at Kings Canyon National Park:
Mist Falls Trail
The Mist Falls Trail is on top of the list for almost everyone heading into Kings Canyon National Park.
This scenic 9-mile trail features a waterfall and has an option to extend the hike beyond to some sweeping panoramic views of the Paradise Valley. Despite the length, this trail is not overly challenging and most people find it easier than expected.
The Mist Falls Trail starts at the Rae Lakes loop trailhead located at the Road End parking lot. This is the furthest driveable point at Kings Canyon National Park and to get there you will need to drive through the entire park (about an hour drive). This hike takes around 5 hours to complete, plus the drive, so plan accordingly.
This section of the park gets very hot so try to have an early start. We started the hike at around 9 am and looking back we wish we had left a few hours earlier to avoid the hottest part of the day.
The trail starts off flat and passes through a gentle forest surrounded by massive granite walls. This whole area used to be covered in glaciers and as those glaciers receded, they scraped away rock leaving exposed walls, sheer cliffs and wide valleys – similar to Yosemite National Park.
This trail is pretty straight forward but about 2 miles in you will reach a junction with a turnoff for Mist Falls. Follow the signs to make a left and continue on.
For the most part, you will be hiking along a river so bring a water filter to fill up on water. Just be careful when going close to this river – the current here is very fast and dangerous.
As you get closer to the waterfall, the trail will start a gradual climb. We reached Mist Falls about 2 hours after starting the hike and it was quite the soaring beauty.
The Mist waterfall gets its name from the 100 feet of misty cloud that shoots in the air from the sheer force of the water. It’s pretty awesome to see it from afar but unfortunately makes it almost impossible to get up close or take any photos.
After seeing the waterfall and taking a little snack break we decided to continue on to get better views of the Paradise Valley from up top. If you decide to continue on, like we did, just be prepared for leg burning switchbacks that will make you work for those beautiful panoramic views.
The worst part of this section leading up to the Paradise Valley was the sun and heat. By the time we got to the top, it was noon and there was little to no shade so we were burning up on the exposed rock surface (an earlier head start would have been the smart idea).
If you decide to continue past the waterfall, make sure to fill up on water, put on sunscreen and bring a hat to protect yourself from the heat. After an hour of a climb past the tree line we got some pretty amazing views of Paradise Valley from up-top before heading back down.
If you enjoy backpacking, you have the option to stay at one of the Paradise Valley campgrounds nearby or continue on to Rae Lakes loop, but you will need to get wilderness permits ahead of time. This section of the park is very popular for backpacking and only 5 walk-up permits are issued a day so your chances are better if you book the backpacking permits online well in advance.
Length: 9 miles in and out to Mist Falls with an option to continue on to Paradise Valley
Elevation: 800 ft
Time Needed: 4 -5 hours
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Starting Point: Rae Lakes loop trailhead at the Roads End parking lot
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Redwood Creek Loop
Unlike the Mist Falls Trail, The Redwood Creek Loop is one of the least known trails at Kings Canyon National Park, but it was my favorite of all the day hikes that we did in this area.
The Redwood Creek hike is a 7-mile loop that travels through one of the largest unlogged sequoia forests in the world. The Hart Tree, Cabin Tree, and Fallen Goliath are a few of the highlights of this hike along with dense sequoia groves and enormous tree roots.
If you’re up for a challenge, you can also connect the Redwood Creek loop with Sugar Bowl Trail and turn it into a 10-mile hike.
Although this trail is not super long, you have the option to backpack it as well. The Redwood Creek Loop is the perfect trail for first-time backpackers or families with kids. Just make sure to reserve the wilderness permits online before heading out on a backpacking trip at any of the National Parks.
The Redwood Creek Loop is located in the southern part of Kings Canyon that borders Sequoia National Park which is why here you’ll find so many of these giant trees that Sequoia National Park is known for. This part of the Kings Canyon National Park is also higher in elevation so it’s not as hot as the valley part where the Mist Falls trail is located.
To get to the trailhead you will need to drive through a narrow bumpy mountain road but you don’t need a 4×4, just about any car will make it there.
From the parking lot follow signs for the Redwood Canyon Trail and within a few minutes, you’ll feel like you have been transported into a magical forest full of giant trees, wildflowers, and wildlife.
The first stop along the Redwood Creek trail is the Cabin Tree, a giant hollow tree that was used as a “cabin” to camp and sleep inside.
Keep hiking along and 3.5 miles in you’ll need to turn off into a small side trail to find the Hart Tree, 24th largest sequoia in the world. Similar to a lot of the sequoias in this forest, it’s split open in the front giving it a unique shape.
The last major attraction on this trail is the Fallen Goliath Tree. It pretty hard to spot this giant tree trunk from the trail and we even passed it a few times before we found it. To find it we used the Maps.me hiking app that shows detailed trail maps even offline.
Overall the Redwood Creek Loop is moderate in difficulty with lots of short climbs. The trail passes through the forest for the entire time so you won’t see any mountain views here but there’s plenty to see on this hike and the giant sequoias provided much-needed shade from the hot sun.
Length: 7-mile loop with an option to connect to Sugar Bowl loop for a 10-mile hike
Elevation: 1100 ft
Time Needed: 4-5 hours
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Starting Point: Redwood Canyon Trailhead
Another favorite of ours at Kings Canyon National Park was the Zumwalt Meadow Loop, a scenic trail featuring a lush meadow, granite domes, wooden walkways, and a suspension bridge.
The Zumwalt Meadow is only 1.5 miles long and flat so you get some pretty amazing views with very little work.
The trail starts at the Zumwalt Meadows Trailhead from where you can follow clearly marked signs to a suspension bridge that will lead you across the South Fork Kings River to the loop starting point.
Most people hike the Zumwalt Meadow loop clockwise starting with the rustic wooden pathways.
Unfortunately, this part of the trail was flooded during our visit so we couldn’t cross into the meadow itself. Instead, we hiked counterclockwise to some jaw-dropping viewpoints of the Zumwalt Meadow and North Dome granite peak from behind it.
From the Zumwalt Meadow, you can also hike along the River Trail to Roaring River Falls, an extra 3-mile trek out and back.
Note that this trail leads along a marsh-like river which means that you’ll deal with a lot of active mosquitos. This was one of the worst areas for mosquitos so make sure to bring along plenty of bug spray to keep them away.
Length: 1.5 miles loop with an option to hike extra 3 miles to Roaring River Falls
Elevation: 50 ft
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
Difficulty Level: Easy
Starting Point: Zumwalt Meadows Trailhead
General Grant Trail
Due to its close proximity to the Grant Grove Visitor Center, the General Grant trail is one of the most popular day hikes at Kings Canyon National Park.
The main attraction of this trail is the General Grant Tree, the second-largest sequoia in the world. This tree was named after President General Grant and interestingly, this entire park used to be called General Grant National Park until 1940 when the name was officially changed to Kings Canyon National Park.
This trail also features the Fallen Monarch Tree, a tree that fell over 1000 years ago and still looks almost the same. Sequoia trees are some of the most resilient trees in the world and it can take hundreds of years before you can see signs of decay, long after they have fallen.
The General Grant trail is short, flat and paved making it the perfect trail for the entire family. Unlike the Redwood Creek loop, most of the trees in this section of the park are blocked off from access to help the forest recover from the destruction that it endured over the years and give the young sequoias a chance to grow.
In 1800’s much of the sequoia forest was logged and some of these giant trees were cut down to be featured in “freak shows” and exhibits. Americans at the time didn’t believe that these giant trees existed and thought of it as a hoax so the biggest sequoia trees were showcased in museums to prove otherwise.
Now, thankfully, the sequoia forest is rapidly growing back with the help and protection of the National Park services.
Length: .5 miles
Time Needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Difficulty Level: Easy
Starting Point: General Grant Trail
Roaring River Falls
The Roaring River falls is another “short & sweet” hike that you can do at Kings Canyon National Park. Located in the valley section of the park, this trail follows along the Roaring River and ends at the Roaring River waterfall viewpoint.
This waterfall righteously earns its name after the powerful loud current that travels through it. Most of the rivers that we saw at Kings Canyon National Park were quite fast and dangerous. When visiting these waterfalls and attractions make sure to be extra cautious and keep a safe distance from the river.
The Roaring River Falls is a beautiful cascading waterfall that passes through a canyon before taking a plunge into the pool below.
The path leading to this waterfall is paved and relatively flat. We actually ended up hiking to the Roaring River Falls twice. We did this trek during the day after completing the Mist Falls trail but it was quite crowded so we returned in the evening for sunset and found it completely empty.
Length: .3 miles
Time Needed: 30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
Starting Point: Roaring River Trailhead
From all the trails at Kings Canyon National Park, the Grizzly Falls is the shortest one. It’s so short that it barely qualifies as a hike but more like a quick pit stop with a viewpoint of the impressive Grizzly waterfall right by the parking lot.
This waterfall is quite powerful and misty making it hard to go up close unless you’re ok with getting soaked.
The Grizzly Falls is located right along the scenic highway that leads through Kings Canyon National Park so you can make a quick stop to see it while driving through.
Length: 500 ft
Time Needed: 15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
Starting Point: Grizzly Falls Picnic Area
We hope that we have inspired you to add some of these trails to your Kings Canyon National Park travel plans.
Looking for a great beginner backpacking trip to do in Southern California? Check out our post on hiking across Catalina Island, one of the most scenic and beginner-friendly trails in SoCal!
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