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Kings River

Kings River Trail

Spring is the perfect time to hike the Kings River National Recreation Trail. The trail follows six miles of the magnificent Kings River, through one of the deepest canyons in North America. Below 2,800 feet in elevation, the National Recreation Trail is best hiked in the spring, when the foothills are green and spangled with poppies, lupine, and other wildflowers, and the river is flowing cold and full with snow melt.

The Kings River flows west from the High Sierra through Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. After leaving the Park, the river defines the boundary of the Sierra National Forest to the north and the Giant Sequoia National Monument (a former portion of the Sequoia National Forest) to the south. This segment of the river has carved a rugged and dramatic canyon through oak and chaparral covered foothills.

Kings RiverThe Kings River is perhaps best know as one of the premier whitewater recreation rivers in the Sierra Nevada. It is also managed as a Wild Trout Stream. Several campgrounds along the river provide an opportunity to base camp and explore this wild area. This largely undeveloped area provides important and diverse habitat for the Pacific fisher, mountain yellow-legged frog, several species of slender salamander, and the rare Kings River buckwheat.

Hiking the Kings River National Recreation Trail provides a great opportunity to explore a segment of the river eligible for National Wild & Scenic River protection. Segments of the upper main stem of the Kings River and its Middle and South Forks upstream were protected as Wild & Scenic by Congress in 1987. But most of the segment paralleled by the National Recreation Trail was not included in the legislation because at the time, the river was threatened by the proposed Rodgers Crossing Dam.

The dam proposal was subsequently (if only temporarily) shelved because Congress established the Kings River Special Management Area, which requires Congressional approval of any future dam projects. The Forest Service has since determined that more than 12 miles of this unprotected segment of the Kings is eligible for Wild & Scenic protection. Wild & Scenic protection would prohibit new dams (including Rodgers Crossing) and require the public lands through which the river flows to be managed to protect the river’s outstanding scenery, recreation, fish, wildlife, historical/cultural, and ecological values.

The National Recreation Trail wanders deep into the heart of a potential 54,000-acre addition to the existing Monarch Wilderness. Ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, this area presents a unique opportunity to protect low elevation ecological zones that are under-represented in the National Wilderness System and provide for the critical migration of wildlife and plant species in response to climate change to the higher elevations of the Monarch Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park.

In recognizing this potential addition to the Monarch Wilderness, the Forest Service noted that the area “protects connectivity between low elevations to the west and the high country of the Monarch Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park to the east.” The agency has also tentatively found that this area “retains undeveloped, natural, untrammeled, solitude, and primitive recreation qualities.”

Sometime this spring, the Forest Service will release for public review and comment the draft Forest Plans for the Sierra, Sequoia, and Inyo Forests. These draft Forest Plans will include the Kings Wild & Scenic River eligibility determination and the potential Monarch Wilderness addition. So now is a great time to hike the Kings River National Recreation Trail to become familiar with this outstanding wild place and advocate for its protection in comments to the draft plans.

If you would like to be alerted to the opportunity to officially support protection of the wild Kings River Canyon, please send an email request to to be placed on our action alert list.

CalWild is sponsoring a free camping and exploration trip to the Kings River on Memorial Day Weekend, May 28-30, 2016. Participants are responsible for their own camping gear and food. CalWild and local activists will lead a hike along the Kings River National Recreation Trail. The camping trip is limited to 20 participants. For more information and to RSVP, contact Steve Evans at or call (916) 708-3155.

Directions to trailhead: From the Highway 99/ Fresno Area, take Highway 180 east from Fresno; use Piedra Road to cross over to Trimmer Springs Road. Follow Trimmer Springs Road east until it crosses the Kings River twice; after the second crossing on the Bailey bridge, go right where the road turns to gravel and rock, entering the Kings River Special Management Area, and follow it until it dead ends at the Kings River National Recreation Trail trailhead. There is a small parking area. Caution is advised when travelling along the last section of road as it is steep in some sections and is often one-lane with limited sight-distance. Springtime brings heavy traffic on weekends and holidays, so be very careful when making this drive. Approximate driving time from Fresno is about 1.5 to 2 hours depending on conditions. Contact the Sierra National Forest at (559) 297-0706 for the latest road and trail conditions.


Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.