Do It There’s no shortage of wilderness areas named paradise, but with its waterfall-a-mile pace and neck-craning granite walls, this 18.2-mile out-and-back actually lives up to that heavenly moniker. You’ll see wildlife galore (think bears—canisters required—pine martens, bobcats, and ringtails), and ascend to 7,000 feet on this Sierra overnighter. Pick up your permit at Road’s End Ranger Station(1) and head east on the level Bubbs Creek Trail, where you’ll meander through incense cedar, white pine, and oak. The sandy trail passes through a glacier-deposited boulder garden (2) at mile .7 before dipping into a marshy lowland along the banks of the South Fork of the Kings River. Continue to the junction with the Woods Creek Trail (3) at mile 1.9, and head left (north).
Trace the river and its tributary creeks, passing beneath granite cliffs that tower more than 3,000 feet above; their chiseled, chunky slopes could’ve been painted by a Cubist-period Picasso. You’ll begin your nearly 2,000-foot ascent at mile 3.2 on a short-and-steep stone staircase (4) alongside the raging Kings River. Glance back for a perfectly framed vista (5) of The Sphinx, a 9,146-foot outcrop that resembles its mythical namesake. The trail passes tumbling cascades at mile 3.6 (6), but press on for the real prize—Mist Falls (7), a thundering, 60-foot wall of water .4 mile later (see next page). From here, you’ll gain almost a thousand feet in 1.6 miles en route to riverside campsites at Lower Paradise Valley (8). Continue past Middle Paradise Valley camp (9), scanning for black bears in the meadows to your right. The trail rolls over several gentle hills, offering glimpses of yet another waterfall pouring from the northward cliffs. Reach your final destination—Upper Paradise Valley camp (10)—at mile 9.1. Pitch your tent beneath behemoth Jeffrey pines at site six, and let the river’s roar lull you to sleep. Next day, retrace your steps back to Road’s End.
From Fresno, take CA 180 east for 40 miles. Enter the park at Big Stump and drive to Road’s End Ranger Station, six miles past Cedar Grove.
Permit Required (May to September, $15). Reserve them beginning March 1. nps.gov/seki
Gear up The General Store at Hume Lake Christian Camp, 64144 Hume Lake Road, Hume. (559) 305-1275; humelake.org
Map Rae Lakes Loop Trail ($9, sequoiahistory.org)
Trip data backpacker.com/hikes/826549
Send any Rip & Go to your cell: Text “imap” and the Trip ID (826549 for this hike, from Trip data,above) to 32075.