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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

Rip & Go: Paradise Valley - Kings Canyon National Park

Hike in the spray of waterfalls deep in the heart of black bear country.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Beach campsite along The South Fork Kings River (Hank Christensen)
Beach campsite along The South Fork Kings River (Hank Christensen)
Mist Falls (Hank Christensen)
Mist Falls (Hank Christensen)

Download a printable version of this entire trip right here.

Key Skill
Keeping Food Safe from Bears

Hundreds of black bears patrol Kings Canyon, and Paradise Valley is one of their favorite haunts. Typically, the bruins aren’t aggressive; but they are gifted when it comes to raiding your food. Don’t let them. “When a bear gets human food, it’s like a person shooting heroin for the first time,” says wildlife biologist Daniel Gammons. Here’s how to handle three common bear encounters.

Frontcountry If overnighting in a car campsite prior to your hike, don’t let the proximity to infrastructure lull you into a false sense of security. In fact, “frontcountry bears get very gutsy,” says wilderness assistant Irene Corrao. Prevent encounters by stowing all smellables in your site’s bear locker. If a bear does come into your campsite, yell, bang pots, or honk your horn until it retreats.

Trail Backcountry bears tend to shy away from hikers. Sing or talk loudly, especially in the meadows near Lower Paradise Valley. Spot one? Make noise to announce yourself—a startled bear is a dangerous bear—and back away slowly. Never run. If a black bear attacks, fight back.

Backcountry Store all smelly items in campsite lockers or a bear canister at least 50 yards from your tent. Avoid stash spots near the river, (lest it end up in the drink), and don’t pin it between rocks or branches, where a bear could leverage off the lid. Clean dishes and avoid particularly fragrant foods like bacon. If you wake to a bear rummaging around your site, get out of your tent and drive it away by shouting and throwing small rocks. Continue hazing the bruin. If it won’t be persuaded, pack up and move camp.

See This
Mist Falls

The inviting series of cascades dotting the South Fork of the Kings, along the lower Woods Creek Trail, are just preamble for the main show: Mist Falls. The raging waters shroud the area in a constant curtain of mist, supporting a community of spray-loving mosses, false buttercup, and woodland stars. Hike the trail in late May to witness peak flow. Swimming is too dangerous, but the inescapable spray provides refreshing relief after the exposed, 600-foot climb over the previous two miles.

Locals Know
Got more than a weekend? You’re in luck: Paradise Valley forms the western leg of the classic, 46-mile Rae Lakes Loop that links sparkling lakes, 11,000-foot passes, flower-choked meadows, and granite canyons. Take a week to cover this challenging terrain. Start heading north through Paradise Valley and hike clockwise to the South Fork Trail, pitching your tent at Upper Paradise Valley, Woods Creek junction, 60 Lakes Basin, Rae Lakes, Charlotte Lake, and Junction Meadow. Note: This loop is popular in summer, but by October, you can usually score walk-up permits.

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