Finding quiet and solitude is not nearly as difficult here as it is in Yosemite. Mineral King and the Giant Forest in Sequoia, along with Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon, are the main points of entry into the backcountry, but the wilderness here is never farther than 5 miles in any direction. It surrounds the park, and just about any hike that lasts more than an hour will get you into the wild.
Mineral King, in Sequoia, is a quiet spot that attracts few people to its 11 trails because the road to the glacial valley is so difficult to drive. Avalanches have swept swaths of trees aside, and the valley floor is covered with wild meadows. Higher up, there are woods of red fir, white fir, and lodgepole pine. The landscape is rocky but colorful. Alpine trails begin at 7,500 feet and climb from there.
Cedar Grove, in Kings Canyon, is at the dead end of CA 180. From here, to the north and east, the park is inaccessible to vehicular traffic. Hikes from Cedar Grove head out toward the Rae Lakes Loop, Monarch Wilderness, and beyond.
Preparing for Backcountry Trips
Be sure to get a detailed topographical map before setting off on any overnight hike. Maps are available at all ranger stations and at visitor centers throughout the park. You may want to pick up a copy of a free trip-planning guide for the wilderness areas of the parks, available at park visitor centers or by calling the wilderness office at tel. 559/565-3766 to request one.
Permits & Fees
All overnight backpacking trips require a wilderness permit, available by mail, by fax, or in person at the ranger station closest to the hike you want to take. First-come, first-served permits can be issued the morning of your trip or after 1pm on the preceding afternoon. In summer, permits cost $15 per party; in winter, they're free.
Reservations can be made at least 14 days in advance, from March 1 to September 10. To reserve a permit, you must provide a name, address, telephone number, the number of people in your party, the method of travel (snowshoe, horse, foot), the number of stock if applicable, start and end dates, start and end trail heads, a principal destination, and a rough itinerary. Download the application from the park's website and mail it to Wilderness Permit Reservations, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, 47050 Generals Hwy. #60, Three Rivers, CA 93271; or fax it to 559/565-4239. Reserved permits must be picked up by 9am. If you're delayed, call the ranger station or else you risk forfeiting your permit. If your hike crosses agency boundaries, get the permit from the agency on whose land the hike begins. Only one permit is required.
For hikes beginning in Sequoia National Forest (or in Giant Sequoia National Monument, which is managed as a section of this national forest), pick up your permits at the ranger district offices in Kernville or Springville, or contact Sequoia National Forest, 1839 S. Newcomb St., Porterville, CA 93257 (tel. 559/784-1500; www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia). The national forest wraps around the southern and western portions of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Permits are free; there are no quotas on trails in this forest.
In Sierra National Forest, permits are also free, but reservations are $5 and quotas apply year-round. Permits are issued at the ranger station closest to your trail head. This forest lies west and north of Kings Canyon National Park. For maps and further information, contact Sierra National Forest, 1600 Tollhouse Rd., Clovis, CA 93611 (tel. 559/297-0706; www.fs.fed.us/r5/sierra).
The Inyo National Forest administers areas that stretch from the Sierra Crest to Owens Valley. Most trails here have quotas, and free permits are required. Reservations are available 3 months in advance and cost $5 per person, or $15 for Mount Whitney, which are issued through a lottery. For reservations, contact Wilderness Permit Reservations, Inyo National Forest, 351 Pacu Lane, Ste. 200, Bishop, CA 93514 (tel. 760/873-2400; www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo).
Food drops can be arranged in advance but are difficult without the help of an outfitter. No packaging from the drop may be left behind. Call the parks' wilderness office (tel. 559/565-3766) for information. Food can also be mailed to the Cedar Grove and Mineral King ranger stations. Packages are held for 3 weeks from the date received or 3 weeks after the expected pickup date, whichever is longer. Use regular U.S. Mail. Address packages with your name, identification as a trail hiker, and pickup date, all on the first line. Send packages in care of the Cedar Grove Ranger Station, Box 926, Kings Canyon National Park, CA 93633; or in care of the Mineral King Ranger Station, Star Route, Three Rivers, CA 93271.
The Cedar Grove Ranger Station is usually open daily from 8am to 5pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Mineral King Ranger Station is open from 8am to 4pm from Memorial Day weekend to early October.
Special Regulations & Warnings
Be aware of bears that frequent these regions. Stay off high peaks during thunderstorms, and don't attempt any climb if it looks as though a storm is rolling in; exposed peaks are often struck by lightning. In the summer months, mosquitoes and sunburn are real problems, so bring plenty of repellent and sunscreen.
The theme in the backcountry is "leave no trace," and that means packing out any garbage you take in, not bringing pets, and staying on designated trails and reusing existing designated campsites so you don't leave scars on the landscape. Fires are allowed only in established fire rings, and only dead and downed material may be used for firewood; fires are prohibited in some areas, but backpacking stoves are allowed throughout the parks. You must have a park permit for overnight stays in the backcountry. For more information on "leave no trace" ethics, see www.lnt.org.
Personal Safety Issues
It's best not to backpack alone, but if you must, be sure that you have told both park rangers and friends where you'll be and how long you'll be gone. Don't leave the parking lot without the following gear: a compass, topographical maps, a first-aid kit, bug repellent, toilet paper and a trowel of some sort, a flashlight, matches, a knife, a rope for hanging food supplies in a tree, and a bell or other noisemaker that hopefully will alert any bears in the neighborhood to your presence, as well as a tent, a stove, and a sleeping bag. At this altitude, sunscreen and sunglasses with UV protection are a wise addition. A recently developed bear repellent generically referred to as "pepper spray," available in most sporting-goods stores, has proven successful in countering bear attacks. You'll also need iodine pills or a good water filter because that seemingly clear stream is filled with parasites that are likely to cause intestinal disorders. If you don't have iodine or a filter, boil water for at least 5 minutes before you drink it.