Odds and Ends in Kings Canyon

[Kings Canyon National Park, Aug 28, 2020]

On our third full day on this trip, we decided to stay closer to home in Kings Canyon and do some of the things we didn’t have time for on our first day here.

We headed out early again, enjoying the solitude on the road and at our first stop, Panoramic Point. There was only one car in the parking lot when we got there. The owner of the car appeared while we were gathering our stuff and left, leaving the whole area to us.

Empty parking lot at first light at Panoramic Point

On a clear day, Panoramic Point offers a view that spans near the entire length of Kings Canyon National Park. To get to that view, you only have to hike a half-mile on a paved path – pretty low effort for the payoff!

The smoke from wildfires that plagued us the entire trip was still lingering, so we didn’t get to experience this overlook in all its glory. We did, however, spot Hume Lake almost hidden in the haze the first sun rays of the day produced.

What we are supposed to see…
What we saw ūüôā
Here’s the view without zooming in on Hume lake. Can you spot it? It’s between the two tall trees in the middle.

After taking some photos here and lamenting the haze, we set out to find the start of the Park Ridge Trail I wanted us to do. It wasn’t clearly marked, so we had to go back to the parking lot to look at the map of the area. It turned out it was hiding behind this big boulder at the top.

The start of the Park Ridge Fire Trail

The single-track trail took us along the ridge for a couple of miles. We did not see a single person on the entire trail and loved having the forest to ourselves. Hazy views would occasionally open up on either side amid the breaks in the trees.

This tree root had somehow wrapped itself around this rock!
I assume someone had arranged the pinecones on this log.

The turn-around point for our hike was the Park Ridge Fire Lookout. We knew we were getting close when the trail ended and we got on the fire road. Can you spot the fire lookout volunteers in the second picture below?

I have been fascinated with fire lookouts since I hiked to Apgar lookout in Glacier National Park in 2015. Fire lookouts predate the establishment of the National Forest Service in 1905; many of them were put in place before that by townships and private lumber companies. The National Forest Service did, however, make fire detection and suppression a priority. As a result, by 1911, many townships were building permanent cabins rather than relying on tall trees and tents and peaks for shelter. Apgar Lookout was no longer in use. Mt Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, which I hiked to in 2017, was staffed and that’s when I discovered that many fire lookouts in the US are still in use!

The Park Ridge Fire Lookout in Kings Canyon was established in 1916. It was originally an open-air lookout with a tent platform. The current structure, with living quarters sitting on a 20-ft high steel tower, was built in 1964. The lookout is currently staffed through a volunteer lookout program.

Normally, the fire lookout is open to visitors during the day. COVID19, however, had upended this. All we could do was talk to the volunteers, a retired couple, from below.

On the way back, we took the fire road. We didn’t encounter any wildlife, save for some moose scrambling through the forest to get away from us. Aside from this, we relished the quiet and the fact that we still had not encountered a single person on the trail.

Things were a bit busier at Buena Vista Peak. This granite summit in Kings Canyon is easily accessible from a trailhead right off the main highway. The short trail – just a mile each way – and the miniscule elevation gain – 420 ft – make this one of the easiest peaks to bag.

Although we encountered a handful of people on the trail, we had the summit all to ourselves. Buena Vista peak was a perfect way to end our three full days in the park. I look forward to a future visit without the smoky haze, though!

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