Thursday, April 20, 2017

Kings Canyon Falls: Upper Waterfall Loop

Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Upper Waterfall in North Kings Canyon

The Kings Canyon Waterfalls are a series of falls cascading down North Kings Canyon west of  Carson City, Nevada. The most scenic sites: the lower waterfall accessible via the 0.3-mile-long, hikers-only Waterfall Trail off Kings Canyon Road and the upper waterfall (shown above), which is the main attraction of the 4.4-mile-long Upper Waterfall Loop—a trail open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

From the trailhead at the end of paved Kings Canyon Road go uphill on the dirt road. Enjoy the view of the land of the former Borda Ranch to your left. Manage those rough wash-outs along the dirt-and-gravel path caused by all the water rushing down the road and across it during rain storms of the wet 2016/2017 winter season. After climbing for a little less than one and a half mile, you will arrive at the south end of the Ash To Kings Trail. For the next 1.8 miles, this single-track trail coincidences with the Upper Waterfall Loop. Leave the dirt road behind and travel the less demandingly ascending single track.  

A notice at the trail junction indicates that this is black bear and mountain lion habitat. A small herd of deer was crossing the trail further up when I came to a forested area. A mountain lion may have watched the deer. Most sections of the trail traverses sagebrush slopes featuring widely scattered pine trees, open enough to view spreading Carson City, the Virginia Range and the blue surface of Washoe Lake, which we missed last year.
Kings Canyon Road snaking eastward into downtown Carson City
View of Kings Canyon Road snaking eastward into downtown Carson City
Mingling with sagebrush and bitterbrush scrub is tobacco brush, also know as snowbrush.

Curled snowbrush leaves
Curled leaves of tobacco brush (snowbrush)
On the April day I hiked the loop the snowbrush evergreens were still weeks away from showing their fragrant white-flower inflorescences that often give the appearance of snow blankets. Instead, real snow fields were still shining on the ridges and upper slopes of the Carson Range. And patches of snow covered the forest trail near the upper waterfall. However, a few manzanitas, associating with the snowbrushes, were flowering: their clusters of hanging, rose-pink urns were moving back and forth in the cold wind.

Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Carson Range slope with switchbacks of the Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Above the upper waterfall, a wooden bridge crosses North Kings Canyon Creek. Soon, the trail reaches the junction, from where Ash Canyon is accessible via a 5.4-mile-long section of the Ash To Kings Trail, while the Upper Waterfall Loop starts descending on a steep dirt road with loose gravel. After 0.8 downhill miles, the trail meets the North Kings Loop. It takes another half mile to complete the loop hike. 

Accessing the Upper Waterfall Loop
Get to the waterfall trailhead at the end of the paved section of Kings Canyon Road, as described at the bottom of my previous “Kings Canyon Falls: Waterfall Trail and North Kings Loop” post.
The trail map below gives a nice overview of the waterfall trails and the locations of the lower and upper fall.

Kings Canyon Falls trail map
Map with trails to the waterfalls of North Kings Canyon Creek

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kings Canyon Falls: Waterfall Trail and North Kings Loop

Lower Kings Canyon Waterfall
The Kings Canyon Falls trail system west of Carson City consists of loop trails and connector trails. The 0.3-mile-long Waterfall Trail connects the waterfall trailhead with a scenic fall of North Kings Canyon Creek. To see other falls and creek-sides, hike the 1.8-mile-long North Kings Loop or the 4.4-mile-long Upper Waterfall Loop. The latter loop trail has a junctions with the Ash-to-Kings-Trail.

The Kings Canyon area has seen a couple of devastating wildfires in the past. One happened on July 5, 1976. The Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the trailhead commemorates three firefighters that lost their lives during this fire, which was started by a careless camper who failed to fully extinguish his camp fire. The firefighters belonged to a crew of five. They died when their helicopter crashed approximately two miles west of the memorial site.

Across the memorial board you will find the Carson City Parks, Recreation and Open Space board with a map showing North Kings Canyon Creek and the surrounding trails. It reminds us that “clean drinking water begins here: The waterfall is an important source of drinking water for Carson City.”

The short Waterfall Trail is a single-track, hikers-only trail that switchbacks uphill to the lower Kings Canyon waterfall; the most easily accessible waterfall of the Kings Canyon Falls. On your way to this fall you will have passed the trail junction from where the North Kings Loop winds further uphill and into the canyon above the lower waterfall.

North Kings Loop: trail with view of Carson City and Virginia Range

Most sections of the loop trail lead over slopes with views of Carson City and the Virginia Range. Where the trail crosses the creek, you will encounter shrubs and cattails.

Cattails at North Kings Loop creek crossing

After a quarter mile from the creek crossing, the trail meets the Upper Waterfall Loop and continues 0.5 miles downhill on a dirt road, back to the trailhead.

Getting to the waterfall trailhead
From the Nevada State Capitol Building in downtown Carson City, take West King Street and go west. West King Street continues as Kings Canyon Road. Stay on the latter until it changes from paved to unpaved. Find a parking spot and walk up a few steps to the kiosk and firefighter memorial.