About Kings Canyon Falls
Kings Canyon Falls was kind of an oddity in that it was the only waterfall we’ve seen so far within the state boundaries of Nevada – said to be the driest state in the United States. That fact alone made us take the detour from our touring of the Lake Tahoe area to see for ourselves what this place was like. And as you can see from the photo at the top of this page, it was indeed a legitimate waterfall that we were able to get close to and touch as well as fully enjoy viewing from all sorts of different angles. While this waterfall’s dimensions were modest at around 30ft tall, it was that coolness of feeling the waterfall’s spray in an area that we wouldn’t even have considered would have a waterfall like this that made it memorable to us. Indeed, this oasis contrasted mightily with the otherwise hot and dry desert climate that much of the Great Basin (encompassing much of the state of Nevada and western Utah) was known for.
We started from a well-signed trailhead right at the edge of what seemed to be a new suburban development on the outskirts of the state capital of Carson City (see directions below). Sometimes Mom and I wondered what the resident of that home right next to the trailhead must think with so many strangers passing by his property. In any case, the trail passed by some signage that included a memorial for a group of firefighters who had lost their lives from a wildfire here that was caused by a campfire that was not properly extinguished. We noticed there was an old trail that seemed to follow the hidden stream from the waterfall directly, but we stayed with the main trail that bend over a couple of long switchbacks as it generally went uphill.
Well after the second switchback, we were able to look down at the parking area as well as glimpse further down Kings Canyon in the direction of Carson City. There was a signed trail junction where going left would have led another mile to the so-called Upper Waterfalls Loop. We kept straight ahead to the right, where the trail ultimately narrowed as it rounded a bend and eventually got us face-to-face with the rare waterfall. It turned out that the vegetation surrounding the creek responsible for this falls was thick enough to practically conceal the stream as well as the waterfall itself, which explained why we couldn’t really see it from the trailhead. Nevertheless, a local that was here sharing the waterfall with us told us that there was an upper waterfall in addition to this one, but he said that this one was way better and that we did well to find this one first. So we stuck to his advice and just enjoyed this spot for a bit before we headed back down to the trailhead.
Overall, we had spent about 45 minutes away from the car. Our timing couldn’t have been better because we started at around 5:45pm, which was right when the sun was starting to disappear behind the neighboring cliffs causing long shadows that provided relief from the desert heat (it was over 90F when we showed up in mid-June). Had we done this trail earlier in the day, the modest 1/4-mile hike up to the falls (or 1/2-mile round trip) would be a lot more taxing, especially given how dessicating the air was here. In addition, it seemed like the creek could easily dry up not that far into Summer so I’d imagine that it would be best to come here in the Spring or early Summer at the latest.
To get to Kings Canyon Falls from South Lake Tahoe, we’d have to drive east on Hwy 50 for about 29 miles then heading north on Hwy 395, which became Carson Street as it entered the city center of Carson City. This part of the drive took us just under an hour.
Once we were on the main drag through Carson City on Carson Street, we had to keep an eye out for one of the many parallel side streets leaving Carson Street and ultimately hooking up with W Kings St since W Kings St didn’t hook up directly with Carson Street. The road we ended up taking was W 5th Street (right at the 395/513 intersection roughly 3 miles north of the Hwy 50 on-ramp). Once we turned left on W 5th St, we then followed it for three blocks before turning right onto S Division St. Then we drove another four blocks before turning left onto W King St. We then followed W King St for the next 2.5 miles or so as it eventually became Kings Canyon Rd, then it ultimately reached the trailhead right when the pavement started to end. The drive on W King St and Kings Canyon Rd was an exercise in patience as the speed limit was pretty much 25-35mph the entire way.
To get to Carson City from Reno, it was about 32 miles on the I-580 (taking just over a half-hour) before leaving the freeway and going south on Hwy 395, which became Carson Street. Just like with the south approach, we had to look for a side street that left Carson St and ultimately hooked up with W King St to the west. We were actually forced to make this exit on W Park Street before heading south on N Division St because Carson St was closed for a long stretch through the city center during our visit. Had it not been closed, we probably would have turned right onto Museum Street before turning left onto N Division St. Anyways, once N Division St intersected with W King St, we then turned right and followed this street all the way to the trailhead.
Finally, we should note that if we started from further south along the Hwy 395, it was about 130 miles (or about 2.5 hours drive) north of the Mammoth Lakes turnoff to get to Carson City. Mammoth Lakes was about 315 miles (5.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.
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