The Gardiner Basin in Kings Canyon

Notes by piero scaruffi | Other California destinations | California hikes

Pictures of this hike

The Bubbs Creek trail from Roads End forks after about one hour. The left turn is a popular hike to Mist Falls and Paradise Valley and the beginning of a loop on a well-maintained trail. Alas, the trail is fairly uneventful. The real action is within that loop: the Gardiner Basin. There is a way to tour the Gardiner Basin from Roads End, going up the Paradise Valley trail and returning from the Bubbs Creek trail. This is strenuous and mostly cross-country hiking.

From Roads End take the Bubbs Creek trail and after less than an hour turn left towards Paradise Valley. After about one hour that touristy trail reaches the Mist Falls (there's a sign). Just before the falls, look for a tributary on the other side: that's the Gardiner Creek. Cross the river just downstream from that tributary. The crossing is easy in summer, so you may want to take your shoes off. Then start scrambling up, staying to the south (right handside) of the creek. The Gardiner Creek creates some impressive waterfalls, but you will always find a way to coast the steep slope. (Note: i wrote this on a dry year; hikers from other seasons and years report that they could not go beyond the falls). On your right is a wall of solid rock, virtually impossible to climb, so you are forced to follow the course of the creek. There are actually two basins of lakes, separated by a ridge: the western basin and the eastern basin. You are heading for the western basin.

When you can finally turn right (south), because of a tiny tributary coming down from the mountain, find a way to head southeast. It's another steep scramble but at some point the terrain gets rather friendly. You could also continue up the Gardiner Creek drainage until your route is blocked by a wide wall, but this will take you straight into the Gardiner Basin which can be marshy and harder. Also, climbing Gardiner Pass from the western Gardiner Basin is not fun. If you head southeast you should eventually climb the southern ridge of the western Gardiner Basin. At some point you'll see the lakes of the Gardiner Basin below you. The lakes make a straight like towards south. The wall at the end of that line is Gardiner Pass. If you are on the ridge, just continue on the ridge (staying to the right of the rocky summit) and you'll avoid the scramble up Gardiner Pass.

The other side of Gardiner Pass looks like a highway compared with its northern side: smooth terrain among tall conifers. It is not trivial to find the right canyon to come down. Keep in mind that virtually no canyon ends in a humanly feasible climb down the Bubbs Creek. So it is important that you identify the correct one.

The Charlotte Creek canyon lies almost exactly south of Gardiner Pass. You can follow the creek down (lots of bushwhacking) or head for a chute that is a faster option downhill, albeit a bit hair-rising. In less than one hour you reach the beginning of this almost vertical chute (completely dry in summer). (See my pictures of this hike to identify the chute when you are coming from Gardiner Pass). Climbing down is not for the faint-hearted. While you will always find a way to get down without any need for a rope, you are safer sitting on your butt for most of the way. There are a couple of tricky spots where it might be safer to cling on the vegetation to the right. It takes about two hours to come down (note: i would *not* attempt this chute uphill). The very last drop can be avoided by heading through the vegetation to the right (very overgrown in 2008) to the friendlier terraces to the west. Then follow any dry creekbed (mostly no wider than your body) and you will hit the Bubbs Creek trail just west of Charlotte Creek, from where a well-maintained trail heading west leads back to Roads End.

Milestones (and 2008 times):

  • Roads End: start
  • End of sandy trail: 30'
  • Paradise Valley junction: 42'
  • Mist Falls: 1h 40'
  • Other side of Mist Falls: 2h10'
  • Western Gardiner Basin: 6h
  • Gardiner Pass: 10h
  • West Charlotte chute: 11h
  • Bottom of Charlotte Creek chute: 13h 20'
  • Avalanche Pass junction: 14h15'
  • Paradise Valley junction: 15h
  • Roads End: 15h45'

One can also make a bigger loop by following Gardiner Creek all the way up to the eastern Gardiner Basin (East Gardiner Lake). From here one can scramble up the eastern peak of Mt Gardiner and then descend to Charlotte Lake. From the lake one can then follow the Charlotte Creek to the Bubbs Creek trail. This also affords views of the "Sixty Lake Basin".
Pictures of this hike
Google Earth:

(click to enlarge)

Driving directions

See this page.

Directions for the eastern trailhead for the Bay Area. Take 101 south, 152 east lo Los Banos (about 1 hr 30') to 99 (about 2hr), 99 south to Fresno (about 300 kms, 2h 30'). In Fresno, take 180 east and follow it (the freeway is not completed yet, it will go through town and then turn left into Kings Canyon Ave) to the Big Stump park entrance (85 kms, 1h 15') to the fork with Sequoia Park (5') to Grant Grove village (3kms, visitor center, restaurant, water, restrooms, market) to Cedar Grove (50 winding kms, 50', via Kings Canyon Lodge 20', Boyden Cavern 30', Kings Canyon border 40') and then (10 kms) Roads End. Park at Roads End, at the first parking lot, marked by the sign "Information".
Cheap gas in Fresno: Arco on Kings Canyon Ave, or the gas stations on Clinton Ave & Weber. Cheap lodging: Belmont Ave exit of 99.


Kings Canyon's visitor information: 559-565-3341

Cedar Grove ranger station closes at 4pm and it's open only in summer. Grant Grove visitor center (180 entrance): open 8am-6pm in summer, 5km east on 180 from the Big Stump Entrance Station.

Summary of the hike

Roads End (1534m) to Paradise Valley junction: 3kms, 35'
Mist Falls
Leaving the Gardiner Creek
East Gardiner Lake
Charlotte Lake
Confluence of Charlotte Creek and Bubbs Creek
Junction with Paradise Valley trail
Roads End
(The distances are meaningless because there is no trail: i listed the straight line, but you are unlikely to follow a straight line, so the real distance can be twice as much as the straight line)