Buena Vista Peak – Kings Canyon National Park

Distance: 2 Miles
Elevation Gained: 400′
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1:00 (?)
Critters: None

Pros:
– Easy hike to a great view of Redwood Canyon
– Great granite rock formations
– Evening bird community is amazing to hear

Cons:
– The trail to the top is confusing, especially where the trail switches back to the peak

Details:

After the Redwood Canyon hike, I waited for Sean and Taylor to arrive. They showed up at the campsite around 4 in the afternoon, and we began to settle in for a great weekend camping trip. We had camped here last year during the summer, and we all agreed that campsite A at Upper Stony Creek Campground is top notch. I had arrived early that morning in part to secure this site, since it’s a walk-up site that is first-come. Upper Stony Creek Campground itself is a gorgeous campground, remaining far less developed and crowded than its neighbor across the highway. The creek is more attractive here, and the campsites themselves are much more appealing.

Site A sits over Stony Creek, and pine and fir trees both shade the site and provide reasonable privacy in a relatively busy campground. I discovered it on accident last year when I switched campsites mid-trip. Even though it’s in the midst of a 22-site campground, it’s about as close to feeling like backcountry camping in a campground as you can get. I honestly can’t imagine setting up in another site. This is really about as good as car camping in the mountains gets.

After Sean and Taylor had a chance to set up, unwind, and relax, I proceeded to try to rally them for a hike. I didn’t have anything major in mind; I only wanted to stroll up to the top of Buena Vista Peak, which is not the challenge that it sounds like it would be. Sure, they had both sat in a car for six hours during a long, grueling drive up from L.A., and they had plenty of reason to decline. However, both took me up on the offer and off we were.

Buena Vista Peak is a minor exfoliation dome perched over Redwood Canyon’s eastern wall. An exfoliation dome, of which Half Dome is an example, is a mass of granitic rock that has broken through the surface and protrudes outward, usually in the shape of a dome. The term exfoliation, or removal of a layer in flakes or scales, refers to the granite’s tendency to peel and flake off. As water freezes within faults in the rock, ever larger cracks occur yearly freeze cycles. When the cracks get big enough, chunks of the rock slough off the way skin sloughs off when you exfoliate.

The hike to the peak is an easy one, but this is the sort of low-exertion, high-reward hike that is perfect for introducing people to the joys of hiking. While the hike is short, it showcases a remarkable array of granite rock formations. Some were created by exfoliation, while some were boulders deposited by retreating glaciers. The latter examples include massive boulders perched precariously on smaller boulders, as well as one particular formation that looks like a hound standing at attention.

Additionally, the biodiversity on this hike is also incredible. Here is the mixed-conifer forest at its finest, including examples of three types of pine – sugar, ponderosa, and jeffrey, two types of fir – red and white, as well as incense cedar. Numerous shrubs, grasses, and flowers grace the rocky hillside, over which a well-constructed, but unobtrusive trail meanders gently.

At .8 miles, the trail switches back to reach the summit. This is the only con on this trail, and it’s a minor one: if you miss this switchback, which is poorly marked, you will easily lose the trail. The first time I came here, I lost the trail so badly that I had to cut across country, only to come out a half a mile up the road from the trailhead. My solution this time was to leave my hat hanging from a tree at the switchback. It was an effective solution, given how easy the trail is to miss.

Near the top, the trees thin out, and rock begins to dominate. It feels a bit like real mountain climbing, as the trail vanishes, and you’re left to wander through a gentle maze of large boulders created by exfoliation. There are a number of great boulders to sit upon and contemplate the view, and Taylor, a fan of sitting on boulders, quickly found the prime spot.

From this peak looking west, one can enjoy views of Redwood Canyon, which lies below, as well as Big Baldy. To the east, miles or rolling mountains blanketed in forest stretch on through Kings Canyon and on toward Yosemite. To the south, the southern wall of Kaweah Canyon and the southern edge of the Great Western Divide are visible. To the north, the north wall of the massive Kings Canyon looms, boasting numerous exfoliation domes, sharp peaks, and forested slopes. For only hiking two miles over gentle terrain, this kind of reward is unparalleled, and this sort of experience is exactly the kind of experience best suited for an introduction to the area.

Like most of the landscape featured in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, this hike is exceptionally beautiful. It is also lightly-traveled, and I suspect it remains a very well kept secret despite the fact that the trailhead sits across from the Kings Canyon overlook on Generals Highway. However, I guess when you’re driving along and you can stop to enjoy a view, most people don’t really want to get out and walk.

It’s a pity, but I’ll take the solitude any day.

June: 55 Miles
Year-to-Date: 676.1 Miles

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