“A challenging hike to one of the most remote and deepest glacial valleys of the Sierras.”
— Josh Pepper
River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Commonly Backpacked
A mostly flat 15-mile hike to the valley rim before a grueling 3000 foot descent into one of the deepest, longest and most remote valleys in the Sierra. This hike is long and relatively unremarkable, and the final miles of switchbacks will try even the toughest of hikers. However, the isolated and rugged beauty of Tehipite Valley makes it worth it.
Need to Know
Start early to make sure you make it to the valley in one day. Bring headlamps in case you have to do the final miles at dusk. The valley floor is low and hot, so be mindful of rattlesnakes and hang your food well to avoid being bothered by bears.
The trail begins at Rancheria Trailhead, a few miles past the Wishon Reservoir. The trail contours across relatively flat terrain, with two small creek crossings in the first mile or so. At 1.7 miles there is a relatively larger creek crossing that can be tricky in the earlier season. Make sure to cross where the creek is slower—there are several downed trees to use to cross. After this crossing, you ascend gently approximately 500 feet in elevation over several miles as you enter the John Muir Wilderness. Follow signs for Crown Valley.
Just before the 6 mile mark, you'll skirt around Wet Meadow. The next junction is the highest elevation of the trail, at around 8,500 feet. From here it is less than a mile to the Crown Valley Station hut (mile 6.2). Hike one more mile to Johnson’s Cow Camp (mile 7). Just off the trail there are sweeping views of the valley. This is your half-way point, and a nice place to take a lunch break. At the Cow Camp, take a sharp turn to the right (south), on your first trail marked for Tehipite Valley. This junction is easy to miss. If you hike for more than 10 minutes past the sign for the Cow Camp, you may have missed the turn, so consider retracing your steps. There is one last junction in 0.25 miles; stay left. There are no more junctions between you and Tehipite Valley.
From here, cross Rodgers Creek and contour the trail across forested slopes that can be poorly maintained as the creek drops below you. Be extra cautious to find the trail as you cross the many tributaries that form Crown Creek, especially if it is early in the season and there is snow obscuring the trail. Soon you'll cross into Kings Canyon National Park (mile 9.7).
Eventually, you'll loop around Hay Meadow—the most obvious feature on this section of the hike, and your sign that you are approaching the rim. Climb one last final small hill as you turn southeast from the meadow. The summit of this small hill is at 11.5 miles. During this section of the trail you start to pick up views of the very top of Tehipite dome. As you approach the rim, the depth of the valley and the height of its rim begin to reveal themselves. In the last few hundred feet before you reach the rim, the valley floors plummets, until you reach the lip and finally see the meandering Middle Fork of the Kings River.
There is an obvious lookout when you reach the rim, and it’s certainly worth a break to take in the majestic views and to steel yourself for the grueling hike to the valley floor. From here the trail dives down into the valley, taking you down dozens of switchbacks. There is no section that is particularly exposed or dangerous, but the descent is steep with little reprieve as you drop over 3000 feet into the valley.
Around halfway down, pines and firs give way to oaks and ferns. There is one switchback that is much longer than the rest, and at the bottom of this switchback you are 1000 feet from the base. As you approach the floor, the forest becomes lush with wildflowers. Be careful of poison oak on the sides of the trails. You may hear a stream on your left which indicates you are near the end. You'll reach the valley and cross this same stream to arrive in the valley proper. From here, it is worth it to hike the extra mile north until you reach an obvious sandy clearing. At this point, head toward the river on your right to find several spectacular campsites with established campfire rings and plenty of flat land for sleeping. The valley floor is just above 4000 feet and will be much warmer than a night spent at the trailhead.
To celebrate your arrival, dip your feet in the final stretch of Crown Creek that rushes by your campsite, just after it crashes into the valley at Silver Spray Falls but before it joins the Kings River. Then, hike into the sandy clearing just north of your campsite and enjoy sunset among the succulents and oaks with the last rays of light striking Tehipite Dome, it’s summit perched more than 3500 feet above you.