The Copper Creek Trail is the most scenic of the trails that climbs out of Kings Canyon, with some excellent views of the canyon itself in the first few miles, then some fine alpine woodland, and finally the high country. Like most Kings Canyon Trails, the trail is mainly intended to be used by backpackers to access the high country; as a day hike, it seems a little incomplete since it lacks a payoff destination.
The trail is the most challenging route out of Kings Canyon. Although it isn't any steeper than any of the other routes, it's a long, continuous climb of over 5000 feet. The trail is a sandy track, well-maintained and usually clear of overgrowth, making it a relatively fast hike.
The views of Kings Canyon are best in the morning, when the canyon is backlit by the sun.
About half of the hike is exposed and it can get somewhat hot. The hottest part can be the initial switchbacks; since they're on a southeast-facing slope, the heat is worst in the morning; in the late afternoon it's shaded and cool. After the switchbacks, much of the climb is in the woods.
The trail starts at the Roads' End parking lot and immediately begins to climb through a mixture of chaparral and small, scrubby trees that don't offer much shade. After just a few switchbacks, you start to get some dramatic views of the granite canyon and conifer-carpeted valley floor. In a way, the views are best from the bottom of the trail; the canyon envelops you and is more dramatic from this angle.
At about 1 mile there's a small granite outcropping that can serve as as a viewpoint and a turn-around point if you're just interested in a short hike.
The trail continues to climb rapidly up a steep slope, so unlike the Bubbs Creek Trail, which is pretty far from the canyon, here you're almost looking straight down at Road's End. Eventually, though, the canyon gets more distant, and after a final viewpoint, the switchbacks end and you leave the canyon behind entirely.
The views of the canyon are replaced with more alpine scenery, especially views of the conifer-clad mountainsides. The trail starts to pass through patches of dense forest, which is quite a relief on a hot day. Unfortunately there's still a lot of open, exposed trail.
The trail passes through a series of scrub-filled "meadows". The best scenery is at Upper Tent Meadow, which features dramatic alpine views down the Copper Creek Drainage to the Grand Sentinel. On a bright, sunny day, the richness of the colors in this area is really striking - the streaks of conifers on the mountainsides are a saturated dark green, the granite walls of Kings Canyon walls are blue with distance, the sky a brilliant blue.
Upper Tent Meadow seems to be the hardest part of the climb. After Tent Meadow the trail enters cool woodland and switchbacks up the mountainside above Tent Meadow. On warm days, this is where the trail cools off, and it usually stays cool after this point.
The woods become sparser and the ground rockier as you near the lip of Granite Basin. Usually I start to feel light-headed near the top.
Finally the trail stops switbacking and soon afterward begins to level out. Reaching the high point of the hike, the sparse forest ends and there's an abrupt change of scenery as the trail starts to descend into the arid-looking, rocky Granite Basin. A granite outcropping just past the high point provides a view of the basin.
© 2012 David Baselt