Whitewater Weekend on the Kings River

I have special memories of the Kings River. The first and last time I paddled its roller coaster rapids was back in 2008 for my birthday, which kick-started all the river trips every summer since. After a few years of kayaking our local Kern River and exploring more remote rivers, my guy and I decided…

Linda Ly
Whitewater weekend on the Kings River

I have special memories of the Kings River. The first and last time I paddled its roller coaster rapids was back in 2008 for my birthday, which kick-started all the river trips every summer since.

After a few years of kayaking our local Kern River and exploring more remote rivers, my guy and I decided to revisit the Kings for a long weekend of camping under the supermoon.

It was running at a good cfs (cubic flow per second) last weekend, which is saying a lot considering our very dry winter. Its flow comes from natural snowmelt in the high western Sierra Nevada, and since it’s practically summer up in those parts, the flows were fast and fading. We packed up the pugs, the kayaks, and the camping gear, and set off for the six-hour drive from Los Angeles.

The Kings straddles the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests, where its three forks converge into the main river in the Sierra foothills.

It sits in a remote canyon with no services and the only sign of civilized life is a literal sign, about an hour outside of the valley, indicating the last stop for cell signal. After that, we were on our own in the wild.

Last stop for cell signal

This time of year, the drive into the river valley is as green as can be. We passed through the San Joaquin Valley, where wildflowers were blooming in abundance and happy cows were grazing on grassy hillsides plucked out of a postcard.

Driving through the San Joaquin Valley

Driving through the San Joaquin Valley

Grassy hillsides in the San Joaquin Valley

Happy cow

Happy cows

We passed rolling ranch land full of sprawling oaks and not another person or car the whole way… even though I knew there had to be another person out there, somewhere, because we passed a whole lotta cows.

Sprawling oaks

Cows in a field of oak trees

Happy cow

Cows grazing on rolling ranch land

A beautiful sunset made the twisty-turny road along Pine Flat Lake much easier to stomach. I am notoriously carsick on winding roads, which is such a cruel fate considering I love the mountains so much. If I’m not driving, I’m usually passed out in the passenger seat until the road straightens out again.

Pine Flat Lake at sunset

Pine Flat Lake at sunset

Pine Flat Lake at dusk

Two hours after we left the smoggy suburban sprawl of Fresno, we were on the idyllic banks of the Kings River just as night fell. It was the most wonderful feeling to fall asleep to the sounds of the river and the glow of the supermoon. If my camera could actually capture what my eyes could see, it would’ve made one spectacular picture.

The next day, I slept in and woke up to tall oaks above my head and snoring pugs in my sleeping bag. The weather was perfect. Since it was Sunday, all the weekend campers had already packed up and gotten an early start home.

Waking up to oaks above my tent

Waking up with pugs in the tent

We set up camp at Kirch Flat, the take-out for our run. Our campsite sat on the edge of a meadow under a canopy of oaks, with a little trail that led to a sandy beach.

Our riverside camp at Kirch Flat

Pugs on the beach at Kings River

Life is ruff.

A lazy afternoon at Kings River

Kings River

After milking the morning, we geared up for our drive upstream to scout the 10-mile stretch of rapids between our take-out at Kirch Flat and our put-in at Garnet Dike.

Scouting the Kings River from Rodgers Crossing

Scouting the Kings River

There are a handful of Class III wave trains and boulder gardens on this section of the Kings, but with flows running high at around 3,500 cfs, many of the holes and hazards mellowed out into fun little obstacles.

Scouting the Kings River

Scouting rapids on the Kings River

The rapids always seem so much smaller from high up on the cliff, but this was one of the major wave trains on the river.

Scouting rapids on the Kings River

This boulder garden was so scrappy and technical, I couldn’t believe I made it through cleanly. I remember looking back upriver after paddling for my life and still feeling rattled! Note to self for next time: Take river right.

Scouting rapids on the Kings River

Scouting the Kings River

After a scouting-turned-sightseeing mission, we unloaded at Garnet Dike, a primitive campground on the north bank of the river. The early-season snowmelt was clear and cold, but the afternoon sun felt warm on my back.

Suiting up at Garnet Dike

The pure snowmelt was clear and cold

Putting in at Garnet Dike

We paddled out to a beautiful butterfly send-off, with dozens of “flutterbies” swirling around our boats.

Butterfly send-off at Garnet Dike

Beautiful "flutterby" on the river

A run on the Kings starts right off with the notorious Class III+ Banzai, a rapid that threatens to swallow you up into a big hole or wrap you around the rock just below it. We powered through the rapids right side up, relieved that neither of us got thrown in the first five minutes on the river.

Charging through the rapids on Kings River

Whitewater kayaking on the Kings River

Another set of rapids required an onsite scout after the river split into two streams that dropped off into… what? As it turned out, the right fork narrowed into a pile of boulders at the bottom of the rapids. Playing pinball with your boat is never a fun thing, so we opted for the more forgiving left fork.

Scouting a potential hazard on the river

Scouting a potential hazard on the river

The whitewater was swift but sparing, and after the rush of holding on in a bucking wave train, it was nice to sit back and take in the scenery between rapids.

Powering through rapids on the Kings River

Enjoying the view in an eddy

A calm section of the river

A calm section of the river

Playing around in the river ripples

Approaching Rodgers Crossing

Kayaking past Rodgers Crossing

We ran the river in just under three hours, and pulled right up to our beach at Kirch Flat.

Take-out at Kirch Flat

Taking out at Kirch Flat

A couple of panting pugs greeted us at the campsite, and we decided (for them, that is) to go for an après-paddle swim.

Panting pug at the campsite

Going for a little swim

Of course, we couldn’t let just one of them have all the fun…

Going for a little swim

Going for a little swim

Cooling off in the Kings River

Remember the Dutch oven debut in Baja? For the initiation we had kept it simple and sweet with a Boy Scout-style peach cobbler. For its second appearance, however, we decided to put it to the test and use it as our only means of cooking all weekend.

To prep the fire pit, I made the world’s most perfect teepee…

The world's most perfect teepee

And then we had fire!


Over a bed of hot coals, we sauteed onions and ground beef.

Cooking with the Dutch oven

In went the egg noodles…

Cooking with the Dutch oven

Then the secret sauce…

Cooking with the Dutch oven

And by the time we finished our beers, a steaming pot of beef stroganoff was calling our names. This 8-quart oven fed two hungry people who ate over three-quarters of a six-serving meal. Seriously.

Dutch oven beef stroganoff

I’m not sure how I managed to digest all that in one night, because the next morning I woke up to the smell of campfire and my rugged guy flipping a cowboy omelet in the Dutch oven. And I was hungry. Again.

Cowboy omelet in a Dutch oven

I swear that the best thing about camping is the food. There’s something about cooking over a fire that’s so freeing. At home I have a cupboard full of dozens of spices and more oils than I can count on both hands. At camp all I need is a spray can of cooking oil and a good stick for stoking the fire.

We lazed in the morning before launching at Gravel Flat, a campground just three miles upstream, to get wet on a fun little section of the river. It’s nice to repeat rapids when you know you survived them the day before!

Putting in at Gravel Flat

Second day on the river


Loading up the car

On our way home, we stopped off at one of the creeks running through the canyon and picked out imaginary lines down its granite chutes. Because you never know, creeking might have to be my next feat. In an innertube.

One of the creeks in the canyon

A waning sun over a meadow

Sunset in the San Joaquin Valley

Sunset in the San Joaquin Valley


  1. Amazing! I just got a kayak and tried it out on Mother’s Day. I think I am in for a lot of fun!
      I am also impressed by your well behaved pups!

  2. What an idyllic weekend! Did the pugs stay in the tent while you kayaked? If so, those are some wonderfully behaved dogs you’ve got there.

    1. Yes, they just slept in the tent while we kayaked. It was a quiet weekend though, with hardly any other campers around. Just the pugs and the birds and the bees. 🙂

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