Kings, S. Fork - 3. Boyden Cave to Middle Fork confluence

Kings, S. Fork, California, US


3. Boyden Cave to Middle Fork confluence (Horseshoe Bend)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 4.4 Miles

Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing
Photo by Paul Martzen @ low

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Kings, MF or SF
virtual-50759 300 - 1000 cfs V 00h29m 92 cfs (too low)

River Description

Horseshoe Bend of the SF Kings is a super scenic gorge. It is normally paddled in conjunction with the downstream Garlic Falls section. This makes an excellent 2 day trip through fantastic scenery that has been compared to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

If you do not have time to continue downstream or if you wish to stay in the South Fork, Cedar Grove area, there is a steep 2 mile carry out from the confluence of the middle fork to Yucca Point on Highway 180.

As reported, there are two mandatory rapids that cannot be portaged in the heart of the gorge. These two rapids can be scouted from the road and from river level.  Recent trips (2012) report that the difficulty of these rapids is in the easy class 5 to 4+ range at moderate flows, so they should no longer be called "Fear and Loathing". Big floods in 1997 cleaned up "Fear and Loathing" so that it is much less difficult and dangerous than in the past. Two or three drops further downstream is the next mandatory run. Scout from river right. There are bigger rapids both upstream and downstream, but all others can be walked if desired.

Taylor Cavin writes: "The horseshoe bend of the Kings gave me the feeling of being in a deeper canyon than I have experienced elsewhere in California, with more vertical, craggy, and lichen-painted walls..... It has some challenging rapids, but I would rate the run over-all as class V, not V+. I feel that it is comparable in difficulty to Garlic Falls (aka King's Canyon), the continuation of the river downstream of the confluence with Middle Kings.

What I do wish to make known is that there is no longer a crux or "crucible" moment in the run. I don't think that there is a need to hike out above or hike in below "fear and loathing." Anyone who has made it that far in the run will not find inordinate challenge in that rapid. I also think that the rapid could be re-named, much as "old scary" on the SF American was re-named following its re-arrangement. Maybe "old fearful" would be a fitting revision.

I was frustrated in the difficulty of persuading people in joining me on the trip, given the specter of "fear and loathing" that has lingered. This is why I want to share this information."  Taylor Cavin, 2012.

Getting There: From Fresno, take highway 180, Kings Canyon Avenue, east, into the mountains, through Grant Grove towards Cedar Grove. The distance is approximately 75 miles on excellent highway, but still allow at least 1.5 hours driving time. Better yet, allow time for sightseeing along the way. Highway 180 is closed to automobile traffic during the winter, usually from November 1 to April or May.

Put in: Highway 180 reaches the river at Boyden Cave. Park in a large turnout downstream of the bridge, not in the cave parking lot. There is a snack bar, souvenir shop and pit toilets at the cave parking area. The cave tour takes about an hour and is pretty nice.

Alternate put in: Paddlers can also put-in below the mandatory rapids, about halfway through Horseshoe Bend by a short but rough route down from Convict Flat. This trail requires some bushwacking and also lowering boats down a short cliff. It reaches the river in the heart of the gorge but below the mandatory rapids. Big rapids remain, but all can be portaged if necessary.

Other information Sources:
Hume Lake Ranger District
35860 East Kings Canyon Road
Dunlap, CA 93621
Monday through Friday, 8:00am - 4:30pm

Sequoia National Forrest
Friends of the SF Kings
Fishing regulations
Kings Canyon Lodge, cabins & eatery at 180 &Ten Mile Creek, near Yucca Point, (559) 335-2405


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-07-17 00:03:10


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.0Talus SlopeAccess
1.1Old Fearful VPhoto
1.2Mandatory #2Photo
1.5Convict Flat trailAccess
1.7Last WaterfallWaterfall
2.0Last V

Rapid Descriptions

Talus Slope
This talus slope offers one of the few access points into or out of the canyon.   It is the last escape point above Fear and Loathing and can also be used as a way to get down and inspect that rapid.  

Old Fearful (Class V, Mile 1.1)

Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing
Photo by Paul Martzen @ low

Formerly called "Fear and Loathing", this is the first of two rapids in the heart of the gorge which can not be portaged.   Fortunately over the years, high flows have rearranged and cleaned up this rapid.   A nasty sieve fest which occupied the river right half is no longer there and the rapid can now also be run at low flows with out major fear pinning.   Nonetheless it is still a serious rapid that must be run. 

It can be scouted from the road turnouts or by hiking down from the road turnout directly above it. 


Mandatory #2

Overview 4

Overview 4
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 07/08/03

This is the second rapid that cannot be portaged.   You can scout on river right and easily inspect the main drop.   In the past there was sneak potential on the far river left at some flows. 


Convict Flat trail
A rough but short fisherman's trail leads from the south end of Convict Flat, down a gulley, and over a cliff into Redwood Creek where it meets the SF Kings in the very heart of Horseshoe Bend.    This trail is attractive to those who do not want to paddle the two unportagable drops just upstream.   It is also attractive to some paddling the Garlic Falls section who do not want to hike the Yucca Creek trail.    Others have expressed strong detest for this non trail.   Strong route finding ability is  important. 

At the cliff it will be necessary to lower boats about 50 feet.   There is also a fair amount of poison oak along the route, especially near the top and at the very bottom.

The map marker is accurate for the satellite view rather than the topo. 

Last Waterfall

The river constricts to river right, then drops over a 15 +- foot waterfall.    You can scout the falls on river right.  We always ran it on the left edge and I seem to recall a boulder under the surface of the landing zone if you go over the middle. 


There is a short pool at the base, then the river drops into the biggest rapid in this section below Redwood Creek and the Convict Flat trail.     This long rapid can only be scouted on river left and those who wish to scout or portage must work hard to get left before dropping into the rapid.  


Below this rapid are one or two more pretty big rapids in a really spectacular gorge.   

Last V

The river flows through a very scenic gorge.   Where the river makes a sharp right turn, large jaggedy boulders block the way leaving only tight, steep and twisty slots.   Scout and/or portage on river right. 


Below this the canyon opens out into a Vee shape and the rapids become class 4 boulder slaloms all the way to the confluence.  

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