Kings - 3. Kings River Powerhouse to Big Creek Cove

Kings, California, US


3. Kings River Powerhouse to Big Creek Cove (Hidden Kings)

Usual Difficulty II(III) (varies with level)
Length 7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 22 fpm
Max Gradient 25 fpm

Hidden Kings - 1

Hidden Kings - 1
Photo of Jerry Sickler Jr. by Paul Martzen taken 09/15/01 @ 1000 cfs +-

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Kings Inflow Pine Flat Res
dream-393 800 - 30000 cfs II(III) 09h03m 1713 cfs (running)

River Description

This section of the Kings River is usually only available when Pine Flat reservoir gets very low. When storage in Pine Flat is 300,000 acre feet or less, most of this river section returns.  The reservoir can get low in late summer and fall of dry years.  During these periods the outflow from the Kings River Powerhouse can provide enough flow for fun boating.  Sometimes the reservoir will still be low during the winter when big storms provide large flows.  Some years the reservoir may remain low enough to make the run worthwhile during the early spring snowmelt season.  The reservoir will quickly rise during spring runnoff and during wet winters.

The army corp page for Pine Flat gives the exact reservoir surface elevation. The normal take-out at the mouth of Big Creek is 750' elevation. Since the gradient is around 17 feet per mile near Big Creek, you should be able to estimate how much flat water you have to paddle at any lake elevation.

Mileage and Elevations:

Location Mile Elevation Drop
Kings River Powerhouse 0 910' 0'
Mouth of Big Creek 7 750' 160'
Mouth of Sycamore Creek 8 730' 180'
Trimmer 9 715' 197'

Take-out: Drive around Pine Flat reservoir on Trimmer Springs Road. Beyond Trimmer Springs, the road goes around and crosses two major inlets. The first is Sycamore Creek, the second is Big Creek. Just as the road leaves the main reservoir and turns north into the Big Creek inlet, there are some turnouts and a dirt road/trail leading back down towards the main reservoir. Park there.  GoogleMap of Take-out hike   When the lake elevation is 785', the hike is about 1/3 mile with 300 feet of elevation gain up a fairly gradual slope.


Put-in: Continue on Trimmer Springs Road towards the Kings River. After the road goes over Cottonwood Ridge and comes down to the river, you will see the Kings River powerhouse and pipes leading to it. (These pipes carry water from the North Fork Kings River). Turn right at the powerhouse and you can drive all the way down to the tail race at the base of the powerhouse. There is only a small sandy area next to the tail race, so use it only for unloading only. Leave cars up at the obvious large parking area.

The shuttle is about 15 or 20 minutes each direction.

The run starts off with a few long stretches of flat water interspersed with interesting and fairly long class 2 rapids.

In a couple miles the rapids come closer together as the run approaches Cottonwood Gap. A prominent cliff, high on river left marks this gap. Huge boulders have fallen into the river below the base of this cliff.

Just downstream of these boulders is the entrance to the one big class 3 rapid on the run. This rapid starts with a number of shallow entrances on river left combining into a powerful chute leading right. This chute gains water and power along its length and ends with several river wide breaking waves. It is guaranteed to intimidate beginning kayakers and swamp open canoes! This rapid can be scouted or portaged on either side.

Below Cottonwood Gap, the rapids are less steep and the pools between are a bit longer.

In the fall of 2001, when Pine Flat storage was 276,000 acre feet, we hit silt flats about 1 mile below Cottonwood Gap. The silt is good in some ways, because it smooths out the small gradient and the current moves along at a steady clip. The water here becomes brown and roiling. There are many ghostly dead trees along the banks and snags pushed down from upriver. There is also a distinct, musty, lake bottom smell. Early in this section we had plenty of depth, but as we neared the lake, the river spread out more, got more shallow,and it was harder to see the deeper channels. In the last 50 or 100 yards to the lake the flow slows down, the depth diminishes and it is very hard to avoid grounding out. People should expect to push their boats for a short distance as they paddle from the river onto the lake.

We had about 1 mile of paddling on the lake to Big Creek Cove. Then there was several hundred yards of hiking up a hill to the road. One advantage of having some flatwater paddling was that the lake extended back into Big Creek Cove a bit and we did not have to carry our boats as far up the hill as from the true river bed.

In succeeding years the river steadily cleaned out the silt all the way past the mouth of Big Creek. During big water years, this run will remain covered and lots of new silt will be deposited.

This run is suitable for experienced open canoe boaters and novice kayakers. There are many wonderful beaches, the water is usually a pleasant temperature for swimming, and the scenery is nice with a desert feel.

Google Earth has high resolution images of this section of river with the river bed exposed during low reservoir conditions. (Sept. 2005)

Paul Martzen

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-12-16 18:58:21


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-0.8Kirch Flat put in rapidIAccess
-0.1Powerhouse RapidIII
0.0Powerhouse Put InN/APutin
0.4Slalom BouldersN/A
0.6First RapidII
0.8Second RapidI
1.7Long RiffleI
2.2Giant BouldersN/APhoto
2.5Class 3 rapidIIIPhoto
3.5Evevation 840'N/A
4.0Elevation 800'N/A
6.0Elevation 780'N/A

Rapid Descriptions

Kirch Flat put in rapid (Class I, Mile -0.8)

If there is enough flow in the river above the powerhouse, boaters can launch at Kirch Flat or higher.  The first rapid below the Kirch Flat rafting access area is a wide drop with choppy waves.

Powerhouse Rapid (Class III, Mile -0.1)

This is a steep and powerful rapid when there is flow above the powerhouse. The water drops over a wide bar from river right to left, then piles against giant boulders on river right.  This rapid is as big as any in the Banzai section above and perhaps more intimidating than most.

Launch below this rapid when the main flow is coming from the powerhouse.

Powerhouse Put In (Class N/A)

In late summer and fall, the river flow is too low to boat until the powerhouse turns on. Launch in the pool by the powerhouse outflow.

Slalom Boulders (Class N/A, Mile 0.4)

The river is very wide and flows around a large number of small boulders.  The current is modest so it makes a great slalom practice area.

First Rapid (Class II, Mile 0.6)

An easy rapid constricts down as it picks up speed.  A surprise hole waits at the bottom in the middle of the channel.

Second Rapid (Class I, Mile 0.8)

Similar to first rapid; long and gradual, but with a pile of rocks in the bottom middle instead of a hole.

Long Riffle (Class I, Mile 1.7)

Below Third Rapid, fast current and small waves with scattered rocks continue for over a half mile. The gradient increases a bit at mile 1.7 and at mile 1.9 there are some bigger waves.

Giant Boulders (Class N/A, Mile 2.2)

Near Cottonwood Gap

Near Cottonwood Gap
Photo of Pat Grecco and Jerry Sickler Jr. by Paul Martzen taken 09/15/01 @ 1000 cfs +-

Four giant boulders sit in the middle of the river.  They appear to have come from a cliff high on river left. The current is moderate, so it is easy to paddle all around these boulders to inspect them. 

Class 3 rapid (Class III, Mile 2.5)

Hidden Kings: Class 3 - view 1

Hidden Kings: Class 3 - view 1
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 08/17/02 @ 800 to 1000 cfs

Immediately below the Giant Boulders is a small island.  Take the left channel for the easiest set up. The right side of the river below the island is guarded by a thick band of rocks.  There are several channals through these rocks from the right back to the left side.  A debri fan from a steep drainage on the left blocks the left side and creates a steep chute back to the right side.  The chute is wide and easy at the top but constricts towards the bottom where there are several deep wave holes and a final exposed rock just left of center. (at 1100 cfs)

Elevation here is around 860'.

Evevation 840' (Class N/A, Mile 3.5)

Approximate end of the river when the reservoir surface is at 840 feet.

Elevation 800' (Class N/A, Mile 4.0)

The river will reach this far when the reservoir elevation is at 800 feet.  Three sets of high voltage transmission lines cross the reservoir just before this point.

Elevation 780' (Class N/A, Mile 6.0)

The river extends to this area when the lake is at elevation 780.  Current will extend a little ways past this.

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