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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
An easy rapid constricts down as it picks up speed. A surprise hole waits at the bottom in the middle of the channel.
Similar to first rapid; long and gradual, but with a pile of rocks in the bottom middle instead of a hole.
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.
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.
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'.
Approximate end of the river when the reservoir surface is at 840 feet.
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.
The river extends to this area when the lake is at elevation 780. Current will extend a little ways past this.
Flow in this section is monitored by the Army Corp, as Inflow to Pine Flat Reservoir. See Pine Flat.
Expect about 800 or 900 cfs from the powerhouse, plus the flow at Rogers Crossing or Below the NF. In late summer or fall this will typically be only 100 to 300 cfs natural flow from the river. This seems to be a good flow for this section of river. In the fall, the powerhouse seems to typically start up in early afternoon. Historical daily average flow data is available for the powerhouse from . It appears that the maximum capacity of this powerhouse is close to 1100 cfs.
Inflows are calculated from changes in reservoir level and are notoriously rough and inaccurate over the short term. Actual flows will usually not be as erratic as they appear from the above gauges.
In addition there is probably a delay of several hours before flows show up on this reading. After the powerhouse starts up it will take some time before that flow reaches the reservoir and then it should take some time before the increase in reservoir elevation reaches the dam where it is measured.
Permits are not required for this reach.
The shuttle is fairly easy and short, but windy. Expect 15 minutes driving time each way.
GoogleMap of Take-out hike
Hidden Kings: Below the 3
Hidden Kings: class 3 end
Hidden Kings: Class 3 - view 1
Hidden Kings: Portage
Hidden Kings: riffle
Hidden Kings: 1st rapid
Hidden Kings: Put-in
Hidden Kings: Take-out
Near Cottonwood Gap
Hidden Kings - 1
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