This route description is intentionally general, and is simply meant to help you broadly understand where the route goes. For a visual reference, view this overview map. And for a navigation-worthy route description, download the King Canyon High Basin Route Guide.
Starting at Lodgepole, the Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR) climbs towards Mt Silliman, a distinct high point on the Kings-Kaweah Divide. It parallels or stays atop this ridge past Mt. Silliman, into Tablelands, just under Elizabeth Pass, to Copper Mine Pass, where the route plummets into Cloud Canyon.
An old mining track and the Colby Pass Trail lead to Colby Lake. From there, the KCHBR climbs towards Talus Pass, the first of several high passes below the Great Western Divide, which separates the Kings and Kern Rivers and which sees little traffic despite having eight 13,000-foot peaks. At Longley Pass, the route reaches its highest point (12,434 feet, 3800 meters) and crosses to the Divide’s east side before dropping 4,000 vertical feet to Bubbs Creek.
The route has a consistent pattern for the next 35 miles. From a low point beside a major tributary of the Kings River — Bubbs, Woods, South Fork, Palisades, Middle Fork — climb steeply to a high, remote, trailless basin — Gardiner, Arrow, Lake, Dumbbell. Summit at least one pass before dropping steeply to the next tributary. Repeat. In late-spring and early-summer, these river fords are perhaps the route’s most notable hazards. This segment is interrupted by just 2 miles of on-trail hiking.
The next high basin — Palisades — would entail an unjustifiable effort and is therefore bypassed. Instead, the KCHBR joins the John Muir Trail to Helen Lake, from where it jumps over Black Giant Pass into the final basin, Ionian. The route down Enchanted Gorge to the Middle Fork is the most rugged, committing, and isolated section of the entire route. Bring you A-game — it’s not a place to make mistakes.
If there were a road up the Middle Fork to Simpson Meadow, the KCHBR would probably end here. But there’s not, so the route instead grinds 5,500 vertical feet over the Monarch Divide — following the same sequence of valleys and passes as Steve Roper’s Sierra High Route from Glacier Valley to Grouse Lake — only to drop 6,500 vertical feet to the South Fork and Road’s End, the route’s northern terminus.