To thru- or section-hike the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, I both carry and recommend three types of maps:
- Paper overview map
- Paper detailed maps
- Digital maps stored on a GPS unit
This 3-map system is standard for most of my trips; read an in-depth explanation and discussion of it. The information below is specific to the KCHBR.
1. Paper overview map
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Trail Map (#205) by National Geographic Trails Illustrated
This double-sided map covers the entire park. It measures 37.75 x 25.5 inches and is printed at a scale of 1:80,000 with 100-foot contour intervals. Another option is the Tom Harrison park map, though I have no personal experience with it.
2. Paper detailed maps
The Kings Canyon High Basin Route Guide includes print-ready digital PDF’s of topographic maps for the Primary Route and all Section Hikes. These maps were produced using CalTopo and the copyright is owned by Andrew Skurka Adventures LLC. Customers have permission to print the maps for their personal use.
For a base map, the Guide’s topo maps use the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle series, which is the gold standard for topographic maps in the US. The maps have been annotated with critical route information, and the custom print tiles are centered over the route.
When printed on 11 x 17 tabloid paper, the maps will be at their native scale of 1:24,000; contour intervals are 40 feet or 20 meters (65 feet), depending on the base map. If the maps are printed on smaller paper, the topographic detail will be compressed, possibly to the point of if being illegible. Read more map printing suggestions and tips.
3. Digital maps stored on a GPS unit
As an emergency just-in-case backup, a GPS with pre-downloaded 7.5-minute topographic maps plus other layers (e.g. USFS topo maps, historical maps, and Landsat satellite imagery) of the intended route and adjacent areas can be very useful. In lieu of a conventional handheld GPS unit, I use my smartphone in conjunction with an app, Gaia GPS.
Intentionally omitted from the Guide was a KML or GPX file with waypoints of the route or an entire track. While this would help specify the topographic maps to download in Gaia GPS, it creates the opportunity for a low-skilled and inexperienced backpacker to blindly follow their GPS into some of the most remote and committing corners of the High Sierra. I want everyone to think twice — at least — about whether this route is appropriate for them.
Plus, I doubt this omission is a deal-breaker. If you are considering the KCHBR, you probably already know how to create a GPX file. If not, this is a good opportunity to learn.