Evolutiuon Valley, on the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon
For more an introduction to the John Muir Trail and Evolution Basin, visit Evolution basin and the John Muir Trail: Part one
When hiking the John Muir Trail up into Evolution Valley, waking up early on day two will help you get a leg up on the first major ascent which will happen this day. Depending on how far you get on Day One, you will definitely meet up with the John Muir Trail near the John Muir Ranch (a privately owned and operated ranch within the boundaries of the Sierra National forest).
After meeting up with the John Muir Trail, the trail will lead you across a bridge and put you officially into Kings Canyon National Park. From here, the trail follows the San Joaquin River up a valley surrounded by large granite mountains on either side. After two more bridge crossings, the trail reaches the first major ascent.
Switchbacking up the side of a mountain, the trail climbs over 1,000 feet. With each step, the views of the valley below become increasingly spectacular. Evolution Creek tumbles next to the trail in waterfalls for several portions of this hike and there are several great spots to pause for a rest and soak in the view and the river. Thankfully most of the climb also takes place in shade beneath the forest canopy.
The major ascent finally ends at the bottom of Evolution Valley with a river crossing over Evolution Creek. Unlike the other water crossings along this trail that are either spanned by small bridges or shallow enough to walk across over rocks, this crossing requires getting wet. Depending on the season the water level will vary. During the first week of August the crossing was at about mid calf, so expect higher levels earlier in the season and slightly lower levels through August and September. Either way, make sure to bring a pair of water shoes or at least flip flops on the journey.
Evolution Valley lies nestled amid the mountains below the treeline, so the trail here is still forested. The most prominent feature in the valley is the Hermit, a large dome-like granite mountain which pokes out like a bald man's head. Continuing up the trail, you will pass several large meadows, namely, Evolution, McClure and Colby, all of which provide opportunities to camp. McClure appears to be the most popular spot and there's also a ranger station here (look for the cabin). If McClure feels too crowded for your tastes though, it's best to head further up the trail or cross Evolution Creek (adding another water crossing) to camp on the opposite bank where most other campers are unlikely to venture.
Camping close to the water is obviously convenient, but make sure not to camp closer than 100 feet next to any water source since this is against park regulations. Going for a refreshing swim in Evolution Creek though is a definite must.
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