This is a diverse trail with many challenges, rewarded with stunning views and peaceful solitude.
Starting at Road's End, the first section is the Copper Creek Trail
. It is well graded, but all up for about 8 mi. The trail is very exposed (start early in the day!), with few sources of water. It's a butt kicker, especially at the beginning of a trip, with a full pack. There's decent camping and a bear box at Lower Tent Meadow, and very slanty "campsites" at Upper Tent, which is difficult to find, with no signage.
The Copper Creek Trail
ends at the ridge called the Granite Lip, and from there the trail drops into Granite Basin. There is no water at the Lip, so if you need to camp, do a brief 1/2 mile cross country to the outlet of Grouse Lake, N of the trail and E of the ridge.
Granite Basin is a breathtaking contrast of granite grey and luscious green, dotted with sapphire lakes. The trail takes you through the basin, where there are no fires allowed, to Granite Pass. The Basin can be lousy with mosquitos, or not, depending on the season. More than once, the trail crews have left a 100 degree day in Cedar Grove to encounter a freezing sleet storm raging in Granite Basin. Be prepared!
Granite Lake is peaceful, secluded, and with a slight breeze is reminiscent of the ocean.
Granite Pass has some of the most spectacular views in the park, S into the basin and N toward the Middle Fork and LeConte Canyon.
From Granite Pass you gradually climb down through 3 meadows, the largest is Shorty's Meadow, named for the remnants of one of Shorty Lovelace's abandoned cabins in the SE corner, hidden in a stand of trees. All 3 of these meadows have meandering streams that make for great bathing.
The route between the last meadow N of Granite Pass to the N junction with the State Lakes Loop
is a lovely meander with a few climbs. There are 4 main creek crossings over the forks of Dougherty Creek. Before the 3rd crossing, on the E side of the trail, look out for a small footpath that leads to a packer camp. From the Drift Fence after this camp, be sure to look West for a view of the hidden Lake of the Fallen Moon.
The N junction with the State Lakes Loop
is the top of the "Son of a bitch" segment, one of the most difficult trails in Kings Canyon. The elevation changes 4000 ft in 5 mi, has NO water, is sloughy, very steep, and minimally maintained. The E fork of Dougherty Creek is your last water heading N. To break it up and gauge your progress, think of The Bitch as having 5 sections: not so bad, sand, manzanita, forest, scrub.
Finishing up on the Middle Fork Trail
is worth it!