“Leads to lower lakes in Bench Valley and provides access to easy off-trail running to remote lakes in upper Bench Valley.”
— Lee Watts
Wilderness permits are required and there are daily quotas, but walk-in permits are easier to get for this area than many other regions in the Sierras. Walk-in permits are obtained from the ranger station in Prather.
Features: Lake — River/Creek — Swimming — Views
The Bench Valley Trail leaves the Blackcap Basin Trail about a half mile or so above Big Maxson Meadow. It winds back to cross the ridge, climbing about 600 feet in 1.5 miles. Near the high point, it is worthwhile to run about 100 yards down to the rocky ledge where there is a sweeping panorama of the North Fork Kings River canyon, Long Mountain south of Long Meadow, and even to Eagle Peak beyond Courtright Reservoir.
From the high point, the trail drops about 80 feet to Falls Creek, and then gradually climbs through a fairly swampy area with mosquitoes, until it reaches the falls coming down from McGuire Lakes. A series of switchbacks take you up the cliff. In the early season, the tight switchbacks near the top can be buried in snow. This creates a steep slope just above the cliffs that drop to the bottom of the falls. This could be very dangerous without an ice-axe and crampons.
The trail winds around the two McGuire Lakes, climbs 200 feet to pass near Guest Lake, and then climbs to its end near Horsehead and Filly Lakes. Although the trail ends, it is an easy off-trail run up to the beautiful lakes in upper Bench Valley.