Don Cecil Trail is a 9.4 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Dunlap, California that features a waterfall and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and birding and is accessible from April until November.
Long, steep route up the south side of Kings Canyon, linking with forest tracks in Giant Sequoia NM. A much shorter hike reaches a series of small waterfalls (Sheep Creek Cascade), in a secluded, mossy ravine. Length: 1 mile to the cascade, 6 miles to the summit meadow Elevation change: 600 feet to the cascade, 3,300 feet to the meadow Difficulty: Easy, to the cascade; Difficult to the Meadow Named after a 19th century shepherd, the Don Cecil Trail was once the main access route into Kings Canyon, linking Cedar Grove with a forest track that starts from CA 198 and follows Big Meadow Creek eastwards. From the grove, the trail climbs steeply and continuously to a meadow beneath 8,500 foot Lookout Peak from where a short spur path leads to the summit, a point that provides excellent panoramas over the canyon and the surrounding peaks. One target for a shorter hike is Sheep Creek Cascade after 1 mile (a 600 foot elevation gain).
I took this trail thinking the sign at the bottom was accurate in the trail's length. The sign was off by my count by a mile. This added 2 miles of heavy climbing to the trip. The trail is easy to follow, but is very steep climbing for most of it. The meadow at the top was disappointing to say the least. I did not go to lookout point. There are enough trees along the trail to give you shade while climbing. I'm not a fast hiker and it took me 6 hours to do the 12 mile round trip.
Start of the Trail:
The cascade can be visited by quite an easy hike of less than an hour, round trip. The lower trailhead for the Don Cecil / Sheep Creek path is along Highway 180 just east of the turning for the Sentinel campground; vehicles can be left at a layby on the north side of the road.
Length: 1 mile to the cascade, 6 miles to the summit meadow
Elevation change: 600 feet to the cascade, 3,300 feet to the meadow
Difficulty: Easy, to the cascade; Difficult to the meadow
The route is not well signposted though easy enough to locate, and starts by climbing through an open forest of large, well-separated pine trees, without any undergrowth. The gradient is gentle at first then increases a little as the path reaches a dirt track (which leads to the Cedar Grove heliport). On the far side, the trees grow closer together, the pines are joined by oak, cedar and fir, and the forest becomes more overgrown, with many fallen branches and decaying logs.
Sheep Creek Cascade:
After a while, a gap in the trees allows the first proper sight of Kings Canyon, now 550 feet below - directly opposite is the steep hillside above Cedar Grove, course of the Hotel Creek Trail, while above and beyond are the rocky peaks of the Monarch Divide. The view doesn't last long, as the path descends a little into taller trees growing around Sheep Creek ravine, and crosses the stream on a footbridge. The creek cascades down the hillside over a series of pools and waterfalls, a feature most impressive in spring and early summer, since at other times the amount of water flowing is quite low.
The best place is a short distance upstream of the bridge. Beyond the falls, the lesser-used path zig-zags up a ridge separating Sheep Creek from the next drainage westwards, later crossing this stream, climbing the east-facing slopes beneath Lookout Peak and meeting the forest track at the edge of Summit Meadow.