This prominent north-south trending ridge divides the Redwood Canyon and the Stony Creek Canyon along the boundary of Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Forest. The ridge gets its name from the large, barren exfoliation dome at the southernmost point of the ridge. From the summit of Big Baldy, you’ll gain a spectacular view across two major watersheds, several western Sierra landmarks, and if it’s clear, the San Joaquin Valley.
Starting from the trailhead adjacent to the small dirt parking lot, commence travel south along the single-track trail. Immediately, you’ll encounter a sign indicating the boundary between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest. Just down slope to the left lies Montecito Lake Resort. Several side trails join the Big Baldy Trail from the resort. They are faint and have unofficial markings, which should make it easy to avoid them. If you’re visiting during the winter for some snowshoeing, keep your eyes peeled for the red reflector disks nailed to trees at regular intervals; they’ll help you mark the path.
You’ll climb a brisk 250′ in the first half mile to the first of several “bald patches” along the ridge. The first few bald spots that you encounter appear to be bands of colorful metamorphic rock called roof pendants. Roof pendants occur when underlying granitic rock pushes up the layer of rock that was initially above it. This occurred during the mountain building phase in which the Sierra Nevada batholith rose up from under the earth. Most of the overlying rock eroded away, but in a handful of spots, little patches of much older rocks remain. The rocks here support a very different kind of vegetation. You’ll go from dense fir forest on the granitic rock to nearly barren manzanita and Jeffrey pines on the metamorphic rock.
After the first bald patch, the trail drops down 100′ and begins climbing to the second bald patch at 1.1 miles. Looking due west, you’ll see the gently sloping depression of Redwood Canyon. This canyon holds the largest of the Sierra Nevada’s sequoia groves. The ridge directly across the canyon is Redwood Mountain, which holds the Sugarbowl Grove.
After the second bald patch, the trail drops down once again before climbing in earnest to the largest and highest of the four bald spots along the ridge. For many people, this high point on the ridge is the turnaround point, given that the views are pretty good from here. If you opt to turn around at this point, you will have gone 2.25 miles, gaining a respectable 900′ or so. You’ll get a lot of view for your money from this point, but the views are better from the end of the ridge.
To continue, drop down the third bald spot along a sometimes sketchy trail. It’s clear that many people visiting the ridge turn back after the third bald spot and that the NPS doesn’t do a lot of maintenance on the trail past that point. You may encounter a few downed trees or rocky spots where the trail isn’t clearly marked, but you won’t have a problem picking the trail back up again.
After a few gentle undulations in and out of the sparse cover of forest, you’ll commence one more rocky climb up to another prominent outcrop – this time entirely granitic. At 3 miles, this is the end of the line, and you’ll find that going further will lead to a pretty spectacular tumble down the steep face of Big Baldy’s exfoliation dome.
This lofty spot features spectacular views in nearly every direction. The photographs don’t do the views full justice since I hiked this during the terminal stages of the 2015 Rough Fire, which burned over 150,000 acres of land within Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest. Looking south, you’ll see Mt. Silliman and Alta Peak standing like twin sentinels above the Giant Forest area. Closer afoot, you’ll see Little Baldy and the Muir Grove ridge (look for the rounded tops of the sequoias there). Beyond all of that, you’ll see the lofty, sawtoothed ridge of the Great Western Divide, which divides the Kaweah and Kern watersheds.
Swing around to the north, and in addition to Redwood Canyon, you’ll spot the Monarch Divide looming over the obscured depths of Kings Canyon. Buena Vista Peak appears to be a diminutive bump above Redwood Canyon from this vantage, while the lookout tower atop Buck Rock pokes up out of a nearly uniform sea of green conifers. The rounded granitic dome just to the right is Clamshell Mountain in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness.
After concluding your observations, retrace your steps back along the undulating ridge. You’ll pick up about 300-400′ of elevation on the trip back, which is what earned this trip a “moderately difficult” rating in spite of its more modest distance. Make sure you save some energy for the return.
The trail is easy to follow up until the third bald patch. After that, the trail gets sketchy and sparsely maintained. It's still easy to follow, but it's less clear than the first 3/4's of the hike. Snowshoers will be able to follow the trail due to the regularly placed reflector disks indicating the presence of the trail.
There are a number of different camping spots to choose from between campgrounds in Sequoia National Park (Lodgepole, Dorst), Kings Canyon (Azalea, Sunset) and Sequoia National Forest (Big Meadow, Stony Creek, Upper Stony Creek, Princess). The closest, and probably most pleasant, is Upper Stony Creek.
From Fresno, follow Highway 180 to the Kings Canyon park entrance. Beyond the entrance, turn right onto General's Highway and continue for 6.6 miles south to the Big Baldy Ridge trailhead. Conversely, if you're coming from Visalia and Sequoia National Park via Highway 198, the trailhead is 18.2 miles north of the Lodgepole Visitor Center.