Sierra hikes that range from serene to strenuous

Sweat, or not to sweat? That is the question that confronts hikers visiting the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.

Because Cedar Grove lies at the bottom of North America's deepest river canyon, even deeper than the Grand Canyon, it stands to reason that most of the hikes require some serious energy expenditure. Be sure to carry plenty of water.

But there are some easy ones, too. Especially those that meander along the mighty South Fork of the Kings River.

Here's a sampling:

Cedar Grove Overlook

Length: 5 miles (out and back); 7 miles (loop)

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Trailhead: Hotel Creek Trail (quarter-mile north of Lodge)

Description: From this granite knob, you can trace the river canyon from the foothills to the high country. Getting there entails a 1,200-foot climb of south-facing switchbacks, so go in the morning while it's still cool.

After you've enjoyed the view, either retrace your steps or continue hiking the Hotel Creek Trail until it meets the Lewis Creek Trail and turn left (downhill) back to the main road. From the canyon floor, it's a 1.5-mile walk to the trailhead. Take either the pack station road or the seldom-used trail that parallels above it.

Mist Falls

Length: 8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: Roads End

Description: This is the area's most popular hike -- and for good reason. The first half is flat and passes through the heart of Kings Canyon. The second half heads slightly uphill (600 feet) and leads to one of the park's most scenic waterfalls.

The best time to visit is early summer. When the falls are running high, a gentle spray of mist soaks everything within 200 yards of the base. It's a great place to cool off and relax. Just don't expect a lot of solitude.

River Trail

Length: 2.7 miles (one way)

Difficulty: Easy

Trailhead: Roaring River Falls parking area

Description: This scenic stroll links two of Cedar Grove's finest features: Roaring River Falls and Zumwalt Meadows. In just a few footsteps, you'll pass through forests of incense cedar, fir and pine; moraines left by an ancient glacier; and a picturesque meadow, where dogwood and cattails bloom in abundance.

Of course, they don't call it the River Trail for nothing. The Kings is your constant companion. Even when not seen, it can always be heard.

Lookout Peak

Length: 12 miles

Difficulty: Strenuous

Trailhead: Don Cecil Trail (quarter-mile east of Village turnoff)

Description: So you've got a hankering to do a real butt kicker. Look no farther. This historic trail used by sheepherders and early explorers climbs 3,800 feet in about 6 miles, passing a cool, shaded cascade at Sheep Creek a mile into the journey.

The trail continues up a series of north-facing switchbacks before reaching a saddle that forms the boundary of Kings Canyon National Park and the Sequoia National Forest. A faint, unmaintained trail leads to Lookout Peak's rocky summit, where only a microwave telephone reflector mars the spectacular view.