King of the Mountains
Hiking and Camping in Mineral King in Sequoia National Park
California’s first national park, Sequoia, is also among the least visited, and that means you get the quiet and raw beauty almost entirely to yourself. In a remote setting at the park’s southern end, Mineral King is a subalpine valley that will absolutely knock your boots off. You’ll drive 25 miles up a snaky road, listed in the National Historic Register, deep into the heart of the southern Sierra. The road doesn’t open until May 25 this year, but when it does, serrated peaks and high-alpine lakes of Mineral King await. While day hikes around here are not for the faint of heart—many range between 7 and 10 miles, with altitude gains of 1,700 to 2,200 feet—they’re undoubtedly worth the effort.
The 3.4-mile (one-way) trail to Eagle Lake will reward you with unimpeded views of granite peaks shooting from the timberline. Less ambitious hikers can wander the Farewell Gap Trail through gentler, wildflower-laden terrain in the Mineral King Valley, or relax by Mineral King Stream with a good book. For a long, challenging day hike that can be turned into an overnight camping option, Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes are true beauties, dramatically set at the foot of Sawtooth Peak (12,343 feet), a jagged giant dominating the valley. As a side trip, you can journey up and beyond the lakes for just over a mile to reach Sawtooth Pass (11, 700 feet) and its strenuous (not for the clumsy-footed!) 2.4-mile ascent on the Great Western Divide. The reward: ultimate views of the southern Sierras, including the Kaweah Peaks and the Whitney Crest. Oh yeah, this is big time!
STAY: You can basecamp in the rustic cabins at Silver City Mountain Resort, which is neither a city nor a resort but which offers a variety of cabins, from upscale to rustic. There are two first-come, first-served campgrounds along Mineral King Road: Atwell Mill and Cold Springs. For those who want to overnight at Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes, there are campsites above the north shore. Free wilderness permits are required for this hike and camping.
Mineral King is remote and has no services. The 25-mile Mineral King Rd. begins at Hwy. 198, 4 miles north of Three Rivers and 2 miles south of Sequoia’s Ash Mountain Entrance. The road is steep, narrow, and winding. It typically opens by Memorial Day weekend. Allow plenty of drive time. Atwell Mill and Cold Springs campgrounds are dog-friendly! No dogs on trails or backcountry camp sites. NOTE: Check the status of trails ahead of time when planning, especially at higher elevations and for peaks; some may not be passable until later in the hiking season.
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