A short list of the best Day hike experiences in the Mineral King region of Sequoia National Park
The elevation at the floor of the Mineral King Valley is 7500′ (2286 meters). Hiking at this altitude is strenuous. Gauge your hiking to the least fit member of your party. During the early summer, mosquitoes can be a particular nuisance. As in all areas of the park, it is best to carry water, as the purity of the lakes and streams along the trails cannot be guaranteed. The hikes described below are suitable for day trips, but backcountry permits are also available for many of the areas.
Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes lie at the foot of Sawtooth Peak, at the end of a 4.2 mile (one-way) hike. This is one of the easier hikes in the Mineral King area, but since the trail follows a west-facing slope, it is best to get an early start. The trail passes through meadows, red fir forest, and the avalanche-scoured Chihuahua Bowl, a basin named by hopeful miners for an area of rich mines in Mexico. It then rounds a shoulder and gives views north and east across the Monarch Creek canyon to Timber Gap, the Great Western Divide and Sawtooth Pass. Beyond the lakes, the trail climbs 1200′ in 1.3 miles (366 meters in 2 km) to Sawtooth Pass, a strenuous hike, but one that provides one of the grandest views in the southern Sierras. The footing on this portion of the trail is very loose. Please use caution.
Start at the Sawtooth Trail parking area, 1 mile past the Mineral King Ranger Station.
The trail to Crystal Lake (4.9 miles one-way) branches off of the Monarch Lakes Trail at Chihuahua Bowl, passing the remnants of the old Chihuahua Mine near the south rim. It then climbs steeply, providing panoramic views of the southern part of the Mineral King Valley, including White Chief Peak and Farewell Gap. The trail, and the small dam on Crystal Lake were built by the Mt. Whitney Power Company between 1903 and 1905. The Southern California Edison Co. still operates the facility. There is no maintained trail beyond Crystal Lake. Start at the Sawtooth Trail parking area, 1 mile past the Mineral King Ranger Station.
This trail follows an old mining route along Monarch Creek before branching off from the trail to Monarch and Crystal Lakes. The open slopes surrounding the Mineral King Valley are kept free of trees by avalanches; Timber Gap itself is protected from avalanches, and is covered with red fir which the miners in the 1800’s used for fuel and to shore up their mine shafts. From Timber Gap, you can see north to the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and across to Alta Peak. The hike to Timber Gap is 2 miles one-way. Start at the Sawtooth Trail parking area, 1 mile past the Mineral King Ranger Station.
This trail provides many views of the rainbow-colored metamorphic rocks that attracted miners to this area in the 1870s, hoping to find silver. Although the 5.4 mile one-way hike can be done as a day trip, many backpackers make these lakes their first stop on their way over Franklin Pass to Rattlesnake Canyon, the Kern Canyon and Mt. Whitney. Park at the White Chief Trailhead parking area or Sawtooth Trailhead parking area, and walk down Mineral King Corrals Road, which forks from the main Mineral King Road. The trail begins at the Mineral King Pack Station.
White Chief Trail
The White Chief mine, claimed by James Crabtree in 1873, made Mineral King a household name among miners of that time. Crabtree’s ruined cabin, located near the meadow beyond the junction with the Eagle/Mosquito Lakes Trail, is perhaps the oldest remaining structure in the Mineral King area. The 2.9 mile one-way trail to the White Chief Bowl is a steep but scenic hike up the west side of the Mineral King Valley. Park at the White Chief Trailhead parking area, at the end of Mineral King Road.
Eagle and Mosquito Lakes
The route to both of these lakes follows the same trail for the first 2 miles, ascending steadily up the west side of the Mineral King Valley. After it reaches the lower rim of Eagle Basin, the trails split. The left-hand trail goes to Eagle Lake, a glacially carved tarn 3.4 miles (one way) from the trailhead. The right-hand trail ends at Mosquito Lake #1, 3.6 miles (one way) from the trailhead, but hikers and fishermen often continue up the drainage to the upper lakes. Park at the White Chief Trailhead parking area, at the end of Mineral King Road.