HIGH-ALTITUDE BACKPACKING IN MINERAL KING VALLEY
TRIP · 3 day backpacking trip
FOR · Intermediate backpackers
VIBE · Challenging with huge rewards
COST · $
DRIVE · 5.5 hours from SF
IDEAL DATES · June - October
PETS · Not allowed on hiking trails
Ever since I saw my first shooting star by a lake in Maine, I have felt at home amidst tall trees and the mountain breeze.
WHY I LOVE THE WILD
After a long day of high-altitude hiking, you get to cool off with a dip in refreshing glacial lakes dotted around the Mineral King Wilderness. It's sublime.
I'M SHARING THIS TRIP CUZ'
Mineral King was originally used as a spot for camping, trading and hunting by the Wukchumni and Tübatulabal Peoples
NEED TO KNOW
🚘 The final stretch to the trailhead is Mineral King Road, which has 398 curves in 25 miles! Make sure you’ve got enough fuel & take the curves slow.
😎 You’ll be 11,000 ft. closer to the sun than in SF, make sure to protect yourself with high SPF & some good sunglasses!
🐻 SEKI highly recommends storing your food in bear-safe containers. They’re available for rent at the park’s visitor centers. Learn more about food storage.
⛰️ The terrain in this region can be very uneven, especially towards Columbine Lake. Trekking poles can be a lifesaver!
WHY MINERAL KING VALLEY?
Mineral King is a glacial valley on the Eastern side of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI). Its unique Sawtooth Mountain Range offers views of Yosemite to the west and Mt. Whitney to the east. The valley lies at 7500 ft. elevation, and treks take hikers up to 12,000 ft. above sea level.
Mineral King got its name because gold and silver deposits were discovered there in the late 1800s.
HOW TO RESERVE A BACKCOUNTRY PERMIT
To follow this itinerary, select “Sawtooth Pass” as your region for both nights on Recreation.gov.
When you make a reservation, you may be required to set up a call with a Park Ranger to discuss your plans, preparedness, and the marmot situation before your passes are delivered to you electronically.
CAMP AT LOWER MONARCH LAKE OR CRYSTAL LAKE
The Lower Monarch Lake backcountry campground is on the shoreline of the lake, where people can camp first-come first served. Near the lake, there are about 8-10 flat spots that can accommodate tents, a food storage locker (shared with the entire site), and a pit toilet.
Crystal Lake is much more secluded and exposed. This site has 3 spaces for tents by the lake, and no other amenities. This site has 3 spaces for tents by the lake, and no other amenities. Both locations offer INCREDIBLE sunset views.
Wilderness Permit: $15, plus $5 per person
LEAVE SF BY 6:30 AM
DRIVE TO SAWTOOTH PASS PARKING LOT
- Start at the Sawtooth Pass Trailhead, about a mile past the Mineral King Ranger Station
- Continue 4.2 miles to the first campsite at Lower Monarch Lake
CAMPOUT AT LOWER MONARCH LAKE
- Snag a spot by the water and go for a dip!
CAR TO CAMP: 4.5 miles | 2600 ft. of elevation gain | 4 hours
DAY HIKE TO COLUMBINE LAKE
- A 2.5 mile round-trip hike with 2,500 ft. of elevation gain
- Attach your permit to your tent, store any scented items, and pack a day pack to hike to Columbine Lake by ascending Sawtooth Pass.
- The first 1.2 miles uphill from Lower Monarch Lake are on very unstable terrain (imagine ascending a giant sand dune) so trekking poles and a light daypack are recommended.
- After heading downhill to Columbine for a good snack stop, make your way back over the pass to your original campsite for lunch by the water.
AFTERNOON TREK & CAMPOUT AT CRYSTAL LAKE
- A 2.6 mile one-way hike with 960 ft. of elevation gain
- In the afternoon, pack up your backpack and hike from Lower Monarch Lake to Crystal Lake by backtracking part of your Route from Day 1
- Lower Monarch Lake → Sawtooth Pass Trail → Crystal Lake Trail
- At Crystal Lake, you can see remnants of a dam built by the Mt. Whitney Power Company between 1903 and 1905.
PACK UP & PACK OUT BEFORE NOON
- Enjoy a bowl of oats at sunrise and hike downhill (finally!) to Sawtooth Pass parking lot
GRAB A MEAL & A MICHELADA AT THREE RIVERS BREWERY
- Located at 41763 Sierra Dr. in Three Rivers
- Open everyday, except Tuesdays & Wednesdays | 11 AM - 9 PM
- Three Rivers Brewery is a hidden gem with a back patio that looks over the Kaweah River. While you relax to the sound of windchimes and rushing water, sit back and enjoy some food truck noms and unique brews. My favorite is their Michelada, or the olive-infused IPA.
CAMP TO CAR: 4.75 miles | 200 ft. of elevation gain | 3 hours
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
Born and raised in New England, I had never been to the West Coast before moving to California in 2018. Now based in Berkeley, my partner, Brooke and I love to spend our weekends hiking and backpacking, especially now that we’ve got a doggo in tow #pandemicpuppy.
Recently, we’ve started dehydrating and creating our own backcountry meals from scratch, so we can bring bold flavors to the wild. Learn more.
LAST UPDATED: April 28, 2021
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