Backpack in Mineral King

30 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Ali Kim

Enjoy spectacular views, crystal blue lakes, and wildflower-filled meadows in Sequoia National Park on this 4-5 day backpacking trip.

The trailhead is right near the Mineral King Ranger Station (on Mineral King Rd) in Sequoia National Park. Depending on where you're coming from I would recommend driving in and camping at Cold Springs Campground (which is also in close proximity to the ranger station) the night before you begin your trip.

Day 1:

In the morning you can either leave your car at the ranger station or drive a little ways down the road where there is another parking lot (although this is slightly more convenient, marmots have been more of a problem here). The trip starts with a climb of a few miles up to Timber Gap (elevation gain is about 1500ft) through a meadow with some pretty wildflowers. After a quick snack begin descending about 2000ft towards Cliff Creek. After another 1500ft you reach Pinto Lake which is a good stopping point for the night. Here there are several places to pitch a tent along with a bear box to store provisions. Pinto lake itself is nice, though nothing compared to what is to come.

Day 2:

The day starts off with a steep climb to the top of Black Rock Pass (3000ft elevation gain). Don't forget to take a few breaks and enjoy the view as three lakes (Spring, Cyclamen, and Columbine) are visible across the way during the ascent. Once you reach the pass you can look back down the valley as well as forward to the Little Five and Big Five lakes. The descent isn't bad and you can choose to either camp at one of the Little Five lakes, or continue on a relatively flat trail to the Big Five lakes for the night.

Day 3:

Regardless of where you camped, keep on the trail as it continues to the lowest of the Big Five lakes. As you pass it, the trail once again begins to climb and you get some great views of the Kaweahs (peaks also in Sequoia National Park). The climb is relatively short and soon you will be descending into Lost Canyon. The trail here is uphill though very gentle and there is a stream alongside offering water access if needed (though also attracting some mosquitos). After a few miles, you break through the treeline into a beautiful alpine meadow with wildflowers, a meandering stream, and granite cliffs on either side. At the end of the meadow is another climb where the trail switchbacks for maybe 600ft of elevation gain. Columbine Lake is waiting at the top and it is where you'll spend the night (there are plenty of good camp sites to choose from but depending on time of year, snow cover may be an issue).

Day 4:

The last climb of the trip is a quick ascent to the top of Sawtooth Pass. Follow the cairns if you get lost as they mark the trail well. The top of the pass offers the best views of the trip- you can see Columbine Lake, Black Rock Pass, and out down the valley towards the ranger station. You end up almost skiing down the slope and getting lots of rocks in your boots (gaiters would be a good idea if you have them). At the bottom of the scree is Monarch Lake which is pretty and offers a nice rest break if needed. From there the trail continues down for a few miles (which seem to go on forever) until you come out at the trailhead!


If you aren't pressed for time, consider staying an extra day at either the Big or Little Five lakes. Swimming, fishing and exploring are all possibilities, and it provides a nice rest between some tough climbs.

Before or after (or both!) you start your trip, definitely stop at Silver City Resort (on the road a few miles before the ranger station/campsite) for some delicious burgers and pies. Also make sure to call the ranger station in advance for advice and updates regarding weather, fires, permits, etc.

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Mineral King --> Mt. Whitney

This is a spectacular area! So much beauty! We started at Mineral King and went all the way to the backside of Whitney, ascended and descended through Whitney Portal! Pretty fun 55 miles!

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