Backpack to Crystal Lakes

Sawtooth Trailhead

Enjoy panoramic views of Mineral King Valley, alpine landscapes, red fir forests and vivid blue lakes amid one of the more isolated trails in Sequoia National Park.  

The trail to Crystal Lakes begins at the Timber Gap/Sawtooth Trailhead (7,800 feet elevation), which is located at the end of Mineral King Valley Rd.  The trail immediately ascends through a meadow boasting dramatic alpine views and a roaring waterfall. Eventually you'll cross Monarch Creek and begin a series of switchbacks that leads you through a red fir forest. The trail then levels for a short distance through another meadow then ascends again.  Around this point (3.5 miles into the hike) you'll reach a sign that directs you to Crystal Lakes. This begins your 1.4 mile trek on an unmaintained yet easy to follow trail.  The trail is steep and rocky, and with the elevation reaching nearly 10,000 feet, this proves to be the most challenging part of the hike.  Fortunately, stunning views of Mineral King Valley make up for the difficult terrain.  Once you reach lower Crystal Lake, work your way higher northwest of the lake.  Here you'll find upper Crystal Lake and a beautiful area between the two lakes to set up camp.  The night we stayed, which was on a holiday weekend, nobody else was there.

For incredible sunset views over Mineral King Valley, walk up to the ridge facing west.  There is an even higher ridge facing east if you want to watch the sunrise or continue hiking cross-country (no trail) to Monarch Lakes. 

 Most people hike this trail to Monarch Lakes instead of Crystal Lakes, so consider this spot if you're looking for something less populated.

Note: It is highly recommended to start this hike early morning, for it will likely take about 4-7 hours one way depending on your pace and how often you stop. Mineral King Valley Ranger Station, where you can access a wilderness permit, is near the trailhead. Cold Springs Campground is very close and you can camp there or at Atwell Mill Campground the night before starting your hike.  Both campgrounds are first come, first serve.  Another option is to camp at Kaweah Oaks Campground located on the outskirts of Sequoia National Park and can be reserved in advance.  If you do that, expect a 60-90 minute drive to the trailhead. 

This is also suitable for a day hike.

Pack List

  • Wilderness permit (provided at Mineral King Valley Ranger Station)
  • Bear canister (provided at Mineral King Valley Ranger Station) 
  • Hiking poles (highly recommended, lots of rocks)
  • Hiking boots
  • Snacks
  • Overnight camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, food, etc).
  • Weather appropriate clothing (typically hot during day and cold at night)
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
Show More
RT Distance 9.8 Miles
Elevation Gain 2200 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
Lake
River
Romantic
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

strenuous but rewarding

Love this trek Jessica! once I passed the monarch/crystal lakes fork the trail got real rocky, slowed my pace quite a bit, but it was well worth the views and serenity. thanks!


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