California Travel Articles
Mineral King first gained recognition in the early 1870's when silver was discovered in the valley. Miners rushed to the area in 1873. The mines never produced, but the Mineral King Road, built by a mining company in 1879, did open the area to logging, hydro-electric development, tourism and the building of summer cabins. For many years, the area was a designated game refuge within the national forest.
The valley and surrounding peaks of Mineral King, some 12,600 acres, were transferred from the national forest to Sequoia National Park by act of Congress in September, 1978. This ended close to 20 years of controversy over a proposed ski resort development.
- Atwell (Skinner) Grove:
This sequoia grove was partially logged in the 1890's. It continues onto Paradise Ridge, giving it the highest elevation of any sequoia grove. The Paradise Peak trail explores the upper part of the grove.
In a clearing across from the Atwell Mill Ranger Residence stands a large steam engine, one of the last signs of the mill that was used for cutting timber from the surrounding forests. Kaweah colonists leased the site after their Giant Forest claims were disallowed. Many young sequoias have grown up around the mill site in the 75-100 years since logging ceased.
Mineral King Valley:
This unique, glacially sculpted valley exhibits a variety of rock types, including marble, shale, schist and granite. Vegetation includes sagebrush, pinemat manzanita, and a great variety of wildflowers that prosper in the open sun.
Cold Springs Nature Trail:
The exhibits along this easy one-mile trail illustrate the natural history of the Mineral King Valley. The trail begins in Cold Springs Campground across from the ranger station.
Sawtooth Peak (12,343') is the most prominent peak in the Mineral King area.
Upper portions of the peak are granite and shaped by glaciers. As with other peaks surrounding the valley, Sawtooth resembles the Rocky Mountains more than the Sierras due to the predominance of metamorphic rocks in the Mineral King area.
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.
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.
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.
This trail provides many views of the rainbow-colored metamorphic rocks that attracted miners to this area in the 1870's, in the hopes of finding 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.
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.
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.
Information provided by:
National Park Service