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, although it entails a significant elevation gain. This trail passes through meadows, red fir forest, and the avalanche-scoured terrain.
It begins from the Sawtooth Trailhead at the eastern end of Mineral King Road. The trail leads northeastward as it makes an initial climb toward the headwaters of the Kaweah River. One quarter mile from the trailhead the path forks and the right fork leads to Monarch and Crystal Lakes. The left fork leads to Timber Gap.
The trail continues to climb beyond this first fork. About one mile past the fork hikers will reach 9,000 feet then descend 250 feet to cross Monarch Creek. The trail ascends out of the valley, reaches 9,000 feet then levels for a short distance as it winds through an alpine meadow.
The path begins to ascend steeply via switchbacks that lead to a fork in the trail. The right fork climbs to Crystal Lakes. To continue to Monarch Lakes and beyond bear left. The trail quickly rounds a shoulder and gives views north and east across the Monarch Creek canyon to Timber Gap, the Great Western Divide and Sawtooth Pass. The lakes lie approximately one mile past the fork in the trail, a relatively flat trek.
Beyond the lakes, the trail climbs 1,200 feet in one and a half miles 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. It is best to carry water, as the purity of the lakes and streams along the trails cannot be guaranteed.
Directions: From Lookout Point Entrance, Follow Mineral King Road eastward to its end. Find the Sawtooth Trailhead and follow the Monarch Lakes Trail northeastward.
Elevation: 7,800 feet
Ending Elevation: 11,400 feet
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