Seldom-Seen Sierra

Hiking Sequoia National Park's Mineral King Area
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  • Hiking Sequoia National Park's Mineral King Area
  • Eagle Lake

Ask any Mineral King local about the road you must drive down to reach their seldom-seen corner of the Sierra, and they'll probably shrug as they tell you nonchalantly it's "a long and narrow road."

This, you should know, is a rather large understatement. The 25-mile, bumpy, twisty, sometimes-unpaved road rounds blind corner after blind corner, inflicting heart tremors on whichever driver happens to be hugging the cliff-side edge. It is not a calming commute, but the drive is an appropriate introduction to Mineral King itself, where understatements are about as prevalent as trees. Just as "long and narrow" doesn't accurately describe the road, "beautiful" and "scenic" don't do justice to the surroundings. It's not the fault of those who are trying to describe it — this place is just too full of superlatives to be talked about in any but the simplest terms.

Because Mineral King lacks the accessibility and big-tree glamour of better known parts of Sequoia National Park, you can expect solitude, even in the middle of summer. The area's two drive-in campgrounds rarely fill to capacity. And backcountry permits almost never run out.

On the way to the ranger station you'll drive through the town of Mineral King, a small community of off-the-grid cabin owners, many of whom are fighting the Park Service for the right to hang onto their historic homes. These folks have cared for more than a few haggard hikers in the last century or so. A sympathetic ear could earn you an afternoon of homemade root beer and pleasant conversation on someone's porch.

At the ranger station, the free permits come with a longer-than-average lecture on backcountry rules. Pay close attention to the part about marmots. They've been known to nibble through car hoses in search of tasty engine additives. On your way out, you'll want to check under your hood before leaving any trailside parking area — cooked marmot is not a smell you want to carry home.

You can call in advance to reserve backcountry permits (559-565-3708) for a small fee, or just show up and take your chances. Despite the fact that most camp areas are limited to 25 people per night, you're not likely to have a problem. You might also want to pick up an inexpensive Mineral King trail map from the ranger station.

Once the formalities taken care of, drive the final stretch of Mineral King Road to the parking lot at the end. From this starting point at 7,800 feet, you have access to alpine lakes, meadows, creeks, tall trees, rocky outcroppings, and miles and miles of backcountry terrain that could keep you moving for days.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Page 1 of 2
  • Hiking Sequoia National Park's Mineral King Area
  • Eagle Lake


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