As a young lass, Walden West Outdoor School & Summer Camp took me on my first backpacking trips on the Skyline-to-the-Sea route through the Santa Cruz Mountains. As the years went on, they added more offerings in the Sierra, which is how I discovered Mineral King. I’ll never forget flipping through those brochures in awe of kids jumping off rocks into alpine lakes. After 15+ years of waiting, my boots (trail runners, more accurately) finally touched the trails of Mineral King. If you’ve got some time to spare, this 5-day Mineral King backpacking loop is a must-do.
5 Day Mineral King Backpacking Loop Itinerary
|Starting elevation||7,861 feet|
|Total elevation gain||12,110 feet|
|Total elevation loss||-12,116 feet|
|Cost||$10 + $5 per person|
|Season||Summer, early fall|
|Bear can required?||Yes|
Day 1 – Sawtooth Trailhead to Lost Canyon via Sawtooth Pass – 9 miles
Most folks go in over Timber Gap and Black Rock Pass with a quick stop at Pinto Lake to break up the hike into alpine. However, this approach leaves much to be desired in terms of bang for your visual buck. Hike in over Sawtooth Pass instead. The trail may be rough, but the views distract you from the pain in your legs.
Camping is not allowed at Columbine Lake, so you’ll need to continue down into Lost Canyon for the night. The trail descending after Columbine Lake is incredibly pleasant and lovely, much unlike the trail over Sawtooth Pass.
Day 2 – Lost Canyon to Little Five Lakes – 8 miles
After heading over Sawtooth Pass the day before, and if you’re coming form lower elevations, don’t be alarmed if you’re kinda gassed. Luckily Day 2 is not as heinous as Day 1.
Keep heading down Lost Canyon until you reach a stream crossing. Cross Lost Canyon Creek. The trail splits here, stay to the left towards Big Five Lakes and Little Five Lakes. From here, continue uphill to the Big Five Lakes junction. We opted not to camp here as it’s quite popular.
We kept hiking until we reached the junction for Black Rock Pass. Black Rock Pass is the return to the trailhead, but for now, we will ignore it and continue to the next lake.
The southern end of this lake has stunning views of the Kaweahs. It’s a great spot to catch the sunset. Camp at the north end of the lake in the trees. It’s where all the flattest campsites are.
Day 3 – Little Five Lakes to Precipice Lake Day Trip – 15 miles
This was quite possibly my favorite day of the Mineral King backpacking loop. I wanted to see Precipice and Hamilton Lakes, except I didn’t want to hike out that on the High Sierra Trail. Instead, we kept our tents up at Little Five Lakes and did an out-and-back to Precipice Lake.
It doesn’t look like much on the map, but it’s a descent to where the High Sierra Trail intersects the Big Arroyo Trail. Then it is a steady uphill on the High Sierra Trail to Kaweah Gap. This is the longest day on trail, but your packs are lighter. It is so ridiculously gorgeous and worth every mile and bit of elevation gain.
Day 4 – Little Five Lakes to Pinto Lake via Black Rock Pass – 6 miles
Day 4 is the beginning of the hike out. Retrace your steps back to the junction for Black Rock Pass. Take the right to Black Rock Pass. It’s a steady climb uphill, out of the Little Five Lakes Basin.
Black Rock Pass is aptly named. You’ll watch the rock change from light granite to dark shale. The trail switchbacks steeply up to the pass.
At the top of Black Rock Pass, you can see Sawtooth Peak, Sawtooth Pass, and Columbine Lake. They are not very far away.
After Black Rock Pass, it’s all downhill to Pinto Lake. There are plenty of flat sites in the trees by Cliff Creek.
Day 5 – Pinto Lake to Sawtooth Trailhead via Timber Gap – 8.5 miles
The last day on the trail! Town day! In-N-Out day! I’m always very motivated by things like In-N-Out and beer and showering. Saving Timber Gap for last lets you power through the least beautiful parts without guilt.
From Pinto Lake, the day warms up with a good bit of downhill until the trail splits at Cliff Creek. Take the left junction and cross Cliff Creek to begin your climb up and over Timber Gap. Out of all the uphill on this trip, Timber Gap is the most uninspiring. After Timber Gap, it’s all downhill to the car (and In-N-Out).
Getting Permits for Mineral King
All overnight trips in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park require a wilderness permit. These are issued by the park. Instructions on how to get a permit are outlined by NPS. Permits are $10 plus $5 per person.
Miscellaneous Stuff to Know
- Tarp your car! Marmots love to eat all the hoses and stuff under your car, tarp it to make sure you can get out of this remote trailhead when you’re done with your trip.
Have you done this Mineral King backpacking loop? What are your must-see spots in this area?
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