Crystal Lake Trail, Sequoia National Park

Distance: 5 miles (8 km) one way
Elevation: 7,800 - 10,800 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 4-7 hours round trip (not including stops for rest or picture taking)

Stunning alpine scenery, glacial cirques, and seasonal wildflowers await hikers of the Crystal Lake Trail in Sequoia National Park's Mineral King Valley. The trail to Crystal Lakes begins at the end of Mineral King Road at the Timber Gap/Sawtooth Trailhead. The 4.9-mile route follows the Monarch Lake Trail as it climbs through the Monarch Creek drainage with views of Timber Gap and Sawtooth Peak. 

Hikers can see a stream pouring out of the mountainside to the right of the trail—evidence of the maze of underground caves that flow beneath Mineral King. After crossing Monarch Creek, the trail climbs again reaching 9,000 feet. At this point it levels for a short distance making a sharp turn to the south and entering a pleasant alpine meadow. Turning east, the trail begins to switchback to 10,000 feet where the Crystal Lake Trail diverges from the Monarch Lakes Trail. The Crystal Lake branch leads southward, climbing into Chihuahua Bowl, passing the remnants of the old Chihuahua Mine near the south rim. 

The last one and a half miles of trail is steep and rugged. Making up for the difficult terrain are steadily improving panoramic views of the southern part of the Mineral King Valley--including White Chief Peak and Farewell Gap. The trail reaches 10,000 feet then descends slightly and levels for a short distance before beginning the final ascent to Crystal Lakes. At the top of the switchbacks, the dam comes into view. Between 1903 and 1905, the Mt. Whitney Power Company built the trail and small dam. The Southern California Edison Co. still operates the facility. There is no maintained trail beyond Crystal Lake, but sure-footed hikers can climb cross-country to the Monarch Lakes and return via the Monarch Lake Trail to make a loop. Be aware of lingering snow and loose scree! For more information, contact the Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP Wilderness Office: Phone (559) 565-3766, Fax (559) 565-4239, E-mail

Help us keep this place beautiful. Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Please pack out your trash.

Know the Bear Facts! Whether staying in the picnic area or going for a longer hike, always store food away from bears. Use large, brown bear-proof boxes to store food and scented items. Never leave food or scented items unattended.

Be Safe! Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks/lunch. Wear sturdy hiking boots or shoes with good traction, as well as long pants (due to ticks and poison oak). Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Bring insect repellent.

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Latitude: 36.471546 Longitude: -118.600845 Elevation: 9148 ft

Vertical Gain or Loss

Over 3,000 feet

Trail Distance

5 miles (8 kilometers)

Eco-Friendly Notes

This trail traverses land managed as wilderness where natural processes are allowed to unfold. Please use Leave No Trace principles when hiking this trail.

ADA Accessibility Notes

This is a dirt trail, which is narrow and winding. It may be steep, slippery, wet, and rocky in some areas and will not accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, or bicycles.

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets are not permitted on any trails within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, but are allowed 100 feet from roads in developed areas (picnic areas, campgrounds, and roads). Where allowed, pets must be on leashes no longer than 6 feet in length. Never leave pets in cars when it is warm, or they overheat quickly. Pets must not be left unattended in the parking area or in vehicles.


I’m a pretty experienced backcountry hiker and have done numerous overnights in the Sequoia/Kings and even a 6 week trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I do not consider this a "moderate" hike that the average hiker can make round trip in 4-7 hrs. Granted I live at about sea level, so the altitude started taking its toll (especially the last .5 mi), but this hike is not for the average joe to do as an out and back day hike. This is a strenuous hike, be prepared. It is absolutely worth it though. Stunning. It truly is California's gold.

Zak, 8/10/2015

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