Mineral King, Sequoia National Park
Photo © The Kaweah Commonwealth
Mineral King, California, is one of the oldest communities in the Sierra Nevada, with many families occupying cabins for six or seven generations. Some of these cabins date from the 1870s silver boom and have continued to be inhabited each summer ever since. None of the cabins have electricity and many still utilize wood stoves for cooking, although others have modernized with propane stoves. Fireplaces are used for heating and lights are powered by propane.
Mineral King is a subalpine glacial valley located in the southern part of Sequoia National Park. The valley, at an elevation of 7,500 to 8,000 feet, lies at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. The granite peaks rising above the valley reach heights of 11,000 feet or more. Mineral King is 25 miles (and 90 minutes) from Three Rivers, California, and State Highway 198 via a winding, narrow road.
The valley was first inhabited by the Yokuts tribe as a summer settlement, where they would hunt and trade with the Paiutes from the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The first explorer of European descent known to have visited Mineral King was "Harry Parole" O'Farrell in 1862, who was employed as a hunter for a trail crew building the Hockett Trail from Visalia (west side of the Sierra) to Independence (east side). In 1872, silver was first was discovered in the surrounding mountains. The Mineral King Road was built in 1873 and the rush was on... soon to be followed by bust.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the area including Mineral King was part of a forest reserve and later became a part of Sequoia National Forest. During this time, the area became popular with residents of California’s Central Valley, who would spend entire summers in this high-country paradise to escape the stifling summer heat. By now, there were resort cabins, a store, and post office. In the 1960s, a proposal by the Walt Disney Company to build a ski resort in the valley was halted by preservationists and Mother Nature herself. In the winter of 1969, a massive avalanche wiped out the Mineral King store and post office, all of which were by then on Disney property. In 1978, the valley became forever preserved as part of Sequoia National Park.
The Mineral King area includes several historic cabin communities, including Silver City and Cabin Cove. Most of the structures date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The settlements as a whole are referred to as the “Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District,” which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The area is extremely remote yet accessible, primitive yet civilized. It is a hikers’ and backpackers’ paradise. There are two campgrounds – Cold Spring and Atwell Mill (open Memorial Day through October) – a ranger station, and a small store, restaurant, and lodging at Silver City (2.5 miles before road’s end). No gas is available in Mineral King, and payphones are located in a few locations as there is no cell service.
The Mineral King Road is open from Memorial Day weekend through October. For year-round Mineral King viewing, see the webcams at www.mk-webcam.net. For descriptions of just a couple of the many hikes available in Mineral King, go to www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/hiking.html.