Mineral King Backpacking: Mosquito Lakes

Mineral King Backpacking |Sequoia National Park

Mineral King backpacking is easily one of my favorites in Sequoia National Park, and even in all of California. Less crowded than it’s brother, Kings Canyon, but also more difficult to get to, Mineral King backpacking allows you the chance to get away from the tourists and RVs, with incredible hikes to beautiful views all within reasonable distances.

In this article:
Hiking in Mineral King
Mineral King Map
Permits for Mosquito Lake
Mineral King Backpacking to Mosquito Lake
Backpacking to Mosquito Lake #1
Backpacking to Mosquito Lake #2
Hiking to Mosquito Lakes #3 – #5
Mineral King Backpacking Tips

I do a lot of research on where to go backpacking in the Sequoia National Park, as well as Inyo National Forest, Sierra National Forest, and Yosemite National Park. Their borders all intertwine, leaving you with miles and miles of incredible wilderness to explore. In one of my searches, I came across information for the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Forest and decided to check it out.

Mineral King isn’t for anyone. From what I understand, RVs aren’t allowed on the Mineral King road because it is SO winding and narrow, which is nice for those of us who don’t want to be around the generators. There are campsites and cabins right in the park near the ranger station with access to the trails for day hikers, or you can park at the Mineral King trail heads and go backpacking!

Hiking in Mineral King

The great thing about Mineral King is the variety of hikes in the area. Heading North will take you on the Timber Gap Trail, heading East will take you to areas like Sawtooth Peak, Amphitheater Lake, Crystal Lake within a few miles, and heading South brings you to areas like Franklin Lakes, Eagle Lake, Forester Lake, and the Mosquito Lakes, to name a few. There are loops that you can do if you’re looking for a multi-day backpacking trip through the Mineral King area, and you can even connect up with Kings Canyon. So many options! I have yet to explore most areas, but Franklin Lakes and the Mosquito Lakes are incredible.

Mineral King Backpacking: Mosquito Lake Map
Mineral King Backpacking: Mosquito Lake Map

Permits for Mosquito Lake

My first trip to Mineral King was to Franklin Lake which was beautiful! My next few Mineral King backpacking trips were all to Mosquito Lake, mostly because they always seem to have availability for the July 4th weekend, but also because it’s beautiful! With the increase in awesome Instagram photos out there, there has been an increase in crowds to areas that were previously easy to get to. Now, unless you book well in advance, it can be difficult to get backpacking permits for Sequoia National Park…all, except for Mosquito Lake.

I think it’s the name. I think people read “Mosquito Lake” and think oh no, I don’t want to go there. There will be mosquitoes there! Well, folks, I have a secret for you. From about May through September, there are mosquitoes everywhere in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, as well as pretty much any other mountain range with lakes and streams and rivers. The mosquitoes don’t actually know that the lakes are named after them and flock there as such. Are the mosquitoes bad in the summer? Absolutely. Are they bad at every other lake I’ve been to? Absolutely.

That being said, we’ve generally had no problem getting backcountry permits for Mosquito Lakes, even when booking late in the game. And, when we reach the lakes, there are generally very few people there which is odd. Every year when we pick up our permits at the Mineral King ranger station, there are hoards of people there trying to get permits to the surrounding trails, but then we never see them at these lakes.

I think there are actually 5 mosquito lakes. Mosquito Lake #1 doesn’t allow any camping because it’s under restoration (and is probably the most-mosquito-ish of all the lakes), so we generally camp at Mosquito Lake #2 which is only about 4.5 miles from the Mineral King ranger station. You climb to about 9,500 feet from about 7,800 feet at the trail head, so it’s a good uphill push most of the way.

Mineral King Backpacking to Mosquito Lake

From the Mineral King ranger station, the trail head for the Mosquito Lakes is about a mile and a half down the road, according to caltopo.com. It doesn’t sound like much, but on the way back, that extra mile with a gradual uphill back to the ranger station is brutal. Marmots are common in the area and will often chew through the lines under your car, so it’s recommended to either bring a tarp to wrap your car while you’re out backpacking, or park at the ranger station where there are fewer marmots.

Mineral King Backpacking: Don't forget your tarp!
Mineral King Backpacking: Don’t forget your tarp!

Also, at busier times of the year, you may get to the parking lot and find no parking available, so plan to get there early. There is a large bear storage building by the ranger station so you’ll want to leave anything you’re not taking with you there with a note that has your name and the dates you’ll be returning.

Backpacking to Mosquito Lake #1

The hike from the Mosquito Lakes trail head starts out as a slow, gradual uphill which is a tough way to start. I find my body always has the hardest time with the first mile or two because that’s where my body is still working to catch up with what we’re doing. Wait, we were just sleeping and eating donuts, and now you want me to walk up a hill?? Are you nuts??

Well, yes, I am a bit crazy, but that’s besides the point.

At about just over a mile in, the trail splits off – Eagle Lake to the left, Mosquito Lakes to the right. From here, you follow along the ridge for about .8 miles continuing on a gradual uphill. You’ll come to another trail split which is where we usually stop for lunch (have bug spray on) and then it’s another 1.5 miles to Mosquito Lake #1. The 1.5 miles is about half very uphill, and then half comfortable downhill as you descend towards the first lake.

Backpacking to Mosquito Lake #2

Mineral King Backpacking

Depending on how much rain there has been, it can be difficult from Mosquito Lake #1 to find the trail to Mosquito Lake #2. It’s not a well maintained trail, but we generally cross along the Northern edge of the lake. When you reach the first lake, head to the right and you’ll find Mosquito Creek where you can cross. You should come across a trail marker, and that’s about the point where you want to try to cross. If there hasn’t been rain, you’re basically just traversing over some rocks and weeds, but if there has been rain, it can be a bit trickier. And, this is where you’ll want to make sure you have your bug spray covering every part of your body – even the parts covered by clothing – because the mosquitoes pretty much nest here.

Once across Mosquito Creek, you’ll head to the left (Southwest) and head uphill with Mosquito Lake #1 on your left and behind you. There really is no trail here, but you’ll see cairns marking multiple trails that you can take up to Mosquito Lake #2. From Mosquito Lake #1, it’s about another mile or so to Mosquito Lake #2, depending on how you find your way up.

You’ll head uphill for a bit until it flattens out, and you’ll find a small lake there, although from what I understand this doesn’t count as one of the Mosquito Lakes. I don’t make the rules here. In drier seasons, you may not even see any lake, but you can see signs of water.

Cross through this area, and then stay southeast (left) to head up to Mosquito Lake #2. If you head right, you’ll basically meet a rock face and will have to traverse left which can be more difficult. Again, there is no one specific trail, but you will see cairns marking routes. If you haven’t seen any, you’re not near the trail so it’s best to head back a bit the way you came until you find some.

Mosquito Lake #2 comes up on you pretty quickly and surprisingly. The last push of the hike feels like it’s going to go on forever, but then boom – there it is! In wetter seasons, the area you first come to on the Northern/Western side of the lake will be very muddy and marshy, but in drier years it’s a great spot to camp. In 2016 we had to set up on the rocks on the western side of Mosquito Lake #2 because the ground was far too mushy. Here, the mosquitos are generally only bad at dusk and dawn. But, they’re really bad at dusk and dawn, so be prepared! And again, backpacking Mineral King, this will generally be the case no matter what body of water you’re near. 

Panoramic of Mosquito Lake #2
Panoramic of Mosquito Lake #2 – facing the lake (which blends with the rocks in this pic)

We like to set up camp here and relax for the evening rather than trekking our gear up to the higher lakes. The view is pretty incredible – one year we had a thunderstorm off in the distance which provided a beautiful July 4th fireworks show by Mother Nature.

Sunset from Mosquito Lake #2
Sunset from Mosquito Lake #2 (lake is behind us, Mosquito Lake #1 is in front of us)

On day 2, we usually spend the day doing a day hike up to the higher lakes which is super fun! You can absolutely backpack up to the next lake – it’s only about a half mile or so, but we’re usually too tired and lazy to carry our packs any further.

Hiking to Mosquito Lakes #3 – #5

There are a few different ways you can get up to the higher lakes. If you camp on the rocks on the Western side of Mosquito Lake #2, you can stay along that ridge (if the lake is on your left, you want to stay mostly right). Again, there is no “trail”, but there are many ways to meander up on that side safely. You may have to scramble a bit, but it’s not too bad..

The other way is to scale your way up the boulders. If the lake is on your left, heading straight and then towards your left, you’ll find massive boulders that you can scale to get to the higher lakes. We generally opt for the dirt path up and then the boulders down which is super fun.

Once you get over the ridge, you’ll see a huge lake in front of you. I think Mosquito Lake #3 is to the West, and Mosquito Lake #4 is to the East. In some years they seem like one big lake, and in others the eastern most lake is pretty dry.

Mosquito Lake #4
Mosquito Lake #4

 

Mosquito Lake #5
Mosquito Lake #5

If you cross to the far side of Mosquito Lake #4 and keep heading East over the next hill (facing this lake, head to the opposite side of the lake, and then head left), you’ll find Mosquito Lake #5. This one is our favorite to jump in! However, it will be cold, even in the dead of summer. Very cold. Knock-the-wind-out-of-you cold.

Sunset a Mosquito Lake #2
Sunset a Mosquito Lake #2

Mineral King Backpacking Tips

To sum up, Mineral King Backpacking is awesome. No matter which trail you go, you’re bound to have some really awesome views. Here are some tips to help you plan your trip:

  • Plan ahead

Although we’ve had no trouble getting permits for backpacking Mineral King, we also got our permits ahead of our trip. You can go the morning of your trip as they reserve some permits for walk-ins, but people start to line up early and there’s a chance you won’t be able to get the trail you want.

  • Bring bug spray with deet

I know everyone is afraid of deet, and chemicals in general. I like to take care of myself, but I would also easily give up 5 years of my life if it meant not having to deal with mosquito bites. Seriously. Studies show that deet is very dangerous when ingested but the absorption rate on your skin is much slower, and that’s why the FDA allows it. The natural stuff just doesn’t work with the volume of mosquitoes you’ll run into.

So, get some deet, and bring some baby wipes to wash it off your hands so that you don’t get it in your mouth or eyes. You might still get cancer – we’re probably all going to end up with cancer at some point from some thing in this world – but at least we won’t have mosquito bites.

Bear canisters are awesome, but they add weight. The map link above shows where the park service has bear bins, so if you plan around those, you don’t have to bring your own bear canister! Woo!

  • Bring a map and know how to read it

Especially for some areas of Mineral King backpacking trails where there really aren’t clearly marked trails, bring a map, and know how to use it. We don’t want you getting lost on some peak with no cell service unable to get help!

  • Bring a beer or some whiskey

Here’s the great thing about Mineral King backpacking. You can get to really awesome lakes with awesome views in a relatively short distance. Which means that although the weight of your backpack matters…there’s some room to work with. So, go ahead, bring a beer or two, bring some whisky, bring that extra little piece of comfort. It’ll suck for the 6 miles of the hike, but you’ll really appreciate it sitting at the lake relaxing!

One Response

  1. Nice post!….

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