Backpacking Sequoia National Park | Franklin Lakes
For Backpacking Sequoia National Park, The Mineral King area is easily one of my favorite places to go, and really even in all of California. Less crowded than its brother, Kings Canyon, but also more difficult to get to, Mineral King allows you the chance to get away from the tourists and RVs, with incredible hikes to beautiful views all within reasonable distances.
I do a lot of research for backpacking 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.
Hiking in Mineral King
The great thing about backpacking Sequoia National Park, and specifically Mineral King, is the variety of hikes in the area. Heading North from Mineral King 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 hike 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, Franklin Lakes Trail Head
On my first trip backpacking Sequoia National Park, I hiked from the Mineral King ranger station to Franklin Lakes. The hike to Franklin Lakes is about +/- 5 miles each way from the trail head, and you go from about 7,790 feet in altitude to around 10,500 feet at Franklin Lakes. If you hike from the ranger station, it adds about another mile.
Certain times of the year, marmots are an issue in this area and apparently really enjoy chewing through the wires under your car. We usually wrap our cars in a tarp, but if you’re unprepared, they recommend you park at the ranger station where the marmots are more scarce.
Backpacking to Franklin Lakes
From the Franklin Lakes trail head, you start out hiking along the eastern side of eagle creek. Across the creek to your west is the trail to Eagle Lake and the Mosquito Lakes. It’s a gradual climb for a bit, and then you hit some relentless switchbacks and it’s all uphill for a while.
Eventually you switch back going north along the ridge to Franklin Lakes, and from here it’s just a slow climb. When we went for Memorial Day weekend in 2014, there was still some snow along the ridge but nothing you couldn’t traverse easily.
Camping at Franklin Lakes
One of the things I love most about camping at Franklin Lakes is that there are bear bins provided by the Park Service, so you don’t have to carry out your own bear canister, although it’s always nice to have one.There is a dam up by the lake itself, and the campground area is just below. When we arrived, it was around 2pm in the afternoon and there were a few other campers nearby.
We had made it just in time to setup camp when some strong winds started coming through the area. The kind of winds that make it hard to sit outside. So, what else to do when you can’t be outside – take a nap! We napped for about a good 2 hours or so, and when we woke up, the winds had died down and it was lovely all around.
We made some dinner, and enjoyed some beers we had packed in by the lake. It was absolutely breathtaking! We were also treated to a spectacular sunset.
The next day, my hiking buddy decided to be ambitious and hike up along the ridge the hovered southwest of Franklin Lakes. I was not feeling nearly as motivated, so I relaxed in my tent with a book. I like adventure, but I also really enjoy relaxing in nature, and this was the perfect spot.
By late morning, we were packing up camp and heading back to the trail head for a long drive back to San Diego. Since this was our first time to this area, we had only planned for one overnight, but now I try for 2 nights whenever I can!
Mineral King Backpacking Tips
To sum up, backpacking Sequoia National Park 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. When we went in May, it was still too cold for bugs, but all summer long, they are everywhere.
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.
- Check for bear bin locations where you’re headed
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 backpacking Sequoia National Park 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!