The Mineral King Road is 141 years old as of 2020. When it first opened on August 21, 1879, it was a toll road; a horse and buggy had to pay $1.50 for the privilege of traveling the steep, rugged, narrow road.
Fast forward to 2020 and a carload of visitors is required to pay $35 to enter the area, in the summer, that is. From mid-October to the end of May each year, there is a locked gate located 9.5 miles from Highway 198. This makes for a convenient place to begin a hike on the Mineral King Road. It’s incredible what one will see on foot that is never noticed when inside a vehicle and viewing through a windshield.
#1 – Oak Grove Bridge to Lookout Point
Oak Grove Bridge (Mileage: 6.5 miles – Elevation: 2,550 feet)— The drive up the road does not lack in scenery. You’ll cross the East Fork of the Kaweah River on the Oak Grove Bridge, built in 1923.
Squirrel Creek (9 miles / 3,250 feet)— Water flows down slick, water-polished slabs of granite. This water source usually runs dry by the end of summer.
Sequoia National Park boundary (9.5 miles / 3,500 feet)— The locked gate (October-May). Park here and start walking.
After leaving your vehicle, the road climbs steeply for almost a mile to reach Lookout Point. This is the steepest section on the entire Mineral King Road! You’ll forget all about that strenuous beginning when you round the bend and see this view.
#3 – Traugers (12.5 miles / 4,600 feet)
A water trough with “Traugers” painted on it marks the site where, just up the steep slope, Jacob and Mary Trauger settled in 1878. It takes some bushwhacking to reach the old homestead but there are some remains, including the home’s fireplace (in photo), and some of the ranch’s plantings, including apple trees, periwinkle, blackberries, and sweet peas, which line the Mineral King Road and bloom a vibrant pink each spring.
The foundation of an old ranger station and the decaying remnants of the two-seater outhouse are just below the road. The area is named for William “Slapjack” Smith who settled here in 1873, just as silver fever set in and masses of would-be miners headed to Mineral King on what was then an old stock trail. Slapjack offered services to the traffic at his way station.
What trip to Sequoia would be complete without encountering Big Trees? The Redwood Creek Grove contains the first of the giant sequoias encountered along the road but there are more to come. There is a picnic table here that provides a respite whether walking or driving.
There is a National Park Service helipad at this scenic locale. There is also a picnic table, which provides a crest stop with a view. The place name is associated with James Wolverton, a mountain man who wandered the southern Sierra during the 1870s and is credited for naming the General Sherman Tree in 1879.
A view of Sawtooth Peak (left) and Mineral Peak just before entering the forest and encountering another locked gate.
A rusty remnant of the logging days near the road. See how a person in the photo helps to lend scale to a massive giant sequoia?
It’s a place where tree stumps are bigger than dwellings. Where history is larger than life.
Visitors can learn all about this history of Atwell Mill during certain summer days when the historic Alles cabin is open to the public.
And we turned around. It’s another 5.5 miles to the end of the road, but an 18-mile round-trip journey was all we had in us on this late-winter day!