Last summer my family made last-minute plans to get away for the Fourth of July weekend. Where do you find a place that still has reservations available at short notice on a holiday weekend? Surprisingly, deep in the heart of Sequoia National Park at the Silver City Resort.
I don’t know why we had such good luck, but it was a great place to spend some family time together. Silver City is located at the lower end of the Mineral King Valley in the most remote part of Sequoia National Park that you can access by road.
It’s a wild road – built in the late 1800s and not much changed since then, it climbs 7,000 vertical feet from Three Rivers to Mineral King in 25 winding miles. Averaging about a lane and a half wide with an unending series of blind curves, it requires slow, careful driving. Most of the road is more or less paved, but there are a couple of sections that aren’t. Any car can make it, though, if driven carefully. Just plan to spend at least 90 minutes on this section.
It’s hard to get there, but it’s worth the work. What do you get for your hard work? A beautiful, glacially carved valley at an elevation of 7,800 feet. It’s a stunning place and a great place to get away from everything. The difficulty of the drive also means it is one of the parts of the park that doesn’t see as many visitors.
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From anywhere in the Merced area, it’s too far away for a day trip. Lodging options include the Atwell Mill and Cold Springs campgrounds and the cabins of the Silver City Resort.
Out of the two campgrounds, Cold Springs is my favorite because it is closer to the heart of the Mineral King Valley. You can’t lose with Atwell Mill, though, because it is located adjacent to some truly giant Sequoias. Both are only $12/night.
The Silver City Resort is an excellent destination if you want a bit more than sleeping in a tent. The general store and restaurant offer basic supplies and delicious food. The cabins range from historic and rustic one-room structures to modern chalets that sleep up to eight people. You can eat at the restaurant or cook your own meals. All cabins have decks or outdoor seating areas. Our cabin was small and rustic, but had everything we needed, plus an outdoor fire pit and a comfortable deck that overlooked a babbling brook.
There’s no TV or cell service – making Silver City one of the few places left where you can escape the distractions of modern life. Other than a ranger station and about 100 historic, privately owned cabins scattered throughout the valley, there aren’t many other signs of civilization in Mineral King.
To orient yourself, drive to the road’s end at 7,830 feet. Following the Farewell Gap Trail up the canyon for 2 miles is a great way to see more of the valley. Most Mineral King trails are steep, and the Farewell Gap Trail gets steep after the first 2 miles, but up to that point it is one of the easiest walks in the area, with unforgettable views of the valley. We saw a lot of wildlife on this hike and the rest of our trip – bears, deer, birds and marmots.
Mineral King’s many steep trails lead up the granite walls to blue gem lakes that shimmer beneath picturesque peaks.
They’re worth the hard work if you’re in shape for it. One of my favorites is Lower Franklin Lake – a place you can get to by following the Farewell Gap Trail beyond the flat section.
The road to Mineral King is usually open from May through late October. You can find out this year’s opening date in May by checking the website for Sequoia National Park later in the season – it may not be announced until May: http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm.
Right now is a great time to start planning next summer’s trips and although reservations aren’t accepted at Mineral King’s campgrounds, they are starting to fill up at the Silver City Resort. For more information about the resort and to make reservations, go to http://www.silvercityresort.com/ or call 559-561-3223. One of my favorite times to visit Mineral King is in October when the aspens and other deciduous trees are starting to turn brilliant fall colors.
To find Mineral King, head south on Highway 99 to Highway 198. Exit east (toward Visalia) and follow the highway for about 45 miles to Three Rivers. After passing through much of the town, turn right on Mineral King Road. The park’s $20/car entrance fee is paid at the Lookout Point Entrance Station, an automated kiosk.
Adam Blauert is a Sun-Star correspondent. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the Western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.