Sure, you’ve heard about Yosemite, you’ve seen countless pictures with crowds of happy hikers and tired tourists in that National Park. But what if I told you, you could escape the tourist trap, experience scenery just as incredible, be the only one on the hike, but still be in California?
Sequoia National Park is located just South of Yosemite – it’s the in-betweeny greeny bit on the map. I stumbled across the Monarch Lake Hike while attempting to find a camping spot one bright afternoon in Sequoia National Park. This hike takes the best part of a day, so if you’re planning a road trip or an escape from the city and are fed up with the masses at Yosemite, then hiking in Sequoia National Park is for you!
HOW TO GET THERE
Simply pop ‘Mineral King Ranger Station,’ into your phone/Sat Nav and set off; the road getting there is pretty hairy but if you’re a serious road tripper it’s nothing you can’t handle. (Check the weather before you go here as in snowy conditions I suspect there will be road closures).
Once you’ve navigated the horseshoe bends and reached the Ranger Station, park up anywhere in the surrounding area. Continue walking along the road until you reach a sign for ‘Crystal Lake Trailhead.’ (The Monarch Lakes Hike shares the route to Crystal Lakes, however the path to Crystal Lakes eventually closes). Double check you’ve packed your water because this hike is about to get alpine!
HOW TO HIKE MONARCH LAKES
The trail starts off pretty steep but that’s okay, it just means you get better views quicker, right?! Eventually you will reach a junction where you follow signs for Sawtooth Pass and make your way up into Groundhog Meadow. Turn around and look back at that view because WOW – you just climbed that! We chose this spot for our first snack break, which turned into lunch part 1 of many.
Crossing the river (slightly challenging if balance is a struggle) continue along the path and into the pine forest. You will encounter never-ending switch backs throughout the forest trail and perhaps be greeted by a cheeky marmot or two.
Keep ascending into the alpine making sure to stop for various photo (and snack!) opportunities – they won’t be hard to come by! Sooner or later you will reach a signed junction for the Crystal Lakes Trail, but you are NOT following this path – instead bear left and continue towards the Sawtooth Path instead.
It was at this point where we encountered our first human sighting! We had almost forgotten we were in a National Park up until now and assumed we had been transported to the depths of the Swiss Alps. Always a happy hiker we made sure to exchange smiles and asked what lay in store for us further up the path.
As you emerge from the forest, the trail leads to Chihuahua Bowl: a grey granite basin named after a mining region. Stop and see if you can spot any snow here! If the season permits, you may end up as lucky as us crossing snow covered sections of the path.
Look up because that’s Sawtooth Pass! If you’re an avid hiker maybe consider doing an overnight trip, camping in Groundhog Meadow to then ascend Sawtooth Peak the next day.
However, if this trail is ticking all your boxes, keep going- your almost there! Soon the path will meet a stream, follow it round, hop over some river crossings and be greeted by the sight of Lower Monarch Lake. Technically the maintained trail ends here, although I highly recommend making your way up the hillside towards Upper Monarch Lake for those glorious alpine views. When you’ve caught up on eating and photos, simply retrace your steps and return to the road.
WHERE TO STAY
You will need a permit for any campgrounds along the trail. The night before we stayed outside Sequoia National Park at Horse Creek Campground, merely because we had been on the road for weeks and were in need of a long nap. Horse Creek Campground was beautifully basic and whilst staying there we shared the lakeside views with only one other family.
The afternoon we completed Monarch Lake Hike we stayed at Cold Springs Campground, which was even more beautifully basic than the night before (if possible!) and perfectly placed.
If solar showers and compost toilets aren’t your thing then look up the following:
- Three Rivers Hideaway (slightly fancier campground).
- Accommodation in Three Rivers or Hammond (if roughing it isn’t how you roll).
BEFORE YOU GO
To make sure you have an amazing alpine adventure make sure you:
- Check your route before you travel – fill up that petrol tank and check directions on your phone.
- Bring all the food! I need more than just snacks to keep me a happy hiker and if you’re anything like me, food breaks come first, hiking later.
- Do your bear research! This is there home after all… make sure you are up to date with California’s recommended bear etiquette
Side Note: sadly we did not encounter any bears over the course of several weeks roughing it in National Parks and Forests.
- Wear smart shoes – okay Mum we got it! I’m normally one to hike in my Nikes but seeing as there was snow on the mountain I opted for hiking boots and thank goodness! Otherwise I would have had soggy, cold feet the entire journey down. Unhappy hiker.
Challenging at times, the views along the trail will definitely make up for however out-of-breath you are by the time you reach Monarch Lakes. And with no one in sight at the top, why not jump in for an icy, alpine cool off?!
Have you ever visited Monarch Lakes? If you have your own tips to share, please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Sarah Bryant
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