Every year in August, Wes and I go on a backpacking trip. We wait until the very end of the summer, which helps us miss most of the crowds. This year, our trip counted as our Honeymoon. We originally talked about going somewhere far far away (Olympic, Glacier, Tetons!), but realized that would really cut into our backcountry time with all the traveling, and we wanted to get deep into the woods this time. Instead of far, we went to one of our closest national parks- Sequoia.
As usual, we went with barely a loose plan, hoping the rangers would direct us. We wanted to be out for around 5 days, and we wanted a loop. The first ranger we spoke to said he worked in Mineral King, which was up a frightening one-lane, blind-curve-filled 25 mile road that took two hours to get up. He called the road the “limiting factor” for crowds, though, so we headed straight there.
Our backpacking trip was a 60ish mile, 6 day loop over Franklin Pass, down Rattlesnake Creek, up the Kern River (hitting Kern Hot Spring while we were there), and back up over Sawtooth Pass. It included over 12,000 feet in elevation gain, and then the same amount of elevation loss. It was absolutely worth every step. The terrain changed so often that we were never bored and always in awe. We saw bears, fawns, waterfalls, alpine lakes, views of Whitney, and glorious sunsets. And the hot spring was located halfway through the trip, which was the perfect time to rest our weary muscles for the rest of the road ahead.
Of course, we gathered some new delicious recipes, but I thought I’d start with the gem of a camping location we found on our first night. Atwell Mill Campground was our staging site the night before the actual backpacking began. Though the road is rough, you pass several “monarch” sized Giant Sequoias on your way up, and actually stay among the Atwell grove. The smell of the moist air and soil surrounds you and the ground is soft for sleeping. The elevation is perfect for cool fall camping, but there’s only a little bit of time left to enjoy it before the road closes for the winter.
We love fall camping, and would love to hear where you like to go so we can check it out!
Atwell Mill Campground, Mineral King
LocationMineral King, CA
Activity GuideCar Camping, Hiking, Giant tree viewing
Atwell Mill Campground is the site of a sequoia grove that was milled before the big trees were protected. It is located most of the way up the long and slow Mineral King Road, at around 7000 feet of elevation. It is only open from May 21- October 15.
- Gorgeous scenery
- Bear lockers
- Tent campsites only
- Pit toilets
- This campground is closer and less populated than Cold Spring Campground, which is closer to the ranger station in Silver City Resort 5 miles up the road.
- Hikes out of this area are all phenomenal, and if you’re willing to do a strenuous hike, you can up get to several lakes, including Monarch, Crystal, Franklin, and Columbine.
- Franklin Pass is easier to get over than Sawtooth going this direction, and you’ll have to go over Sawtooth Pass to get to Columbine Lake.
- The wildlife in this area is prevalent and fun to see, but obviously desensitized to human interaction. Please be mindful of food at all times and keep wildlife wild.