Cycling Mineral King Road: A Top 25 US road bike climb in scenic Sequoia National Park.
California Top 10 Most Epic Climb.
The Mineral King Road bike climb is very close in proximity to two other Top 100 US Climbs in California -- Highway 198 (1.5 miles away), and Highway 21-245-180-198 (22 miles away). You’ll find it in southern Sequoia National Park in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Keep in mind that this is an exceptionally difficult climb.
Start two miles south of the Highway 198 climb.
Mining tracks... “Mineral” King... Ahhhh, I get it!
Below are excellent summaries from Dan Razum of Campbell, CA; Bart Niechwiej of Fremont, CA; and Southwestern climbing machine Joey Galloway. We made this climb on July 7, 2015, foolishly after tackling another Top 50 Climb (Highway 198). We do not have much more to add to the thorough summaries below, but would point out the following:
- Bring plenty of liquids, especially on hot days -- average temperatures between June and September range from 90°F to 97°F -- and food because this climb will take longer than your average 20 mile ascent.
- There are many 14-18% grades throughout the Mineral King Road bike climb. Do not be fooled into a sense that this will be a simple climb because its “average” grade is 5.7%. There are many long ups and slight downs to this climb and there are many (not just “a couple” or “a few”) very steep 100-400 yard segments throughout. From a subjective standpoint, this is a Top 20 climb. It sucks the life out of the legs!
- There were two dirt sections as of July 2015, the first being about two miles from Silver City at very roughly Mile 19, and the second at about a quarter mile before the end of the climb. Both sections are manageable on a road bike, at least with 28mm tires. The second section is steeper at 8% grade.
- As Bart mentions below, the descent is devilish. Be very careful on this one. If possible, have vehicle support to drive you down the mountain.
- There is a cafe and modest store at Silver City. The grill was not open when we arrived late in the day, but there was homemade pie, and all we can say is “come for the ride, stay for the pie”!
East Fork of Kaweah River.
The Kaweah River Bridge is at mile 6.6
18.3 miles at 5.5% to go from here.
A creek runs over perfectly formed holes in the rock at mile 10.3.
For the life of us, we cannot figure these out . . .
Enter the park at mile 9.4.
Inside the cabin.
We strongly recommend eating at the Silver City Store at Mile 21.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
Photo - from upper left clockwise:
Bear Creek; Mineral King; Hwy 198; Whitaker Forest;
The Strava Segment for this climb involves about three miles of gravel which we are assured by a Strava member is manageable on a road bike. We only went to Silver City when we climbed Mineral King in July 2015.
May, 2018 update submitted by Dan Razum (Campbell, CA):
- Dirt sections: There are 3 dirt sections. The first section starts at mile 19.7 and is ½ mile long. It isn’t too bad, you can get through it with a road bike. The second dirt section begins just after Silver City, it is one mile long. Most of it is ok, but there is a flat area near the end which contains deep sand, about 100 meters. It is deceptive, it looks ok but the sand will catch your wheels, you probably need to walk the bike in this area. The third dirt section is at the end. The final ¾ mile (after Mineral King Ranger Station) is a mixture of dirt and pavement, including a particularly nasty section ¼ mile long, not rideable on a road bike. The 3rd dirt section looked freshly graded by heavy machinery, perhaps a week or two prior, with large rocks and loose dirt mixed together, which is why it was not rideable.
- Entrance fee to Sequoia National Park is now $15 for cyclists (applicable to all entrances to Sequoia/Kings Canyon Parks). You can still use an Annual Pass (if you have one) to waive the entrance fee.
- There is currently road construction on General’s Highway in Sequoia National Park, scheduled to run throughout 2018. According to the construction crew, after this construction is finished they will repave Mineral King road, including the dirt sections. So perhaps in 2020 Mineral King will be fully repaved, with no dirt sections. We can hope!
- The current road condition is very poor the first few miles (2 out of 10), poor the next few miles (4 out of 10) and ok the rest of the way (5 out of 10, excluding the dirt sections, obviously).
- As mentioned elsewhere, this ride is a killer! It will take a long time if you’re a normal mortal, not a gifted climber. I managed it in 4 hours 27 min, including walking time in the dirt. Descent took over 3 hours, including stopping for pictures. Straight descend, without stops, would probably take me 2 hours 15 min. The descent is treacherous, be careful.
An exceptional summary from PJAMM contributor Bart Niechwiej's Fremont, CA:
This climb was on my bucket list for a long time. It is one of the most difficult climbs in California, not because of the elevation gain (1975m), but because it constantly undulates between -3% and 20% grades over 40km. There are several steep ramps above 15% and the road looks like it hasn’t been repaved in 50 years or so — the pavement is in bad shape. To make it more difficult, the last 10km has two sections of dirt (or actually well packed sand) with grades around 12%. There are also 3 cattle guards. I drove from the Bay Area and arrived at 9:15am. It was already warm (around 30C) and quickly unpacked my bike and got ready. I was planning to ride in Z2 (which is around 210W), as I was planning to do another HC climb after this one — The Big Sequoia. The first 10km was pretty nice. The road wasn’t too steep (maybe 12% max) with a few short descents, next to a long aqueduct which disappeared as soon as I crossed a bridge over Kaweah River. This is where the most difficult climb began and lasted until km 30. Around 18km, there was a pay station and the road made a sharp left turn exposing gorgeous panorama of the High Sierras, still going up over several steep sections. While the first part of the climb was pretty shaded, the part from the pay station was very exposed and it was already way too hot. At some point, I rode into melting tar and lost traction! Thankfully, after a few more corners, I finally entered a flat section, with gigantic sequoias and it was actually quite enjoyable. Well, not until I hit two dirt sections. The first one wasn’t too bad, I managed to climb at slow speed in well packed sand. However, the next section was over 12% and sand wasn’t as packed as before. In one of the steeper ramps, my front wheel hit a soft patch of sand and I had to walk the remaining part of the ramp. The last 5km was very nice. The road went under tree covers, next to a few cabins, a ranger station and two campgrounds. The road ended after a short, but steep climb in a small parking lot surrounded by a few trails. The view was gorgeous! The descent was pretty technical, but I was going very slow and was taking pictures. At one point, I stopped to cool down in a super cold stream. What a relief :) As I descended down the road, the temperature was going up, hitting 46C at the base. At this point, I was way too overheated and decided to skip the second climb. Regarding my gear: I rode a road bike with 25mm tires and 34T/32T gearing. I think it would be painful to ride on 23mm — the descent was pretty sketchy, especially the dirt sections. I had to 24oz bottles of Gatorade and one extra bottle of water. It was just about right. I also ate 6 gels. My power was in expected range, I didn’t feel tired except for the heat, which made me slow down significantly on the descent. Moreover, it got pretty hot on the way down and the descent was actually much more difficult than I anticipated. My goal was to do the climb in 3h, but it took me 11 extra minutes, which I lost trying to maintain traction in sand :)"
Climber extraordinaire Joey Galloway (1,100,000+ feet of climbing as of 2014) writes:
I finally did the climb for the first time last month. Always been told it's too sketchy to do on road bike because the road is horrible, narrow, and very steep. It's right in my backyard, so just went for it. I must say it is the most difficult climb I've ever done, in fact the only HC climb that I've never averaged double digit speeds on. Only at 9.1 mph right now for the full 21 miles. There is an 11 mile section from the Kaweah River Bridge to Atwell Mill where the climbing is totally out of control. You get short breaks here and there, descending or flat, but when you're climbing it's 12-18%. I've done the climbs on the east side of the Sierra's and Mineral King even trumps those. It's just brutal...
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: We rate this a four out of 10 overall. The first part is okay (six rating), but the last half is bad (three rating). There is minimal traffic along the way and this is a safe ascent but treacherous descent.
That’s a wrap!