Monarch Lakes, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - High Sierra -

Also known as:  Upper Monarch Lake, Lower Monarch Lake

Upper and Lower Monarch Lake grace the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Sequoia National Park. An elevation climb to 10,600 feet takes you past breathtaking views of Sawtooth Peak, Mineral Peak and Mineral King Valley to Upper Monarch Lake. Formed by a dam built in the early 1900s, crystal clear Monarch Lakes rest in a glacial cirque (concave amphitheatre shape) welcoming hikers to the beauty of California’s High Sierra wilderness.

Monarch Lakes are located in the 15,600-acre Mineral King Region of Sequoia National Park. Glacially carved Mineral King Valley runs for approximately two miles within the southern Sierras and rises from an elevation of 7,400 feet to over 7,800 feet. Peaks of the Great Western Divide surround the valley with elevations exceeding 12,000 feet. Once cut off by its rugged terrain, Mineral King’s isolation ended in the early 1870s when silver was discovered in the valley. By the time a mining company completed the construction of Mineral King Road in 1879, the mining industry was being replaced by lumber, tourism and hydro-electric industries. Rapid harvesting of magnificent sequoia trees brought Mineral King under the protection of the Sierra Forest Reservation (eventually the U. S. Forest Service) in 1893. From 1899 to 1913 four storage dams (Lower Franklin Lake, Crystal Lake, Upper Monarch Lake and Eagle Lake) were constructed along the East, Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweah River in Mineral King. After decades of debating private development of the valley, Mineral King (including Monarch Lakes) was added to Sequoia National Park in 1978. Over the years leases to many of the hydro-power operations have continued. along with discussions to return the sites to a natural state within Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s 832,756 acres of wilderness.

Still narrow and winding with almost 700 curves, the original Mineral King Road runs 25 miles from Highway 198 north of the community of Three Rivers. Not recommended for RVs or trailers, Mineral King Road is the only access into the park’s southern wilderness area. Monarch Lakes and the surrounding valley are among the most remote areas of Sequoia National Park, so it is not surprising that unless you enter on snow skis, Mineral King Road is closed from early November until late May. Within Mineral King, visitors will find two campgrounds, a ranger station, pack station and employee housing. In addition, Mineral King is on the National Register of Historic Places. Over 50 private and 60 permit cabins are located on or near Mineral King Road. Mining-era buildings and descendants of mining families remain in Mineral King, working to promote and preserve this example of life in early California mining communities.

Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes lie at the base of 12,343-foot Sawtooth Peak. Considered one of the less strenuous hikes, Sawtooth Trail (also called Monarch Lake/Crystal Lake Trail) passes through alpine meadows into a forest of red fir and pines. As the forest thins the terrain opens into rocky Monarch Canyon and climbs 1,200 feet to Sawtooth Pass. At the end of the climb you will find beautiful blue Lower Monarch Lake with a quarter-mile shoreline and bubbling creek cascading down the northwest slope.

Climb the extra half mile to Upper Monarch Lake and you will be treated to a panoramic view of 11,159-foot White Chief Peak, Farewell Gap and the valley carved by the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Around 1903 a dam was built along the half-mile shoreline by Mt. Whitney Power Company and remains at the northwest shore of Upper Monarch Lake. Today, Southern California Edison Company regulates Upper Monarch Lake water flow used to feed their Hammond hydro-electric facility.

There is little information about fishing Monarch Lakes but rivers, streams and lakes abound within Sequoia and Kings Canyon. With rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout found in the park, guides and pack horses can lead anglers deep into the back country where “fish have seen more bald eagles, deer and black bears than they have fishermen.” Near Monarch Lakes you will find three of the five branches of Kaweah River. Generally the Kaweah River and its tributaries are open to year-round fishing with a five fish daily limit, but this can vary with elevation and tributary so be sure and check regulations. Within the park, South Fork is open to fishing year-round but is limited to two fish a day below the 9,000 foot level. After running eight-miles South Fork flows into Middle Fork, a steep rocky river with lovely waterfall scenes but limited accessibility. Outside the park the Bureau of Land Management maintains North Fork River access at Paradise, Advance and Cherry Falls sites found just north of the community of Three Rivers. In addition to fishing, North Fork also provides Class III and IV whitewater runs when spring runoff is good.

Just six miles west of Sequoia National Park, in Tulare County, is the charming community of Three Rivers. Known as “The Gateway to Sequoia Park,” Three Rivers is home to approximately 2,500 people and junction of the North, Middle and South Forks of the Kaweah River. Creating the perfect “home base” for a visit or lifetime, the Three Rivers area offers vacation rentals and real estate properties in close proximity to Monarch Lakes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Within the parks you can explore the giant sequoia forest including General Sherman, the largest tree in existence; 200 caves carved into marble rock formations; 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States; dramatic glacial carved valleys of Kings Canyon; and Monarch Lakes, two breath-taking alpine lakes. Found within one of America’s great wilderness areas, the mountainous landscape of Monarch Lakes attracts the adventurous spirit and welcomes you to the ideal California back country experience.

Things to do at Monarch Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Monarch Lakes

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Monarch Lakes Photo Gallery

    Monarch Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Southern California Edison Company

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 10,600 feet

    Completion Year: 1903

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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