Some of the most beautiful sunsets, sunrises and night skies I have ever seen, I saw in Mineral King. Because you are already nearly at 8,000 ft. elevation at the trailhead, by the time you reach a campsite you will be over 9,000 feet if you are backpacking. The atmosphere is thinner at higher elevation. Many of the campsites are just at, or just above, the treeline, so you don't have thick trees crowding out your view of the sky. Then too, there is a lack of light pollution. There are no power lines into Mineral King, so the only sources of light will be firelight, candles or gas lanterns from your fellow campers.
If you are car camping and staying at the Cold Springs or Atwell Mills campgrounds, you will have to go elsewhere to observe the night sky as the trees will shut out your view of the sky. Try going out to the trailhead parking lots and set up some lawn chairs and observe for a while before turning in for the night.
If you want to maximize your viewing pleasure, go during the Perseid meteor showers in August. In 2007, the peak night for the meteor showers will coincide with a new Moon, meaning that skies will be dark and the meteors easily seen, providing the weather is clear--which it generally is on summer nights in the Sierras. If you are going to have rain (and you often will) it will generally be a short-lived thunderstorm in the afternoon. The night skies are usually clear. When backpacking, I think lying in your warm sleeping bag and watching the stars is one of the most enjoyable experiences. Watching the sun rise and set is fun too. Because of all the dust stirred up by the agricultural activities in the Central Valley, the sunsets are frequently very colorful.
Chewy has described most of the hiking trails in Mineral King. But since this trail isn't already covered--and it is one of the most scenic/interesting as well as one of the least travelled--I felt ought to cover it. The hike is more difficult than some--overall it's rated "moderately strenuous."
To get to White Chief you follow the Eagle/Mosquito Lakes trail out of the trailhead parking lot. About a mile up the trail, it forks--the junction is signposted--hikers heading for White Chief take the appropriate trail (which is the fork straight ahead). The trail from here to White Chief meadow is challenging. It's steeper than the trail from the trailhead to the junction but the views should help distract you. The grade eases as you pass from White Chief Creek Canyon & approach the lower end of the meadow about 2 miles from the trailhead.
As you enter the lower part of White Chief meadow, you will pass the ruins of the Crabtree cabin--possibly the oldest structure left in Mineral King. The cabin was used as a bunkhouse for the miners who worked the claims up here. At the upper end of the meadow, before the trail crosses the creek, some campsites are located under the lodgepole and foxtail pines. You will need a backcountry permit if you intend to camp overnight.
Some unique things about White Chief are the presence of natural caves/sinkholes typical of a karst landscape, the presence of old silver mines, and one of the few natural lakes in the Mineral King area (most the lakes in Mineral King are manmade). The mines and caves/sinkholes are located past the upper meadow, across the creek and further up the mountain slope. Once the trail leaves the meadow, it splinters into multiple trails going in several different directions and becomes more difficult to follow. Some of the trails go up to the cirque above the meadow, some go the mines and caves, and some go to White Chief Lake. The trails pass over bare rock in spots, so you should know how to follow a trail using ducks or be experienced in cross country hiking.
I'm not an angler, but I do know that fishing is allowed in Mineral King and the surrounding wilderness. You will need a license though, and the rules about what you can fish for and where and so forth are complicated and change from time to time. Fishing licenses and tackle can be purchased at Lodgepole, Grant Grove and Cedar Grove markets inside Sequoia National Park, but not at Mineral King so it's better bring your tackle with you and to obtain your license at one of the numerous locations outside the park. Check at the visitor centers for regulations regarding open and closed waters for fishing.
The Eagle Lake trail is cut through by two water streams before reaching the Sink Hole, which is a big hole into which a water stream disappears. The water stream re-emerges as one of the water streams that cuts through the trail below. It is a facinating geological phenomenon. People who want only a moderate hike may visit the Sink Hole and turn back.
Beulah is the remains of a townsite built here in the 1800's, when gold was supposedly discovered in the White Chief Valley (which gave the valley the name "Mineral King." There's not much to do here, though. You can reach Beulah by driving to the Eagle-Mosquito Parking Area, then taking the Cold Springs Trail a short distance to the ruins.
From Three Rivers, this 25-mile long road winds torturously up the East Fork Kaweah Valley, making over 600 turns. The road is mostly one-lane and narrow, with many blind turns. However, the scenery is magnificent; from along much of the road, you'll have views of Sawtooth Peak, or some granite monoliths near the road itself. But watch out for other drivers, because this road is horrible.
You can take a short walk to this small waterfall near the Sawtooth Parking Area. The waterfall isn't exactly impressive, but you get good views of the valley and its surrounding peaks along the way. From the Sawtooth Parking Area, follow the road southeast across Monarch Creek. Then make your way through bushes along the creek to the waterfall. If you don't want to walk this short trail, you can still view it from the road.
This is the best trail that I hiked in Mineral King. From the Eagle-Mosquito Parking Area, hike south on the Eagle Lake Trail. The trail begins by climbing gently up the slope of the valley. The first mile provides fantastic views of the Mineral King Valley. Then you reach the junction with the White Chief Trail. Take the right fork. From there, the trail automatically began to climb steeply. This stretch is one of the most strenuous of the entire trail. About 1/2 mile past the junction, you'll reach a beautiful meadow with magnificent views. At 1 3/4 miles, you'll pass the Eagle Sink Holes. After hiking 2 miles, you'll come to the junction with the Mosquito Lakes Trail. This section of the trail is flatter, and leads through forest. Soon afterwards, you emerge at another meadow at the foot of a small peak. From the meadow, the trail begins to climb again, with a cascade nearby. After a series of switchbacks, you'll emerge at the foot of a boulder field. Follow the trail through the boulder field, and you'll recieve enormous views of the Great Western Divide. The panorama here is unrivaled anywhere else in Mineral King. After passing the boulder field, the trail crosses one more ridge and descends to Eagle Lake, nestled under two high peaks at 10,000 feet. One thing to remember is that during heavy snow years, this trail may be covered until July. When I hiked it, there was still 3 feet of snow on the ground.
This wonderful, short 1-mile one-way trail begins at the Cold Springs Campground and ends at the Eagle-Mosquito Parking Area. It's a good early morning hike. From the trailhead, the small, narrow trail leads through aspens and meadows with intrepretative signs along the way about the native vegetation. The trail is beautiful, with great views of Sawtooth Peak, lush meadows, views of the river, and later on, the ghost town of Beulah, once an old mining camp. After passing Beulah, you'll reach the Eagle-Mosquito Parking Area, where there are views of Farewell Gap.