TOKOPAH FALLS HIKING TRAIL GUIDE

TOKOPAH FALLS HIKING TRAIL GUIDE

Introduction

QUICK OVERVIEW

One of the best trails in Sequoia National Park is the Tokopah Falls Trail. It’s a short out-and-back trip that can easily be added to almost any travel plan. The trail also offers wider views than some of the other more densely forested trails and sections of Sequoia.

While the Tokopah Falls Trail attracts a fair amount of visitors, the crowds pale in comparison to bigger parks like Yosemite. You’ll find full parking lots, but the trails offer periods of solitude and quiet. The shorter distance of the Tokopah Falls Trail makes it appealing to hikers of any fitness levels, so the trail sees its fair share of foot traffic.

The destination is an ideal trail for those new to hiking who want a great experience and stunning views. Experts too will find the short and pleasant trail a refreshing, reenergizing experience.

Looking for a Tokopah Falls Hiking Trail Guide?

You're in the right place! In this guide we will be covering the following:

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    A history of the area
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    Planning - where to park, directions and opening times
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    Our trail recommendations
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    What to bring

Highlights

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    Consider utilizing the convenient shuttle system to minimize road traffic in the park
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    Plan ahead and reserve your campsite if you want to spend the night
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    Keep an eye on your snacks at the end of the trail (the marmots are bold and daring thieves)

Lowlights

  • Avoid swimming in most of the pools; drowning isn’t uncommon and the swift currents catch many off guard
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    Don’t rush! It’s a short trail, so take your time and enjoy the views

Overview

The Tokopah Falls Trail is a refreshingly short hike that does not skimp on big views. The trail clocks in at 3.4 miles round trip (or 4.1 miles if you start your journey from the Walter Fry Nature Center), so it’s easy to squeeze this hike into your trip.

It is an easy to follow trail with no forks or crossroads along the way, and the gradual 500 foot elevation change can be tackled by hikers of all fitness levels.

Hikers will find a single track trail passing through skyscrapingly tall pine trees and a handful of creek crossings. In the summer hikers on the Tokopah Falls Trail will encounter meadows full of wildflowers in their peak blooming period.

But the real appeal is the waterfall at the end.

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Well, sort of a waterfall. It’s more of a rapidly descending cascade of water that drops 1,200 feet in the span of about half a mile. In the summer the waterflow can slow to a trickle, so late spring and early summer hiking is ideal to witness crashing falls.

Wildlife is everywhere on the Tokopah Falls Trail, and so are comfortable places to take a seat and have a snack. This is not a trail for rushing and conquering, it is a place to catch your breath and smell the roses.

However if you are a speed demon and love to test yourself, the trail can be completed in as fast as one and a half hours.

Planning

Accessing the Tokopah Falls Trail is a breeze, and getting there is just as easy.

Shuttle Operations and Driving Directions

Visitors can utilize an incredibly convenient shuttle system that operates from nearby towns Visalia, Exeter, Three Rivers, and Lemon Cove. Reservations are required to ride the shuttle and it has a $15 charge, but that price includes admission to the park.

Once inside the park, shuttle riders should follow the Green Route to reach the Lodgepole Campground. The Walter Fry Nature Center is nearby, and the trailhead for Tokopah Falls is a short walk away. Read this NPS page to learn more about the internal Sequoia National Park shuttle system.

The shuttle runs every half hour between 8AM and 6PM.

Driving Your Own Vehicle

For people driving to the Tokopah Falls Trail in their own vehicle, both roads that lead to Sequoia National Park approach from the west and are always open (depending on the weather).

If approaching from the south on highways 65 or 99, head EAST on Highway 198 East. Follow the signs to Sequoia National Park to reach the trail entrance, then look for signs pointing the way to Lodgepole Campground.

When approaching from the Fresno area, take Highway 180 East and follow the signs to Kings Canyon National Park. When you’re in the park, simply follow the signs to Sequoia National Park and the Lodgepole Campground.

Camping Out?

You’ll find some excellent campgrounds at the Lodgepole Campground that provide top-notch access to the Tokopah Falls Trail. Your best bet is to reserve one of these high-demand campsites well ahead of your visit to guarantee your spot.

The Trailhead

Easy to find!

After you park your car in the lot (or walk from the Nature Center if you took the shuttle), head east towards the Lodgepole Campground. You’ll find clean drinking water on your right side near the bathroom building, so if you’re in need of a drink now is the time to fill up.

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Even though the water in the rivers and streams looks pristine it is often swarming with parasites and other nasties. Many individuals swim in sections of this water, and the park has confirmed the presence of giardia from time to time.

Past the building you will encounter a bridge that crosses the river. Cross that bridge and you’ll spot the trailhead sign for the Tokopah Falls Trail on your right hand side.

It’s a straight shot, out-and-back trail with no forks or other tricks to trip you up.

Best Time of Year to Visit

The beauty of the Tokopah Falls Trail is that it offers something to see at every point of the year.

The ideal time to visit is in the late spring or early summer. Snow melt feeds the cascading waterfall that gives the falls their name. Weather is usually pleasant and you’ll see the falls at their best.

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Visiting during the rest of the summer and into the fall is great for wildflower enthusiasts. The Tokopah Falls Trail traditionally sees a drop in activity during this period, so it’s great for folks who want a bit of time to themselves while hiking.

If you can access the nearby Lodgepole Campground, the Tokopah Falls Trail provides some impressive snowy views and hiking opportunities for those properly equipped.

Trail Route

The ascent here is so gradual you’ll barely feel the burning in your quads. You’re also likely to spot some black bears in the distance and plenty of marmots at the end of the hike. Remember the way you came in, because it’s a return trip on the way out.

Tokopah Falls Topo profile

On your right side you’ll have the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River within earshot for most of your trip. The trees you encounter will be tall, and the forest is at times dense and then hyphenated with sunny, open meadows. In the summertime these meadows can be abloom with hundreds of wildflowers.

The river to your right will have plenty of cool pools of water, but resist your desire to cool off in the waters. Currents can be dangerously swift in the early part of the hiking season, so save your swimming for the latest parts of summer (August to September).

As the trees begin to thin and the views of the landscape open up, keep your eyes peeled for the granite face of The Watchtower, an impressive jutting piece of granite that rises above the Tokopah Falls Trail. Meadows open up here and you get your first views of the falls.

A massive field of boulders stands in your way and requires a bit of hand-over-foot climbing to get past. This section of the trail can be difficult for the elderly or the infirm. If those folks can’t make it, that’s alright, they’ll surely enjoy watching the very active marmot population that skitters around these boulders.

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After you pass over these boulders you’ve reached the end of the Tokopah Falls Trail and can bask in the glory of that cascading water.

Exploring the surrounding area can be hazardous when the falls are at their peak, but when the boulders dry up the rest of the falls become more accessible.

The return trip is simple enough; retrace your steps and head back on the same trail.

Suggested Hiking Gear

Because it’s a relatively short hike, your gear list will be minimal.

The Essential

  • A good day pack to carry your belongings and gear
  • Water bottles/hydration bladders (you can fill up at the campground with clean water)
  • Sun protection like a good hat and non-oil-based sunscreen (if you jump into the water to cool off, oil-based sunscreen can leave ugly blemishes on the water surface)
  • Light snacks (some trail mix or beef jerky can really hit the spot while you’re relaxing at the base of the falls)
  • Comfortable and reliable footwear (most of the trail is easy enough to follow but there is some boulder scrambling near the end)

The Suggested

  • A camera
  • Mosquito repellant (Not usually an issue, but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it)
  • A trail guide to explore the rest of Sequoia National Park

Resources

  • The Park Shuttle System is an easy way to get around the park. Leaving your own car in a parking lot for the day is far better for yourself and other visitors/
  • The shuttle to Sequoia National Park from surrounding towns requires reservations and costs $15 but includes admission to the park
  • Lodgepole Campground is situated directly next to the Tokopah Falls Trail and is an ideal place to stay when in the park. Just make sure you reserve it ahead of time because spots fill up quickly.

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About the Author Matt Suwak

Matt was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. For the moment he lives in Philadelphia and is a gardener and freelance writer by trade. Matt's free time is devoted to traipsing through forests, angling in creeks, and hunting for rare plants and mushrooms. He's got a soft spot for reading Steinbeck while in the outdoors and is quickly becoming a die-hard hammock camper. Matt is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

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