Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 4 out of 10
Distance: 3.9 miles (round trip)
Max Elevation: 7200 feet
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
The Tokopah Falls Trail is a wonderful microcosm of the Yosemite Valley or Kings Canyon. It has a nice hike along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, pine forests, grassy meadows, and towering granite canyon walls on both sides. It even has a towering granite monolith called The Watchtower. Basically a mini version of both glacially carved canyons in 3.9 miles round trip.
The trail head starts at around 6700 feet and gains approximately 500 feet as the well-marked path travels along the Kaweah River through rolling hills, boulders, and beautiful meadows. We took the hike in late summer but the grass was still green in the meadows and temperatures were in the 70s. The hike to the falls is mostly uphill but the climb is gradual and not too taxing. Eventually after crossing a half dozen or so foot bridges the terrain becomes rockier and the hike gets a little steeper.
This last few hundred yards of the hike is the most challenging but when the trail ends you are treated to one of the more impressive water falls in Sequoia National Park and the granite monolith The Watchtower. A sign warns hikers not to approach the falls due to the hazards of falling or drowning.
While the falls itself was not as impressive in late summer due to low water volume it was still a wonderful scene to look at. It was also a great place to stop for lunch and rest a little before the return trip. The return trip is mostly downhill and the beautiful scenery is just as marvelous traveling back.
WHERE IS THE HIKE?
The trailhead is accessed by driving up Highway 198 to Sequoia National Park all the way to Lodgepole or taking Hwy 180 into the Park and then taking the Generals Highway to Lodgepole. Drive past the Lodgepole visitor’s center to the Lodgepole Campground. Tell the Ranger at the entrance you are going to the trailhead for Tokopah Falls. Then drive to the parking area near the nature center on the right or if there are spaces available on the left near the river.
After parking, proceed on foot to the Log Bridge that crosses the river. It is no longer made of logs but retains the name. Watch for traffic as this campground is popular especially on weekends. Cross the bridge and on your right is the beginning of the trail marked clearly with a sign.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
This hike is not technical. Equipment requirements are minimal. Water, sunscreen, and decent shoes are the minimal requirements. Small children were hiking with their families. Terrain is very forgiving although it does get more rocky towards the end near the falls. This hike is a rating of four. Many families with small children take this hike. Our five year old walked the whole thing and only complained on occasion. After eating lunch at the falls he was ready to hit the trail again. Frequent rest breaks and lots of water should get most people through this hike. This is a good family hike or a starter hike for someone interested in getting started in hiking as a hobby.
Most of the hike elevation gain is mild until the last few hundred meters where it gets more steep and rocky. There are no restrooms or water on the trail. There are flush toilets and drinking water sources near the trail head. Use them before you begin your hike.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Ideal hiking days are spring to early fall. Check weather forecasts before traveling to avoid problems. Weather can vary from the 90s in summer to snow in early spring and late fall. Expect heavy snow in winter. Vehicles may be required to use snow chains during colder times of the year. Optimum viewing for the falls is late spring to early summer. The trail is not very crowded even when the campground at the trailhead is full. We went on Labor Day Weekend and only saw a few other groups on the trail.
I come to Sequoia and Kings Canyon to avoid the crowds of Yosemite and while other areas of the park had lots of people the crowds were not on this trail during the holiday. Traffic was also not too bad. The National Park charges at the time of this posting were $20 per car load or $10 per person. An annual pass to both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park for your entire vehicle is only $30. This is a significant savings over the standard National Park annual fee and pays for itself on your group’s second trip to either park. I highly recommend it.
To prepare for this hike a basic fitness level is all that is required. If you can walk a couple miles you should have no problems. Hikes are always more enjoyable the more fit you are. Check the weather, wear good shoes, and bring water. The more comfortable you are, the more enjoyable you will find any hike. Those at lower fitness levels can easily complete this hike by taking breaks along the trail.
Gear suggestions include good hiking boots or comfortable shoes, rain poncho, sun screen, insect repellent, snacks, water, and don’t forget your camera for some great pictures. Bring extra water for small children. I have found that a good slug of water when they get worn down can give them renewed energy. A good day pack to carry it all in is also a plus. There are no restrooms on the trail so take some TP and a trowel or shovel if you think you may have to go on the trail.