Tokopah Falls

Sequoia National Park / Lodgepole, California, USA

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 3
Tokopah Falls blending in somewhat with the remnants of snow
Tokopah Falls (also known as Tokopah Valley Falls) probably has the tallest cumulative drop of the known and accessible waterfalls that we're aware of in Sequoia National Park.

It's said to drop some 1200ft at the head of Tokopah Valley, but the cascade twists and turns as it tumbles its way down into the Middle Fork Kaweah River so we never really got to see the whole height of the falls in one shot (if it is indeed as tall as stated). Watching over the whole scene is the so-called Watchtower - a pointy rock formation across the river on Tokopah Valley, which prominently showed itself starting at roughly the half-way point of the roughly 3.4-mile round trip out-and-back trail.

We've read that this waterfall can dry up in late Summer though each time we've come here, it was during Spring. And for some strange reason, both of those times had enough snow to make the waterfall appear to blend in with the rest of the scenery. I also had read that it was possible to look down upon this cascade from a different, more strenuous trail to the Watchtower, which leaves from Wolverton. However, that was something we haven't tried so we can't say more on that.

Looking through the trees at one of the ephemeral waterfalls across the river beneath the Watchtower From the trailhead (see directions below), we had to cross a sturdy bridge over the Middle Fork Kaweah River, and then continue on the trail immediately to our right just after the bridge. A sign indicating "Tokopah Valley Trail" helped us identify where to continue.

Next, the trail pretty much meandered in parallel with most of the river. The hike felt like it was mostly flat as the elevation gained here wasn't noticeable. We were always within earshot of the rushing river (which rushes turbulently in the Spring), and in some stretches, we were close enough to even see the river do its thing snaking through the valley.

About half-way into the hike, we started to notice the Watchtower across the river from various angles, which changed as we continued along the trail. We also noticed some tall but temporary waterfalls as well, which helped to keep our interest in the scenery throughout the hike. Moreover, we happened to see some deer on our latest hike in 2005, which further assured us that this part of the ecosystem was more or less healthy and minimally disturbed by man.

Eventually after about 1.5 miles into the hike (after crossing over a pair of creeks), the trail started to get rougher as we traversed a large boulder field and gained most of the overall 500ft elevation change. It was also during this stretch that we started to get a clean view of Tokopah Falls and its twisting cascade coming down the head of the U-shaped Tokopah Valley. As we got closer to the end of the trail, less of the uppermost tiers of the waterfall was seen, but then we got to examine more closely the tumbling cascade's main "bulbs" (since that was how some of the cascade appeared to us). We opted not to do any more scrambling beyond trail's end to go any higher or much lower as the scrambling became trickier and a bit more treacherous with the presence of the fast-moving water.

Also from the very end of the trail, we were able to look downstream where we could see the pointy peak of the Watchtower as well as some surprise ephemeral waterfalls plunging right across from Tokopah Falls as well as beneath the base of the Watchtower. For the purposes of photography, it seemed like this was an ideal afternoon waterfall as the falls faced west.

Anyways, this was our turnaround point, and the rest of the hike back was pretty smooth sailing as it was pretty much all downhill.

Directions: To get to the trailhead, you first have to get to the Lodgepole Campground turnoff, which sits right at the heart of the vehicle-accessible part of Sequoia National Park (about 75-90 minutes north of Three Rivers at the south entrance of the park).

Turn into the campground and its large car park and drive about 3/4-mile to the Log Bridge part of Lodgepole Camp. There's a bridge traversing the Marble Fork Kaweah River here, and the trail starts immediately to the right just after crossing the bridge.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Looking towards the Watchtower and a trio of ephemeral waterfalls from the end of the Tokopah Falls trail
Another look at the twisting cascade of Tokopah Falls
Crossing the bridge to get to the trailheadCrossing the bridge to get to the trailhead

My parents going past the trail sign and meandering along the Middle Fork Kaweah RiverMy parents going past the trail sign and meandering along the Middle Fork Kaweah River

Spotted this trio of deer along the Tokopah Valley TrailSpotted this trio of deer along the Tokopah Valley Trail

Bend in the Middle Fork Kaweah RiverBend in the Middle Fork Kaweah River (this was taken on our first trip in 2002 when the weather was less than ideal and snow was everywhere)

An ephemeral waterfall across the valleyAn ephemeral waterfall across the valley

Looking up at the Watchtower through the clouds in 2002Looking up at the Watchtower through the clouds in 2002

First look at the Watchtower and an ephemeral waterfall around the half-way point of the trailFirst look at the Watchtower and an ephemeral waterfall around the half-way point of the trail

Distant view of Tokopah Falls in the snow in 2002Distant view of Tokopah Falls in the snow in 2002

Mom ducking under overhanging rock at rocky partMom ducking under overhanging rock as the trail got to the rougher last 1/4-mile

My parents approaching the impressive Tokopah FallsMy parents approaching the impressive Tokopah Falls

Tokopah Falls near the end of the trailAs we got closer to the falls, the upper tiers started to become more blocked from view

Another ephemeral waterfall tumbling against the sun below the WatchtowerAnother ephemeral waterfall tumbling against the sun below the Watchtower

Mom looking at part of Tokopah Falls from the end of the trailMom looking at part of Tokopah Falls from the end of the trail. Note the faint rainbow from the late afternoon sun.

This was as low as I would scramble for this more fulfilling look at the lower section of Tokopah Falls (taken in 2002)This was as low as I would scramble for this more fulfilling look at the lower section of the falls (taken in 2002)

Last look at Tokopah Falls before heading back (taken in 2002)Last look at the falls before heading back (taken in 2002)

On the way back to the trailhead from Tokopah Falls, we saw this deer crossing the trailOn the way back to the trailhead, we saw this deer crossing the trail


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Left to right sweep of the falls under some threatening skies, also showing the Watchtower


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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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Correction on Tokopah Falls 
The article about Tokopah Falls is incorrect. Tokopah is not on the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River as stated in the article. Instead, Tokopah Falls …

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