When we visited Sequoia National Park, we expected to see plenty of tall trees-after all, that’s what the park is most known for. But when we headed out to hike the Tokopah Falls Trail, we had no idea that we were going to find an amazing waterfall amidst steep cliffs and a rushing river. While it takes a bit of work to get to Tokopah Falls, it is definitely worth the effort and time.
While you may come to Sequoia National Park to have a jaw-dropping experience looking at the tallest trees in the world, we highly recommend you take the time to head out on this great hike!
The Tokopah Falls Trail is just one of many hikes and places to visit in Sequoia National Park. We cover this and many others in our thorough itinerary for Sequoia National Park. You can download our .pdf itinerary and use it to help you get started on your planning. We promise to take the guesswork out of your planning!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD OF THE TOKOPAH FALLS TRAIL
Map of the Tokopah Falls Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The parking area for the Tokopah Falls Trail is located in the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park. The Lodgepole area is quite popular as it provides a starting point for backcountry hiking, contains a visitor center and grocery and souvenir store, camping, the only showers in the park and access to day-hiking trails.
To get to the parking area, take the Generals Highway (the main highway through the park) and turn east onto Lodgepole Road. Head as far east as you can and find a parking spot. This will get you close to the trailhead.
- Directions from Grant Grove Village to the Tokopah Falls Trailhead (this will take about 50 minutes without traffic).
- Directions from the Sequoia National Park southern entrance to the Tokopah Falls Trailhead (this will take about an hour without traffic).
If you want to get to this trail and get a parking spot with predictability, then you want to be sure you head in here early. This is a very popular part of the park and the lot fills up quickly. When we went, we had to wait in line north of the parking area for about 30 minutes at a near standstill. We arrived at the parking lot just as they were re-opening access after the lot being closed due to being overcrowded.
Based on our notes you must think that the lot is small. It’s quite the opposite-the lot is quite large, with well over a hundred spots spread between several parking areas. Bottom line, when you get here expect others to be looking for spots as well, so just grab the first one you see and be happy with it, even if it means a bit of a walk to the trailhead!
There are restrooms behind the camp store as well as near the trailhead, but no restrooms while you are out on the trail. There is also a water filling station at both locations.
THE HIKE ALONG THE KAWEAH RIVER TO TOKOPAH FALLS
Tokopah Falls Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The hike to Tokopah Falls is a 4.0-mile (round-trip), moderately challenging trail and starts off by crossing the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River on a large bridge before hitting the dirt trail. Depending on where you parked, you may have already walked a half-mile, which is fairly common during busy times of year.
After you get on the dirt trail, the slight incline starts. You don’t really notice it as it is very slight, but continues almost constantly at the same rate for the first 1.7 miles of the hike. We also were distracted by the heavy flow of water in the nearby Kaweah River. Across the river is the Lodgepole Campground, which looked like a wonderful place to stay if you wanted to be in the middle of a beautiful area!
The Kaweah River is accessible from the trail, but be advised that the water is flowing very heavily and there are signs warning hikers of the danger of drowning. The risks are real, with the most recent death occurring in 2018.
The trail follows the Kaweah River closely for the first 1.3 miles, heading in and out of the forest. Along the way you’ll see plenty of wildflowers (if it’s the right time of year).
There are also several creek crossings. These were not difficult at all when we were there (in early July), but they can be heavier in the earlier days of summer or in the late spring. We (and the kids especially!) enjoyed stepping carefully across the rocks. We didn’t have any trouble with the crossings, but we do recommend having waterproof shoes in case you do slip into the creek bed.
Every so often the trail opens up and you can see fantastic views of the granite peaks across the Kaweah River. Being from New Hampshire, we see a lot of granite, but these cliffs were really impressive!
Much of the trail is in the shade, which will be a nice break if you’ve spend part of the day in the valley during your day in Sequoia.
At the 1.7-mile point, the trail yields the first views of Tokopah Falls. If you are unsteady on your feet, this is a great place to stop and view the falls. If you are up for a bit of rock scrambling, then we recommend continuing to get up and close to Tokopah Falls. Even if you do plan on continuing on, stop here and take a few pictures, as it’s from here that you’ll have the very best views.
The rest of the trail passes through a field of granite boulders and is exposed all the way up to the falls. As you get close, keep your eye out for marmot, as they frequent the viewing area near Tokopah Falls.
Tokopah Falls is not a single waterfall, but rather a cascading waterfall that ultimately falls over 1200 feet.
We loved getting up close to the falls, as the spray was amazing and quite refreshing after the hike on the way out.
While we happened to visit the year after a good snowfall, the falls are not always as amazing. Sometimes they are little more than a trickle in dry years, or as the summer turns to fall.
The area near Tokopah Falls did get a bit busy, as most hikers stay here for a bit of time before returning. It’s important to be careful, as the rocks are slippery and it can be hazardous if you are moving around haphazardly on tired legs!
The hike back goes quickly, taking about 10 minutes less than it does on the way out. All total, you can expect to spend about 2.5 hours on the trail if you take your time.
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE TOKOPAH FALLS TRAIL
This area of the park is full of activity, and there really is a ton of things to do. Here are a few ideas that we recommend you check out before you head out of the park or toward Kings Canyon National Park:
- The Lodgepole Visitor Center is a short walk from wherever you are parked. This is a great place to go to pick up information on the area and ask park rangers anything that you may want to know. There are also exhibits on the history of the area as well as a short video.
- We recommend visiting the General Sherman Tree as well as the Congress Trail. The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree (at over 275 feet high), but the Congress Trail leads you through the depths of the Sequoia Forest (and away from the crowds). It’s a bit of a hike from the Lodgepole parking lot, so head south for about a mile and park at the Wolverton Parking area and take the bus or hike to the General Sherman Tree area. Now, to be honest, if you have to pass this area up because of the crowds, it isn’t the end of the world. You can also access this area by hiking in from Morro Rock.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK AND THE SURROUNDING AREA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Ahead of your trip, be sure to download a copy of our continuously updated Sequoia National Park Itinerary. There is a lot to see and do in this park and you’ll want to be sure you have information at your fingertips to help plan out your day. Nearby Kings Canyon National Park is also covered by another itinerary as well.
- If you are looking at camping in the area, check out our extensive blog on Sequoia National Park Campgrounds. There are many to choose from and we’ll help you pick the right one for your visit. Also be sure to check out our extensive blog on What to See and Do in Sequoia National Park.
- We’ve created over 100 WPA style posters, including our Sequoia National Park poster. This is a great way to remember your trip to the National Parks!
- If you like National Park artwork, then you’ll love our product that allows you to create a vintage style travel poster from a photo. After you place an order, you can email a photo to us, pick your style and customized wording and then we’ll draft up a poster. Once we finalize the wording (after as many drafts as it takes), we’ll then print it and ship it to you for free. We’re confident you’ll love this unique gift.