Sounds from the Kaweah River along Tokopah Falls Trail

With lush meadows, scented forests, towering walls and a picturesque river that culminates in a 1,200-foot waterfall, Tokopah Valley is an excellent place to experience Sierra splendor — without much effort.

The wide and easy-to-follow trail proceeds gradually uphill and never strays far from the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. Sounds of gushing water fill the ears and remain there the entire journey.

After passing numerous feeder creeks on wooden bridges and well-placed planks, the trail reaches the canyon wall where granite dominates the landscape. Across the river and looming 1,500 feet above is The Watchtower, a striking rock formation carved by an ancient glacier.

Your first glimpse of Tokopah Falls comes after 1 1/2 miles. The trail continues along the canyon wall, including one section where it has been blasted through a talus field, before ending abruptly near the base of the falls. Water levels are at peak flow right now, completely covering the steep face and spraying cool mist downstream. Cross-country travel beyond this point is not recommended.

The best time to view the falls is the afternoon, but there are fewer people in the morning. There's also a good chance you'll encounter some yellow-bellied marmots, intent on sharing your lunch.

Some of Tokopah Falls' upper stretches, not visible from below, can be seen from The Watchtower. This lofty perch is accessible from the nearby Lakes Trail.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 14, 2006.