Paradise Creek Trail an 'Overlooked Splendor'

Famous for its 14,000-foot peaks, gargantuan trees and rugged canyons, Sequoia National Park can be a little overwhelming.

Stand atop Moro Rock or beneath a Giant Sequoia and try not to gawk. Everything is so huge, so impossibly vast, it's easy to lose sight of the beauty found right beneath your feet.

Paradise Creek is a great place for a reminder. Located in the often-overlooked Foothills area of the park, this picturesque stroll beside waterfalls and native fauna tingles the senses without bludgeoning them.

Most people drive past the Paradise Creek Trail without realizing what they're missing. That's because in order to reach the trailhead, one must first park at the Hospital Rock Picnic Area and walk about a mile on a paved road to the Buckeye Flat Campground. (Day-use parking is not permitted at Buckeye Flat.)

The first half-mile along the road is the steepest section of the hike, great for leg stretching. While the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River rages below, thousands of feet above glistening snow melts away from the craggy summit of Castle Rocks. In between, blue lupine and golden poppies color the green hillside.

Follow the road past the campground entrance, then toward the signed trailhead on the left. In about a quarter-mile, the trail crosses the Middle Fork on a sturdy footbridge, ascends a short slope and meets Paradise Creek.

And what a meeting. Taking either of two forks in the trail, one arrives at a delightful waterfall framed by rust-colored granite. It's a great place for a picnic, or just to kick back and listen to the soothing hymn of rushing water.

The trail continues above the falls, making an abrupt switchback and leading to a ridge with outstanding views of Moro Rock, perched high across the canyon. This area is especially lush with wildflowers and ferns, growing underneath live oaks, willows and Sierra pine.

In a place such as this, one could walk forever. But about a mile from the footbridge, the trail ends where Paradise Creek comes crashing into a field of granite, pressed tightly against the canyon walls. It continues - faintly - for about a hundred yards before vanishing into the forest. All but experienced backcountry hikers should turn back here.

Though rangers have done an admirable job clearing the trail - recent work is evident in two areas - poison oak grows in abundance. Stay on the trail unless certain of what you're walking into. It's also a good idea to check exposed body parts for ticks.

One final word about safety: Though the river and creek look inviting, especially on a hot afternoon, swiftly moving water is dangerous. Stay out until flows slow in late summer.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on May 15, 2003