Hi there! I’m Mark, a tour director, interpretive guide, and wilderness first responder. I help conservation travel organizations with ecotrip marketing and program management. For fun, I develop and lead experiential trips in California and the Pacific Northwest. My passion is getting people outside – let’s go exploring!
I’m proud to have worked with the Sequoia Parks Conservancy for the past five years. My images helped the parks communicate their value to an enthusiastic public and generated revenue that supported visitor outreach and interpretive services. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are true treasures.
Everything in Sequoia National Park is on an immense scale and Tokopah Falls is no different.
Tokopah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park. Visitors can see it descend along a series of whitewater cascades, falling 1,200 feet (365 meters) in just about one mile of distance (1.6 km)!
Imagine standing in a glacial-formed valley surrounded by tall walls of granite. Before you is the beginning of the valley – a steep headwall that rises a quarter-mile to the skyline. At the skyline a white ribbon of water plummets from a large notch in the mountain. The water rushes down the steep cliff wall, darting and jumping, twisting and turning around jumbles of boulders. Such rocks might look petite from a distance, but they are the size of houses and cars. Quickly the ribbon appears larger and has defined movement, the cascades grow larger and closer. At the base of the waterfall a torrent of water tumbles over a cliff – it crashes into a deep pool of rolling and exploding white. This is Tokopah Falls.
Late spring offers the most dramatic views as snowmelt swells the river; though in the summer, as the snow disappears from the mountains, it is possible for the falls to appear almost dry. Regardless of the water level, this is a beautiful area.
Getting to Tokopah Falls is an enjoyable walk through forests and meadows next to the picturesque Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. The trail is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) one-way with just 500 feet (152 meters) of elevation gain – making it a good trip for families. The trailhead is located within the Lodgepole Campground on the north side of the easy-to-see stone bridge. The bridge area has easy access to the river and on hot days visitors take full advantage of the cool water. The park’s shuttle bus makes a stop at the campground just a few steps from the trailhead.
As you walk up the trail look for an impressive stone feature called the Watchtower on the south side of the valley. It dominates the skyline, rising 1,200 feet over the valley, so it is not hard to miss. The Watchtower is so big that it is a constant companion on the way to the waterfall.
On this trail my family has seen a variety of animals including mule deer and a black bear with two cubs. During summer the trail is used by a lot of visitors; if you want to avoid crowds travel in the early morning or late afternoon.
The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world!
How big is it? An interpretive display near the tree gives some perspective about the size of this giant, “Looking up at the General Sherman Tree for a six-foot-tall human is about the equivalent of a mouse looking up at the six-foot-tall human.”
In our video, we provide a ‘sense of scale’ with a visit to a stone inlay ‘footprint’ found along the trail. This footprint represents the size of the tree at its base. Stand in the middle of this footprint and turn slowly around to better appreciate the size. The tree at its base is 103 feet in circumference (31 meters), and 36.5 feet (11 meters) in diameter.
The General Sherman Tree is approximately 2,200 years old. It is not the oldest or the tallest – it is the biggest in terms of volume. How big? Back to the interpretive display, “If the Sherman Tree’s trunk could be filled with water it would provide enough water for 9,844 baths. That’s one bath every day for 27 years.”
If you want to see the tree even closer continue down the trail. The trail has lots of opportunities to see more, learn about and better appreciate this magnificent wonder of nature.
Visitors to the park can easily travel to the tree via the park’s shuttle. The shuttle is a free service offered to park visitors in the summer. An added benefit is that after walking half a mile downhill from the main shuttle stop you can easily jump on another shuttle and continue to see the sights of the park. Walking half a mile is not that far for some, but if you have an elderly relative who is not used to the altitude they will thank you for not having to climb back uphill.
Car parking is available at the main parking lot, but finding space can be a pain in the summer. Take the shuttle to avoid these headaches.
People visiting Sequoia National Park often overlook the Hospital Rock area. To many visitors it is not a destination; rather it is an unusual name on the map that lies between the Foothills Visitor Center (at the south entrance of the park) and the popular Giant Forest with its massive sequoia trees.
If you have the time check out Hospital Rock – it is a curious place. One of the first things to notice is the location; it is in a transition zone between the drier foothills and the mountainous region above. The highway also reflects this transition; after following the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River valley the road turns sharply at Hospital Rock and begins a steep series of switchbacks and a climb of roughly 4,000 feet.
At the parking area is a large, smooth monolith that people might think is Hospital Rock – it is a good place for kids to play, to sit and enjoy a sandwich, maybe wave ‘hello’ to people driving by – but this is not Hospital Rock. Nearby are several picnic tables and an interpretive display. At the display you read about the Native people, the Patwishas, and get a glimpse into their lives within this area. The display introduces Hospital Rock and the petroglyphs; apparently the designs were made before the Patwishas settled here. Finally, it tells about this place’s unusual name, Hospital Rock, which was given when a trapper received medical care for a gunshot wound in the 1870s.
Just across the road is a small sign that reads, “Hospital Rock” and behind it is a house-sized boulder. It is odd how this massive stone was there all the time – but was not easily seen.
This great stone is oddly shaped – it appears to have been cleaved, part of it leaning over to one side from the main form. The cleaved area is flat and has been used as a large canvas for petroglyphs, ancient drawings and shapes that have been carved or etched into the rock. Several steps in the rock allow visitors to get a closer look. Many of the rock ‘drawings’ are somewhat faded and streaked by mineral runoff and time, but some a very visible.
At the backside of this rock are several overhangs and caves that provide great places to explore and play for families.
Nearby is a short paved trail leading down to the river. After a short walk of just a few minutes you arrive to see white and tan colored boulders strewn in the riverbed as blue, white and emerald colored water moves quickly downstream.
Exploring the area around Hospital Rock reveals something curious, even mysterious – whispers of an old story are here.
Moro Rock is an impressive granite dome in Sequoia National Park. If you stand in the valley below it commands the skyline at almost 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) overhead! Visitors who drive from the south entrance of the park (from the Three Rivers area) along the Generals Highway will see this massive dome with increasing detail as they head further into the park.
From the Giant Forest Museum visitors can either drive to the Moro Rock trailhead or take a free shuttle. If you have the time hike the Moro Rock Trail through the Giant Forest. The hike is less than 1.5 miles (2.4 km) one-way to Moro Rock and offers hikers a ‘Wow’ factor not available by seeing these giants from behind the glass windows of a vehicle.
The trail to the top of Moro Rock, at first, appears to be a gentle sloping path, but it quickly ascends 300 vertical feet in just over a quarter of a mile. If you are not used to the altitude take your time and enjoy the views. For those who reach the top the scenery is ‘jaw-dropping.’
If you are visiting in mid or late summer be prepared for a grey looking fog to obstruct your view. Sadly, this grayness is smog; although it might be smoggy do not let that diminish you having a great experience. A visit to Moro Rock is worth the trip.
A park brochure and map of the Giant Forest (sold at the various Visitors Centers) best describes what is being seen from this vantage point, “the often smoggy view includes the foothills of Sequoia National Park, the community of Three Rivers, the San Joaquin Valley, and sometimes even the Coastal Ranges, located over a hundred miles to the west. To the east the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River are visible. Trailside exhibits identify the peaks of the Great Western Divide.”
Crescent Meadow was apparently one of John Muir’s favorite places – and upon seeing it we quickly understood his appreciation for this splendid location in Sequoia National Park. The abundantly green meadow is about half a mile in length; it’s perimeter is guarded by the reddish-brown colored trunks of the immensely sized giant sequoias. This combination of colors and nature is set like a gemstone against a deep blue sky of the High Sierra.
We walked a short distance and rounded the southern section of the meadow. As we walked up the eastern edge a friendly passer-by informed us a bear was near the trail. A few minutes later we saw the bear; it was almost camouflaged by the tall meadow grass. He was not aggressive and just seemed to be enjoying his day. We watched quietly with just hushed whispers to express our wonder, a heightened sense of awareness and respect. We kept our distance not wanting to disturb the bear or call any additional attention to ourselves.
At the second right in the trail we continued over a short rise and saw another brightly green-carpeted meadow before us. This was Log Meadow and after seeing several large logs criss-crossing the meadow it was easily to see possibly how the meadow arrived at it’s name. Here we found a bench along the trail and enjoyed some lunch.
Toward the north end of the meadow was a very curious sight, a burned out redwood tree that was literally a log home. This is “Tharp’s Log” a fallen giant sequoia that is about eight feet tall at the open end. The open end is covered by a shingled cabin-like outside. An open door allows visitors to step just inside, another sign asks visitors not to disturb the cabin’s interior. Inside the belly of this sequoia is a fireplace, table, hinged window, shelf and a bed frame. The log appears to go back about 50 feet. An interpretive sign tells that Mr. Hale D. Tharp was one of the first residents to the area. He used the meadow as range for his livestock. The log was his home for every summer from 1861 to 1890!
Continuing westward the trail ascends over a small ridge. Here we walked through more giant redwoods and made note of the some of trees marked on the map. The trail re-connected with Crescent Meadow and took us back to the parking area.
After a short wait at the shuttle stop a shuttle arrived to take us back to the Giant Forest Museum. We had been out for several hours. It had been a great visit.
When visiting Sequoia National Park consider parking the car and taking the free shuttle to see the sights.
The shuttles are clean and the drivers are courteous. One driver in particular was a real hoot and kept us well entertained as she drove us through the Giant Forest.
It was really great not having to search for a parking space or having to drive back to our camping spot after a long day.
My family took advantage of the morning shuttles. At this time the shuttles had just a couple of riders and the destinations had fewer crowds. Shuttles run every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer. The shuttle service makes stops in several areas including:
Dorst Campground, Wuksachi Village, Lodgepole Campground, Lodegepole Visitors Center, the General Sherman Tree Main Trail, the Sherman Tree Wheelchair Accessible Trial, the Giant Forest Museum, Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow.
For complete dates of operation and any route changes check the park’s newspaper. You are given a newspaper when you enter the park.
Buck Rock a great day trip for those visiting the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.
A visit to the Buck Rock fire lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a combination of adventure and play. Just getting there from the main road is exciting: you drive up a dirt road through forest lands, then climb a rugged staircase up to the side of a granite wall to a fire lookout on top of a massive rock dome.
Most people who see Buck Rock will view it from Kings Canyon Overlook along the General’s Highway. The General’s Highway is the primary road between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From this often crowded car turnout folks who look east will see a small, and remote looking fire lookout about 2 miles in the distance.
We wanted to go exploring and take a closer look.
Our trip started from the General’s Highway at the Big Meadows Road turnoff. We drove east on this paved road for about 3 miles through beautiful forest service lands to a Horse Camp. Here we turned north onto a dirt road and continued for roughly another 2 miles. The dirt road became a little rocky in some areas and was a little intimidating. We were glad to have a car with some higher clearance. [Note: later that day we did notice a mini-van and a small sedan that had made the drive.]
The parking area was essentially a pull-over along the side of the dirt road. A sign directed us to walk the last quarter-mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail and saw the impressive looking Buck Rock (shown); a chain of stairs rose from the base of a great stone and directed people to the fire lookout at the top.
At the bottom of the stairs were several friendly volunteers from the Buck Rock Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of fire lookouts and other historic facilities. The volunteers gladly answered questions and told us more about the history of the fire lookout.
We started our ascent on some very rugged and sturdy looking stairs with equally solid side-rails. The wind was a little strong so we tightened down our hats and continued on. The stairs included 172 steps – each with a breathtaking view. Finally, we reached the top of Buck Rock (shown) and entered the 14 x 14 foot, well-maintained fire lookout staffed by Ranger Kathryn. She is on duty 5 days a week during the fire season. Volunteers and other staff help maintain the station during her days off. This tiny station, located at 8,500 feet in elevation, commands some fantastic views!
In the corner of this tiny space was a small, but comfortable looking bed. In another corner was a tiny refrigerator and cooking stove, next to it was a miniature wood stove. All of the food, water, and firewood must be carried up the same 172 steps. One wall included a desk and work area. In the middle of the lookout was an Osborne Fire Finder device, an instrument that allows Rangers to sight a fire and determine the directional bearing (shown). The Ranger demonstrated how it worked by using two sighting apertures on the side of a large circular map. A fire was actually burning in the distance and from this high vantage point, we could easily sight it. The fire was burning 8 miles away! The sides of the lookout had large and roomy windows that made this small space feel spacious. I was surprised at how organized, comfortable and non-claustrophobic this tiny place was.
Outside, the building had a small walkway around the perimeter of the structure. Looking over the edge you felt as though you were suspended over open air. On the roof, hanging from one corner was a Hummingbird Feeder. During our visit, several times a Hummingbird (Anna’s or Rufus) zipped up and drank from the feeder.
We thanked everybody for a great visit and slowly walked back down the 172 stairs enjoying amazing views with each step.
For her adventurous spirit and climbing Buck Rock our youngest family member (age 9) earned an “I Climbed the 172 Steps to the Top of Buck Rock Fire Lookout” certificate. All kids who make the ascent can earn this certificate.
While camping at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park several cute ‘chipmunk-like’ critters would quickly scurry across the ground, over rocks and under picnic tables in our area.
These critters were not just cute, but brazen. Sometimes one would jump up on the table to see what you were eating, or if the opportunity permitted, to inspect an open backpack sitting on the ground.
They were also silly. One or two would spring with the ease of a gymnast onto a sunny bolder, then stretch their out body on the warm stone and ‘enjoy some rays.’ If they felt unsafe they would quickly dart away.
What exactly was this cute, brazen and silly little creature? Most of the other campers in our area called them Chipmunks; a few called them Ground Squirrels.
A quick look in a California field guide solved the mystery. Chipmunks did exist in the area but these small mammals had a white-strip down either side bordered by a heavy black stripe. Plus they did not have any stripes on their face. These were Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels.
Shown is a picture of a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel that visited our campsite.
Here are some characteristics to identify these cute, brazen and silly little critters when they visit your campsite at Sequoia National Park-
1) They are very cute.
2) A white strip on each side bordered by a heavy black stripe.
3) Their head and shoulders are plain – no stripes on their face.
Reference: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.