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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Great Spots to Take a Hike

Jul 26, 2016 10:00AM ● By Ben Ralph

Hit the Trail

August 2016
By Ben Ralph

As a friend once succinctly put it, hiking is simply walking, though sometimes harder than that. All things considered, hiking may be one of the oldest human activities there is, considering that much of our history involved walking to places without much more to guide us than a trail. Still, today, many groups of people would not understand the concept of hiking as something separate from everyday life, and the thought of trekking in the wilderness just for fun would seem outright absurd. If they knew that we typically drive to a location, walk around to see things, then drive home, they would probably consider us a hopeless and lost civilization. 

But the discussion of culture clashes and civilization decadence shall be left to the philosophers. Summer is upon us here in the Valley and we have better things to do. A frequently overlooked perk of living in the South Valley is location, especially when it comes to partaking in some fantastic trails. Are you a mountain person? To the east there’s the Sierra Nevada. Is the ocean more of your jam? To the west is the central coast. Whether your find yourself in the mountains or at the coast, several trails are worth the effort. Just pace yourself and enjoy the journey: no matter where you’re going or how fast you’re getting there, everyone gets the same view.  

First on the list needs little introduction: Yosemite. Within a two- to three-hour drive from the Visalia-Fresno area, Yosemite offers a garden of natural wonders easily viewable by the novice and expert hiker alike. Contrary to prior summers, an added benefit to hikers this year is the increased snowmelt, bringing the waterfalls back to their former glory. No trail is better suited for indulging in views of waterfalls than the Mist Trail, aptly named after the misty soaking that hikers tend to receive from Vernal and Nevada Falls. If one is simply after the views, a mere half-mile hike from the trailhead at Happy Isles to First Bridge will oblige you with views of Vernal Falls. For the enthusiast, continuing past Vernal Falls will bring you to Nevada Falls, and continuing from here begins the ascent toward Half Dome. Be warned, this trail is also the more popular one in Yosemite, and thus one can expect it to be a bit crowded over the summer. 

Next is Sequoia National Park. Known more for the Giant Sequoias than the waterfalls, Sequoia also offers many trails accessible to all levels of hikers. Day hikes make it easy for folks to hit the trail with minimal commitment to planning or travel. One such trail is the climb of Moro Rock, a two-mile mild to moderate trek with views of the Great Western Divide being the reward for those who reach the top. Another great day hike that also provides some cool relief is the Topokah Falls trail. An easy 3.4 mile roundtrip stroll along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, this trail begins in Lodgepole Campground and leads hikers to a scenic 1,200-foot waterfall. 

With summer brings the heat, and many Valley locals, though robust and hearty folks, must admit defeat, usually around July, and escape to the coast. With cool ocean breezes, green hills and excellent vistas to spare, the shame of defeat never felt so right. Naturally, the advantage to trails here is the addition of the ocean views, and there is no better option than the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park. Not just a clever name, this trail offers a casual stroll along the bluffs of the Pacific with several opportunities to explore tide pools along the way or just drink in epic sunset views at dusk. For a significantly more difficult challenge with more local flair, one can trek the many-faced god of the San Luis Obispo trails, High School Hill (AKA Red Tower Trail, AKA Tiger Ridge, AKA Lookout Hill, AKA Tower of Power, AKA Murray Hill). With breathtaking views of San Luis Obispo and Edna Valley given to victors, this trail offers three options with three very different difficulties. For the brave and in shape, start at Lizzie Street. For the daft, start at the trailhead on Sydney Street. For the realistic, take the Reservoir Canyon trailhead because, in the end, all roads lead to the top. 

The outdoors calls, and this call echoes from primal history to the modern human. Answer it. No matter if one is a beginner or an expert, there are adventures to be had. No matter the difficulty, in life or in nature, put one foot in front of the other, take time to appreciate your surroundings and when you get to the end, don’t miss the view.

Hiking tips:

Accessible hikes throughout California and neighboring states: