Day Trip: Yosemite’s Chilnualna Falls

A moderate spring hike
By Matt Johanson

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Distance: Seven miles round trip

Time: Three to five hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Parking and trailhead: Dirt lot at the end of Chilnualna Falls Road, elevation 4,176 feet

Highest point: Elevation 6,535 feet

Best season: March through June

Permits: None needed for day use

Overview

Chilnualna Falls consists of a 240- foot waterfall and several impressive cascades in a scenic and little-known part of Yosemite. The half-day outing near Wawona provides an interesting alternative to better-known day hikes in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. Elevation gain and considerable heat in summer months combine to keep many hikers away, but the undeterred discover a hidden jewel of the park.

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Hiking the hike

Many folks who’ve explored Yosemite for years have never even heard of this one, so first let’s find it. From Wawona Road just north of Wawona, turn east on Chilnualna Falls Road. Drive about 1.5 miles past a school, grocery store and cabins to a dirt parking area on the right.

A sign points to the trailhead and there’s quickly a fork dividing hikers and horseback riders. Take the hikers’ option which passes by the picturesque Lower Cascade of Chilnualna Creek. After steep stone stairs, the trail turns and climbs as it leaves the creekside and winds its way northward up a ridge.

The climb eases as hikers ascend on switchbacks through a forest of oak, pine and cedar trees. Eventually you’ll gain a view of the Wawona Dome and the surrounding forest basin. To the south stands the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Hikers will get their best view of Chilnualna Falls after turning east on the final switchback. Enjoy it here, for though it’s a quarter-mile distant, the trail offers no closer view. But the worthy Upper Cascades of Chilnualna Creek await above the main waterfall. You’ve come this far, so go take a look before turning back.

Insider tips
Hike this one in the spring to beat the heat and catch the best waterfall viewing. Stream crossings may be needed early in the season.

Distances and details

Start: Parking area
0.1 miles: Lower Cascades
3.3 miles: View of Chilnualna Falls
3.5 miles: Edge of Chilnualna Falls, Upper Cascades
7.0 miles: Return to parking area

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Matt Johanson is the author of Yosemite Adventures, a guidebook of hikes, climbs and ski treks to be released in 2014. His writing can be found at mattjohanson.com.

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