Distance: 8.4 miles (13.5 km) round trip
Trailhead Elevation: 4,200 feet (1,280 meters)
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet (700 meters)
Hiking Time: 4 – 6 hours
Why hike to Chilnualna Falls? While Yosemite Valley’s Mist Trail is world famous for its two waterfalls, the Chilnualna Falls trail has three, plus some lively bonus cascades near the beginning of the trail. It’s also practically deserted compared to the Mist Trail. The trade offs: it’s difficult to get near the uppermost falls at high water or to get near the tallest one at all, and the Mist Trail’s falls are taller and, being fed by a larger river, more spectacular.
Difficulty: Fairly strenuous; a 7 out of 10. It’s not as steep as the most challenging stretches of the Mist Trail, but it climbs relentlessly and it’s a long hike.
Scenery Summary: Chilnualna Falls consists of a 50-foot (15-meter) fall, followed by a series of pools and a 100-foot cascade, followed by a 240-foot (70-meter) capper of a cataract.
Best Time to Visit: In the spring, when there’s plenty of water rushing over the falls. This relatively low-elevation hike so start early in the summer as it can get unpleasantly hot by the afternoon.
Crowd Factor: Light but not lonely.
Nearest Bathrooms: There are outhouses at the trailhead parking lot. If you have a sensitive nose, you can find bathrooms with plumbing at The Redwoods In Yosemite Vacation Home Rentals and Event Center and at the far end of the Wawona General Store/Pioneer History Center parking lot.
Nearest Snacks: At the Pine Tree Market (half a mile back the way you came). There’s also a general store and restaurant at Wawona, roughly two miles (3.2 km) away.
Getting There: Start by finding the Wawona Hotel and General Store in southern Yosemite. They’re five miles (8 km) north of the south entrance and 21 miles (34 km) south of Yosemite Valley on Highway 41.
Once you’re at the Wawona, drive north across the bridge crossing the South Fork of the Merced River and then turn right on Chilnualna Falls Road. It’ll be the first right after the bridge, about a hundred meters north of it. Once you’re on Chilnualna Falls Road, go just over 1.5 miles (2.5 km) to the trailhead parking lot, which will be on your right. Here are Google Street View panoramas of the Chilnualna Road turnoff, the turnoff to the parking area, and the trailhead area.
Parking: There’s a dirt lot near the trailhead. It holds twenty or so cars, and it’s rarely full.
Text credit: YosemiteHikes.com
Text credit: Redwoods In Yosemite
Photo credit: Yuli Gotsev