Chilnualna Falls, Yosemite: Big Waterfall, Tiny Crowd
Last year after backpacking past a very dry Chilnualna Creek my interest was peaked about the Chilnualna Falls located just a few short miles down the trail. Apparently I couldn’t go then – I had a firm nighttime destination besides the lake of any water to create falls – but stored in my memory I decided to check it out in the spring. This past weekend I decided to day hike the trail from Wawona to the falls. Curtis and I do not often travel south to the southern portions of the park for day hike, but with the springtime water flows it was well worth the drive to see this less visited fall.
Dayhike Chilnualna Falls, Yosemite
Trailhead: Take Wawona Rd (Hwy 41) to the Wawona area, turning onto Chilnualna Rd. Follow this winding residential road almost to it’s end where you will reach clearly marked parking, with bear boxes and restrooms. The trail starts from the end of the road.
Distance: 8.4 miles round trip, listed as a 2400 ft elevation gain. While the hike’s climb was constant the entire way to the falls the distance (switchbacks) of the trail never made it too steep. Paired with the (relatively) low elevation this is a good hike for starting to work out your calves without feeling too winded
I did not know that within the first quarter mile of the trail we were going to be hiking besides some lovely cascades. Given the crowds of Yosemite Valley this time of year (early spring) I might consider recommending this trail even to those visitors who do not want to hike the full 8 miles. The lower Chinchilla cascades would offer a quieter and less busy place to relax/explore, offering a nice contrast to the spectacle of the Valley’s powerhouse falls. Perhaps if you are driving past going to or from the southern Fresno park entrance?
From these first cascades the trail veers away from the creek and start the 4 miles of switchbacks up the the upper falls. Much of the trail was in shade, although I imagine it would still become blisteringly hot as summer quickly approaches. The largest of the upper falls is just barely visible as you hike up the trail through gaps in the trees. Unfortunately I think this is as good as a view of this large drop as you can get, but does make for a fun distraction as you try to find the best vantage point on the hike up.
At the top of the trail you walk right past the edge of this largest fall, much like the view at the precipice of Vernal Falls but without the security fence, and gain a view of the second and most easily visible of the Chilnualna Falls. Here we stopped for lunch and entertainment as we alarmingly watched other hikers jump over the rushing Chilnualna Creek to access the other side. I would recommend against testing your jump distance & luck, as I always do near the top of waterfalls, especially in the height of springtime flows.
The final fall is up and around another long switchback, an extension to the hike we almost skipped after lunching. I am glad I pushed us to go up to the final fall – it would be a shame not to after hiking all the way up there. It would be easy to explore around this flat near the creek trying to obtain the best view of the falls, right up until you need to make the trip back down to your car. More photos in the gallery below.