Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
USGS Topo Maps: Wawona; Mariposa Grove
More information: www.nps.gov/yose
Directions: From the south entrance to the park (16 miles north of Oakhurst on highway 41), drive 4 miles on Wawona Road to the town of Wawona, and take a right on Chilnualna Falls Road. Drive 1.7 miles and park on the right side of the road. Cross the road and access the single-track trail.
The hike: Located in the southern part of Yosemite, Chilnualna Falls offers solitude not often found in the more popular areas of the park. The trail ascends parallel to Chilnualna Creek, and gives hikers great views of three different waterfalls. The first happens almost immediately. The trail ascends a steep staircase next to the cascade. Following this, it switchbacks to a meadow, half a mile in. Here, views of nearby Wawona Dome (elevation 6,897) open up. False trails lead to the left and right; the main path crosses the meadow (seemingly diverging from the main trail) into a grove of tall pines. If you find yourself descending, you have taken the wrong direction. (Guess how I know!)
The trail continues at a lesser grade through the pines, through another meadow and then begins some more switchbacks. At about two miles in, a clearing offers great views of Wawona Dome, and soon afterward, the lower tier of Chilnualna Falls can be seen. The trail continues along the south face of the ridge, with great views of the valley below, eventually climbing another stone stairway to reach the lower tier of the falls. From there, you continue to the ascent to a trail junction. Here, you can scramble down the rocks to Chilnualna Creek and see the upper tier of the falls, which cascade down a series of six drops into a clear pool. If you are careful, you can get close to the waterfall and enjoy great views of the valley as well.
About the author:
David Lockeretz is an avid hiker based in Long Beach, CA. He is the founder and chief author of L.A.’s newest hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com. When not found on the trails, he is a musician and music educator, founder of the music instruction networking site www.findmymusicteacher.com.