Chilnualna Falls Trail is a 7.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Yosemite National Park, California that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, birding, horses, and backpacking and is best used from March until October. Horses are also able to use this trail.
Hike this lesser-known trail to discover Chilnualna Falls with a wading pool and cascades waiting at the top. Chilnuala Falls is a well-kept secret in Yosemite, simply because the majority of visitors to Yosemite National Park don't venture out of the Valley. If you are staying in Wawona, or have entered Yosemite through the South Entrance, then Chilnualna Falls is on your way down to the valley. Like most waterfall hikes in Yosemite (Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall excluded) you start below the waterfall and must hike up it, which means significant elevation gain. The trail starts around 4,000ft and you will hike up 2,200 feet to 6,200ft by the time you reach the top of the falls. The Falls are separated into 2 distinct sections: the shorter section is on top, and consists of several smaller waterfalls, leading into a pool before falling another 240ft final drop, a total of about 690ft. Unfortunately, you never get a clear view of the entire falls, and it is hard to even see the longer fall in its entirety except from the top (and you won't want to get too close to the edge). Luckily the pool and falls at the top are more than worth the steep 4-mile climb up.
Starting from the trailhead, you get a decent opportunity to warm up your legs with about a half mile of gradual incline before hitting granite cut stairs and switchbacks. There's ample opportunity to ease the burn in your legs after a few short steep uphill, which is nice when you're taking older kids who would otherwise want to stop every half mile or so to rest.
We hiked in late February, the snow was spotty until we reached about 5500 feet altitude. Starting the hike at 0500 in 20 degree weather wasn't bad but once you get up the exposed region .75 miles from the summit, it gets a lot cooler with downslope winds. The ambient temp was 18 at that point and because noticeably colder with the wind. We made fresh prints in the snow from where the trail again meets Chilnualna Falls and at the summit it is BRISK. The views are amazing and worth braving the wind and cold. Parts of the trail where it got icy would have been really nice to have crampons, especially the last .5 mikes to the summit (and a few smaller areas shortly before that). You have to weigh the inconvenience of carrying them with how determined you are to reach the summit, because there are parts that are pretty perilous in just good lugged boots. I did the hike in trail runners (my foot gear of choice for almost all hikes) and was fine since I had a good pair of socks, but for an unseasoned hiker, you may want to stick with something that takes a bit more bite in snow and ice f you plan on doing this in the winter or early spring.
My girlfriend and I backpacked this trail in September 2015. we did two day to Johnson lake. got a late start so we didn't make it to Royal Arch. it is possible to make it to Johnson I. on day. it's about 14 mils. Good fishing and there was still water in most of the streams.
Straight up but well worth the hike. Late summer, when the falls have slowed down, you can swim at the top edge!! It's beautiful.
If done in the full distance, as I did, it will be rather strenuous. Lots of inclined switchbacks with little to no river view for about 2/4 of the time. The long haul is worth the climb though. there is about 3 pools to stop at and the tallest has a plethora of holes to swim in. CAUTION!!! These pools that move slower than the rest of the river do have leeches in them. Check your body before you decide to go back down. bring water and walking sticks will help a ton.
Awesome chest deep pool midway up the falls. Well worth the hike!
We did only the first part of the trail, to the lower falls, and it was great. Only about a 45 minute hike total, which was all we needed this day. Our five year old did awesome on the hike. Not crowded at all.
We hiked up with the plan to spend the night at the top and then continue on the trail for five days. We found such a nice spot with a secluded pond not too far from the falls that we stayed there the entire time. Beautiful!
Was a very nice view at the end. A little tough on the way up, but just took a few breaks along the way. Would definitely do this one again!
This was a bit difficult, but doable! We made it to where the water falls are close up and the area has a rocky open area. We had lunch and then headed back down! Amazing views and spent the day with some great friends. We all felt it was an awesome hike and shouldn't be missed!
Thoroughly enjoyed this trail. Hiked it April 30. Started early and had the trail to ourselves. Very cool but as the day wore on the layers came off. The falls were really flowing. Had a picnic lunch above the falls where there was still snow. The sun was warming. On the hike back there were many people coming up. Bring water.
loved this trail. my group are in their 60s and 70s. the trail is shaded by the trees and this was very welcome as it was 80 F. the slope is very gradual. you scarcely feel the 2.300 feet go by.
we completed the ascent in just 2 hrs and 20 minutes.
the views of the lower falls are the best.