Chilnualna Falls, Wawona, Yosemite National Park, CA



We started our May long weekend at 10am at the trailhead at Chilnualna Falls. Parking was scarce, but we managed to snag one of the last two regular spots, lots more for creative parkers. Parking area and some of the road in was dirt/packed gravel with potholes, though our low clearance 2WD sedan made the journey just fine. A sign indicated the presence of mountain lions. Definitely keep kids close.

Falls at beginning of Chilhualna Falls Trail, Yosemite NP

Falls as high as the eye can see, waterfalls at beginning of Chilhualna Falls Trail, Yosemite


We followed the Foot Trail (vs Stock Trail,) going uphill. Within a mile there was a spur trail going towards the crashing river alongside, so loud we couldn't hear ourselves speak. The trail here was narrow, muddy and uneven but it took us close enough for us to be misted by the cascades. The water cascades seem to reach high above as far as our eyes can see, beyond the trees above us. I wondered at the time if this was Chilhualna Falls, though it was too close to the trailhead. We saw many families with kids here.

Falls at beginning of Chilhualna Falls Trail through the trees, Yosemite NP

Falls at beginning of Chilhualna Falls Trail through the trees, Yosemite NP


We followed the snaking trail up from the misty falls to a sign that stated 4.2 miles to Chilhualna Falls. Here the trail veered away from the creek, under trees and into flowering meadows. Soon we caught a glimpse of two more cascades of waterfalls in the distance. Though we weren't very close to the falls, we could still hear the crashing waters nearby. Our trail took us across a few streams, some under small waterfalls. We easily made it across the streams hopping rocks and balancing on logs.

Trail through meadows at Chilhualna Falls, Yosemite NP

Trail through meadows at Chilhualna Falls, Yosemite NP


A couple more miles and many breaks later, we found ourselves at the top of a waterfall cascade. A shading tree invited us to have lunch under it. After lunch we followed the trail which continued on stone stairs running beside the gushing creek.

The brink of the first tier of Chilhualna Falls, Yosemite NP

The brink of the 1st tier of Chilhualna Falls, Yosemite NP


A couple switchbacks later, we found ourselves staring up at a very tall falls made up of 4-5 tiers directly on top of each other. It looked like a white-frosted multi-tiered wedding cake to me. It was beautiful. Of course, our first inclination was to go towards this giant falls. One of our boys had other ideas. He decided that he was done and would not go any further. He was not open to being convinced. We decided at this point, to take a few pictures, and make this our turnaround point.

3rd tiers of Chilhualna Falls, looks like a tall white wedding cake

3rd set of tiers of Chilhualna Falls, looks like a tall white wedding cake


The hike down was all downhill. Energy wise, it was much easier, though my toes didn't appreciate it. Our 10 mile hike took 6 hours, including all breaks and kid- bribing sessions. We encountered many backpackers along our hike, and found out that a permit is needed for overnight stays. This wasn't a terribly busy trail, certainly not compared to the Valley hikes.

View just below the 2nd tier of Chilhualna Falls, Yosemite NP

 The view from the bottom of tier 2 of Chilhualna Falls


Practical Information (as of May 2017):

Our hike: 2400 elev change (starting elevation: 4000 ft), about 50% shade, 10 miles rt from parking lot, ascent was gradual, uphill all the way to falls, downhill when returning to trailhead

Features: amazing rushing cascades of Chilnualna Creek before Chilnualna Falls. At least 4 clusters of waterfall cascades within ½ mile of trailhead on foot trail (not stock trail), get misted by the gushing cascades of water of Chilnualna Creek, walk to the 3 clusters of Chilhualna Falls cascades

Directions: Arrive at Wawona Hotel, 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. Once you're on Chilnualna Falls Road, go just over 1.5 miles to the trailhead parking lot, which will be on your right.

 Amenities: vault toilet, bear safe for food, limited parking at trailhead

 Website: Wawona Area Falls, Yosemite NP


Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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