Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail

Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions to Chilnualna Falls
  • How On Earth Do You Say Chilnualna Falls?
  • Chilnualna Falls Trail Maps
  • Where to Park for the Chilnualna Falls Trail
Total Distance (?)8.4 miles (13.5 km)
Hike Time3-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,500 feet (762m)
Highest Elevation6,450 feet (1966m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200

The hike to Chilnualna Falls is one of Yosemite’s undiscovered gems. And, of course, when I say “undiscovered,” I mean in loosely, but in practical terms, this waterfall hike only has a fraction of the crowds that other Yosemite waterfall hikes have. The Chilnualna Falls Trail is in the southern Wawona section of the park, and offers a multi-cascading waterfall, swimming holes, views of Wawona Dome, and beautiful trails. If you’ve done the big name hikes already or are just looking for something a little more peaceful, the Chilnualna Falls Trail is the move.

Chilnualna is pronounced chil-noo-al-na, but some folks say chill-na-wall-na. It’s a Piute word for “leaping waters.”

How to Get to Chilnualna Falls

The main trail to Chilnualna Falls starts at:
Chilnualna Falls Trailhead, Yosemite National Park, 8154 N Chilnualna Falls Rd, Wawona, CA 95389

Unlike most trailheads in Yosemite, the Chilnualna Falls Trail starts at the eastern end of residential Wawona. There are houses, businesses, and the streets are small. Please drive slowly, respect the locals, and only park in the designated trailhead areas.

Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 2
There is parking along the side of the road.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 3
And more parking in the dirt lot at the end of the last parking area.

The trailhead parking can get busy because there are people who hike to only the lower falls (a 10-minute walk) and folks who use this to do backcountry trips in Yosemite. Even if the lot is busy, your hike to Chilnualna Falls probably won’t be.

Gear for the Hike

The trail can get muddy and there are granite sections, so good hiking footwear is a must. And since it’s a climb, trekking poles will be helpful. I’d recommend proper hiking gear if you have it, and fitness gear if you don’t. There is water along the route but you need to treat it, otherwise 2L should be okay unless it’s really hot outside.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI 
My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.

My January 2022 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Chilnualna Falls Trail Maps

The Chilnualna Falls Trail has been around since the Wawona Hotel was built in 1876, so it’s pretty well-established and easy to follow. I’m sure that plenty of people do the hike without any maps, but having a map and GPX loaded on your GPS will help.

If you go off-trail at the falls, know that people fall, get hurt, and can easily die. The parks service has an article on someone who had to be evacuated from Chilnualna Falls. Take it seriously.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.


How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail Elevation Profile
The bad news is that you climb all the way to the falls. The good news is that, compared to other Yosemite hikes, the hike is not too steep.

3d Map

Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail 3d Map
This reverse-view of the hike shows how the trail climbs up from Wawona to the falls. The granite dome on the left is the Wawona Dome which you’ll see on the hike.

Chilnualna Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 4
There’s a trail sign at the end of the parking lot. Walk up the paved road for a short distance.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 5
Look for the little uphill and trail sign. The actual trail starts right after that. There’s a metal Yosemite-style trail sign at the start.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 6
Here’s the start of the trail with the metal trail sign.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 7
The trail starts heading uphill.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 8
As you hike you’ll probably hear, and eventually see, the lower falls of Chilnualna Creek.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 9
And soon the trail gets some stairs and winds up to the left of the falls. You can explore the base of the falls, but as always, exercise caution. Most of the non-hiker crowds will end their hike here.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 10
At the top of the stairs, hike left to continue on the trail, avoiding the use trails around the falls to the right.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 11
Shortly after the falls, you’ll cross the wide dirt area. The trail is well marked with the metal Yosemite NP signs.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 12
Leave the crowds behind and start the climb to the upper falls.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 1
At the big flat granite area, the trail continues sharply to the left.

This beginning stretch of the hike has some use trails over to backcountry camp areas on Chilnualna Creek.

Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 13
There are a few small stream crossings and muddy areas on the hike. Spring is the best time to see the falls, but you’ll also get more water and mud along the trail.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 14
The trail winds around through the brush.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 15
As the trail starts to climb you’ll get some nice views of Wawona Dome, the big smooth granite formation on the other side of the valley.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 16
Get into the groove of the climb, which is steady and shady.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 17
At around 2 miles in, you’ll get views of the biggest cascade of Chilnualna Falls. You won’t be able to get this view from the top (you pop out above it), so soak it all in now.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 18
After another long stretch of climbing (and no junctions or turns) you’ll come to a granite section through the boulders. You’re almost there.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 19
When you get to the top of the falls (on the right here), make the hard left. If you explore the falls, know that the drop is extreme and the rocks are slippery.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 20
The trail winds up along the left of the creek. You’ll be able to see another cascade as you climb up the stone stairs.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 22
When you get to this section, you can hop over the rocks to the right and explore the pools. All of that area is “off-trail” and needs to be treated with caution.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 21
There are some decent swimming holes and areas to soak your feet.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 23
As you hike through the falls area, the upper falls will come into view. That’s it for the falls.
Chilnualna Falls Trail Directions 24
When you get to the trail junction and sign, you just turn around and head back down the way you came.

Want to have a great day hiking around Wawona? Hike the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias at sunrise, have brunch at the Wawona Hotel, and then work it off on this hike to Chilnualna Falls.

This guide last updated on September 17, 2020. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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