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Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail Featured
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Yosemite Hikes

Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail

  • 8.4 miles - Hard Effort
  • 3-5 Hours (Total)
  • 2,500 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 6,450 feet
  • No Dogs Allowed

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.

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

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.

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There is parking along the side of the road.
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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.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated June 2024)

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

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

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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There's a trail sign at the end of the parking lot. Walk up the paved road for a short distance.
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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.
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Here's the start of the trail with the metal trail sign.
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The trail starts heading uphill.
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As you hike you'll probably hear, and eventually see, the lower falls of Chilnualna Creek.
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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.
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At the top of the stairs, hike left to continue on the trail, avoiding the use trails around the falls to the right.
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Shortly after the falls, you'll cross the wide dirt area. The trail is well marked with the metal Yosemite NP signs.
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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.

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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.
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The trail winds around through the brush.
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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.
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Get into the groove of the climb, which is steady and shady.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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There are some decent swimming holes and areas to soak your feet.
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As you hike through the falls area, the upper falls will come into view. That's it for the falls.
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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.

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.