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 Distance8.4 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
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200
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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.
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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.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated August 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

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 offset website expenses. 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 To View Map

Hike Chilnualna Falls Trail Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

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

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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.
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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.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.