“An impressive number of significant waterfalls is the reward on this strenuously steep trail.”
— Megan W
Views · Waterfall
Only partial shade on this trail and its low elevation means you're best off making an early start and you will want lots of water and sun protection.
Chilnualna Falls drop about 700 feet in total, but this distance is broken into several smaller cascades and you never really get a view of the entire falls. This being said, they are still spectacular and there are several inviting pools to wade in when conditions are safe. The other benefits of these falls over others in Yosemite Valley are that they are much less crowded and there are several smaller "teaser" cascades and refreshing pools along the way.
From the end of the Chilnualna Falls Road, head east following signs uphill to the trail. Take the "foot trail" option instead of the stock trail - although they meet up again shortly, the pedestrian trail is more scenic. The initial climb may seem daunting, but the grade does mellow considerably later on. Ascend steep rock steps and ledges next to the creek as it plunges through rocky chutes. During the spring runoff, the water really crashes through here. There are side trails that can be used to make short detours to better view the creek and get doused by mist.
Soon the trail leaves the forest shade and enters terrain that is more scrubby and dry. Cross a few creeks over log footbridges. Soon, views of Wawona Meadow and Wawona Dome's granite faces appear through clearings. Head steadily uphill over more alpine forest floor with numerous challenging switchbacks up the hillside. You should start to hear the falls and get tantalizing side-views. The trail now exits the forest and ascends a rocky ledge that is plenty wide for safe passage, but is exposed to a drop-off on one side. There are great views of the Wawona Valley from here!
From the top of the main cascade, about all you'll be able to see is the water rushing over the edge. Continue up more stone steps and around another knob to the next set of falls. There is a large, more accessible pool here for wading or picnicking next to. This is a reasonable turn-around point, but if you'd like to see the top of the upper falls, continue along the same trail. You must get across the creek to reach the top-most pool and 50-foot falls (sometimes this crossing is not safe).
From the top of the upper falls, the trail continues deep into the backcountry and can be used by backpackers with permits for multi-day excursions. Destinations include Royal Arch Lake and the Chilnualna Lakes. The Chilnualna Falls Trail officially ends at a trail junction with the Deer Camp Bypass to Southern Yosemite
Trail about 2.5 miles after the upper falls.
Beware of mountain lions on this trail. There were several sightings in 2015, so don't travel alone and know what to do if you see one. Also, rattlesnakes live in the lower areas of this trail and poison oak can be found along the edges of the trail.
Flora & Fauna
Manzanita, cedar, ponderosa pine.