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Chilnualna Falls Hike

With all of our recent rain and warm spring-like weather, I had been hearing reports about what a great show our local waterfalls were putting on but I hadn’t heard any reports on Chilnualna Falls. We needed to go check it out for ourselves. It was a good sign when we could hear Chilnualna Falls roaring from the parking lot and once we saw it, there was much more water flowing than I have seen in many years.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 8.3 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 4,171′ – 6,442′
Date: March 16, 2016
Maps: El Capitan Topographic Quad

From Wawona, we drove down Chilnualna Road toward the end of the road, just shy of the bridge and to the Trail Parking Lot on the right hand side. This parking lot is about 100 yards shy of where the pavement ends and is right next to the large home where they have been doing construction for many years. There were restrooms and bear boxes here, where we stashed our goodies. We headed uphill and joined the trailhead across the street, which is signed. The trail splits at the beginning, one being for stock and the other for hikers and we took the hiker’s trail.

Chilnualna Falls is not a single waterfall, but actually a series of 5 tiers of waterfalls, dropping a total of about 700 feet. Wawona’s Yesterdays, by Shirley Sargent, says that according to one source Chilnualna was named by the Piute Indians and means “leaping waters” but that another Wawona native insisted that an Indian told him that Chilnualna means “many rocks” because the falls are in a very rocky canyon. If you are curious how to pronounce this name, it is an easy one once you get the hang of it. Give it a try: “Chil-noo-al-na.” We had hiked a little over a mile when we reached the base of Chilnualna Falls and its beautiful pool. The bird that John Muir wrote about, the Water Ouzel (also known as American Dipper) was working that pool. How cool is that? It didn’t stay very long though.


When we reached the top of the falls, boy was that water roaring! We usually get some amazing reflections in these pools just before the water drops off about 300 feet but not today. That water was really on the move.

P1170351rP1170355 (2)r

I looking upstream and wondered where is all of this water going? Chilnualna Creek water takes quite a journey in its life. It dumps into the South Fork of the Merced River, then into the Merced River which goes into Lake McClure where it supplies irrigation water and exiting Lake McClure through a series of dams providing irrigation water. That water then joins up with the San Joaquin River in Merced County, then joins up with the Tuolumne River, then dumps into the Stanislaus River, then joins up with the Calaveras River in Stockton, then into the Sacramento River then into the Suisun Bay through the Carquinez Straight out into the Pacific Ocean.


Cascades above Chilnualna Falls (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

We headed upstream, wondering how far we would be able to go and if we would be able to cross the creek.


Photo of me and Steve by Gail Gilbert

Along the trail, we passed many small streams and waterfalls. A picture doesn’t do them justice but you can have a look and listen at one of them here.


Photo by Gail Gilbert

It wasn’t too long before we started encountering some snow on the trail, then more snow.

P1170357rP1170358rThe ice was tricky at times but also beautiful.


We tried several ways to get across the rushing stream. We started walking across on a snow covered log but didn’t like the looks of that. We tried walking across a dead, wobbly log but that didn’t feel good. We talked about taking our shoes off and wading across but then we would have to do the same thing coming back. We decided to head back down and find a nice spot to just watch the water go by and eat out lunch. Not a bad lunch spot, is it?


We had a wonderful hike and were very happy to see all of that water flowing. We talked about giving this hike another try when the water is lower and we can get across that creek but I don’t know. There are so many wonderful adventures to be had so time will tell.

Chinualna Falls Topog Chinualna Falls Profile


Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent

Chinualna Falls Wikipedia

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Chilnualna Falls Hike January 5, 2015

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