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Chilnualna Falls Hike

There is a gorgeous view at the top of Chilnualna Falls (pronounced Chil-noo-al-na), which I call an infinity view. Pools of water appear to drop off suddenly into nowhere. These pools were iced over on this trip and that drop-off view was amazing. But the views got even more amazing farther up, with snowy and icy formations on and along Chilnualna Creek. This makes the 2,600 foot gain more than worthwhile.

Where:Yosemite National Park
Distance: 9.05 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 4,173′ – 6,677′
Date: January 5, 2015
Maps: El Capitan Topographic Quad

At 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 are doing construction. There were restrooms and bear boxes here, where we stashed our goodies. When we left the car, it was 27 degrees.

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.

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.

We had hiked a little over a mile when we reached the base of Chilnualna Falls and its beautiful ice-lined pool.

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We hadn’t walked too much farther until we reached a tree that had fallen across the trail, requiring a little effort to climb over and around it on the trail that dropped off on one side.

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We also had some icy spots on the trail. We had brought our ice traction devices to put on the bottom of our boots if needed but we were able to negotiate these patches without them. (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

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When we reached Chilnualna Falls, we could see that it was pretty much iced over. It was so beautiful in the shadowy morning light. The sun had not hit this area yet and Gail captured this picture of me while I made my way down to the icy creek to take some pictures.

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We headed up the snow-covered trail above the falls, checking out the creek. The morning sun was just gorgeous as it cast its shadows on the snowy creek.

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How about a very short video of this creek?

We continued climbing. The snow had completely covered the trail and no one had traveled up here since the last snow, but we knew where we were headed. We were headed for our usual lunch spot on a big rock where you can see some pretty views of the creek.

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The snow covered log across the creek was beautiful. As we looked closer, we could see that the waterfall behind it was completely frozen.

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The shadows on the snow was also very interesting to look at.

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We turned around and worked our way back down along the stream for a while. The melting snow during the day had been refreezing at night, creating icicles that glimmered in the sunlight.

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The afternoon sure heated up on this hike, reaching the 60s and I wished on more than one occasion that I had worn short sleeves. Heck, I could even have gone for shorts once we got out of the snow. This was a beautiful post-holiday hike that gave us a bit of a workout. With this nice weather, I hope to get out and enjoy more of the country while we can. You never know when winter will return.

Chilnualna Falls 22Prior Blogs on This Area:



Schaffer, Jeffrey P. Yosemite National Park, A Complete Hiker’s Guide. Berkeley, CA: Wilderness Press, May 2008. Pages 343-345.

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