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Chilnualna Falls Hike

Are you up for a hike to a series of waterfalls with a drop of about 690 feet, lined with snow and ice at the upper reaches?

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 10.12 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 4,064′ – 6,677
Date: January 15, 2014
Maps: Wawona, Mariposa Grove

Highlights: There is a gorgeous view at the top of Chilnualna Falls (pronounced Chilnoo-al-na), which I call an infinity view. Pools of water appear to drop off suddenly into nowhere. Ice lined these pools but the views got even more amazing farther up, with snowy and icy formations on Chilnualna Creek.

I thought I would try something a little different and include a Google Earth Snapshot, zooming in on the falls area with the path of our hike on this one. Please let me know what you think about this.

Chilnualna Falls 2

At Wawona, we drove down Chilnualna Road toward the end of the road to the Chinualna Falls 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. 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. We took the hiker’s trail.

Hiking about 3.9 miles, we reached the base of Chilnualna Falls. There wasn’t much water coming down the falls and no snow or ice at this 4,422′ elevation level, but the amount of water was very pretty, landing in a pretty pool.

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We continued up the trail that switched back as we climbed, with rock steps in sections, to reach the upper portions of the Falls. John Conway built the upper trail for John Washburn in 1895 but Washburn had a preemption claim on the lower falls prior to 1885. He had tables, benches and a picnic ground, built a foot bridge out onto a large rock, and made the area a regular stage stop for visitors. Thousands knew the lower fall and other thousands received postcards of it, which were sold at the Wawona Hotel.

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 insists that on Indian told him that Chilnualna means “many rocks” because the falls are in a very rocky canyon.

When we arrived at the most dramatic part of the upper falls, we could see ice lining the creek and very little water. We took a little time to admire the drop off view but the sun was not at its best for picture taking. We made up for it on the return part of this trip though.

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We started to wander up Chilnualna Creek, following the trail, crossing a small creek with very pretty reflections in it.

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As we climbed in elevation, we started hitting more snow and ice, but nothing that was a problem.

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Chilnualna Creek was mostly snow covered in this shady portion.

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Our views from our lunch spot along the creek. Not bad?

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After a peanut butter sandwich, we started wandering back down along the creek, ooohing and aaahing at the ice formations.

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Back at Chilnualna Falls, the light was much more favorable for capturing some pictures. Gail Gilbert caught this first picture of me as I took the next batch of pictures.

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Chilnualna Falls 25It was such a beautiful day to take a hike, 71 degrees at Chilnualna Falls in the afternoon on a mid January day. Loved it but know that at some point this great hiking weather will change.

As we exited the park at he Mariposa Grove entrance, I snapped this picture of the new entrance station construction. They have really been working hard and making progress on this.

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Chilnualna Falls 27

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

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