Posted by: GeekHiker | August 27, 2007

Hike/Backpack: Chilnualna Fall (Yosemite N.P.)

Short hike description, but lotsa photos for your viewing pleasure!  Hope you enjoy…

I’m listing this as both a hike and a backpack because it can be done either way.  We did it as a backpack two weeks ago, but I’ll write this description as a day hike.

From the trailhead parking lot, head east up the road towards the lower falls, veering right onto the hiker-only trail.  A short distance in, you’ll catch sight of the lower cascade, which must be a fantastic sight in spring, but was down to a trickle in mid August.

Heading up a series of steep granite stairs, the trail heads up a switchback to intersect with the equestrian trail, and enters the Yosemite wilderness.  The trail continues up through a mix of chaparral, oak and pine forest before leveling out in a forest of pine and cedars.  Wawona Dome is occasionally visible to the south.

Wawona Dome 

Wawona dome from the lower part of the trail.

The trail touches the creek for a moment before crossing a flat area, then begins ascending up through a series of well-shaded switchbacks.  As you climb, openings in the brush allow views west over the Wawona area, and Wawona Dome to the south becomes more and more dominant as the trail takes you around behind it.

Chilnualna Fall Trail 2

Crossing the flat area.

Chilnualna Fall Trail 1

Further up the trail under the trees. 

Finally, ascending a series of granite stairs, the trail rounds a corner to find the brink of the falls.  Caution is encouraged here, as there is no protective railing.  In spring, no doubt, this canyon is an amazing torrent of rushing water, but during late summer, with the snowmelt gone, all that remains is a tricking creek with gentle pools to dip your feet in.

Chilnualna Fall

The brink of the falls.  Just beyond the white granite is a sheer drop of several hundred feet.

It’s the perfect spot to stop for lunch before heading back down.  If you’re there in late summer, as we were, be sure to spend a little time admiring the granite, carved and sculpted by millennia of rushing water.  It’s a fun place to explore.

Chilnualna Creek

Looking up-creek from the brink of the falls.

Water Carving

One of the many water-carved pools. 

You can also continue up the trail (another couple of switchbacks) to a trail junction where there is more granite creekbed to explore.  Be sure to look for the miniature natural bridge.  The path heading north will take you to Bridalveil Creek campground, the trail east to Grouse & Crescent lakes.

Wawona Dome Pano

Panoramic view of Wawona Dome and the Wawona area from along the switchbacks.

Backpackers can find nice campsites further along the trail ¼ past the trail junction (no camping is allowed before this point).

Total Distance: 8.2 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,300′/2,300′


Directions: From Interstate 5, exit Highway 41 in Fresno heading north.  Drive  North 67 miles into Yosemite National Park ($20 entry fee, good for one week).  Turn right on Chilnualna Falls Road and drive to the signed hikers/backpackers parking lot near the end.  Be sure to remove all food and other scented items from your car and place it in the bear lockers located at the lot.



  1. That water carved pool is so pretty…natures amazing art.

  2. Awesome and I love the title and description of your blog. lol

  3. just a girl – thanks, that shot was one of those pleasant surprises I’ll be playing with in full resolution in photoshop!

    geocachiker – thanks and welcome in, mysterious stranger!

  4. i already forgot eveything you wrote up to “bear lockers”

    bear lockers?! what if you have a tasty-looking sandwich in your backpack? i assume your lunchs smell as good as they look! do you leave that scented item in the “bear locker” or do you brave it and carry it up the granite stairs?

  5. Charlotte – not to fear. The bear problem is more about bears becoming too dependent on easy-to-get human food. During the day, bears pretty much won’t bother you (talk or carry a bear bell on your pack and they’ll stay well away). At night, we just put everything that smells into a bear canister, which the bears can’t open. Stop by a ranger station and they’ll tell you all you need to know.

    So basically: feel free to take your sandwich up to the falls!

  6. Great Pics! I’ve never heard of a bear bell. Hmm, I’ll have to check it out!

  7. dobegil – Thanks! Bear bells are easily available at most outdoor shops, if you don’t mind the constant ringing while you hike…

  8. Wow. Just beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  9. GH, do the bells also work for cougars/mountain lions?

  10. tgaw – thanks for the compliments! I love sharing my travels.

    dobegil – I’d talk to a local ranger to find out the disposition of the creatures in your area. During the day, the wild things generally stay pretty far away from us loud, annoying humans.

  11. […] Geek Hiker has a good write-up of the trail, and some good photos. However it is impossible to convey the size and intensity of these falls through pictures, particularly during early Spring snowmelt. […]

  12. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog. I am hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal website now 😉

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