Tony Krizan

A spectacular hike along Wawona’s Chilnualna Falls

Lower 35 foot falls on Chilnualna Creek just 200 yards from trailhead.
Lower 35 foot falls on Chilnualna Creek just 200 yards from trailhead. Special to Sierra Star

What are you waiting for? Grab your day pack, put on your hiking shoes and rediscover another historic trail within Yosemite National Park.

This year the snowpack is releasing a tremendous amount of water and the trail to Chilnualna Falls is spectacular. The trailhead is located toward the back of Wawona subdivision. The elevation starts around 4,000 feet.

Recently Clem Bingham and I set into motion another adventure following this remote trail to and beyond the falls. Don’t be confused with the first falls at the beginning of this hike. The major fall, with a drop of 690 feet, is another four miles up the trail.

The first falls are also very impressive with a series cascading down the mountain to a large 35-foot fall next to the stone steps on of the trail. These steps are strenuous but as the trail turns inward away from the creek, the trail becomes much easier, and 30 minutes later Chilnualna Creek comes into view below the trail. Once again we start increasing in elevation staying above the creek.

Two years earlier Clem, Fred Cochran and I attempted following this creek on the opposite side. No trails just beating our way through the brush following game trails.

On this recent hike we decided to hike down to the creek to look for a few landmarks from two years earlier. The difficulty was at the time, California was in severe drought conditions which means the creek’s water flow was much lower. Today those landmarks we were searching for are underwater.

After a short period of time we recognized one fall next to a small grassy area where we had lunch. If we crossed the river two years ago we would have discovered the Chilnualna Trail and our return trip would have been much easier.

Roughly two hours into the adventure was our first view of the major Chilnualna Fall in the distance. The spray from the fall covered almost one-half of the deep canyon as the water flowed toward the valley.

Once arriving at the fall, looking upstream the series of smaller falls come into view. The increased snowpack from this past winter allowed these falls to display their full potential.

We continued following this trail as it increased in elevation beyond the intersecting trails. Our objective was to follow the trail sign which reads Morane Meadow and Fernandez Pass. This trail should lead us to the ridge top where this series of falls originate.

After a short period of time we were confronted by another obstacle - a creek without access to cross. No falling tree or rocks to balance ourselves to cross without getting wet. Getting our shoes, socks and pants wet removes the fun from today’s adventure to return to the trailhead with wet pants shoes and socks. We’ll wait until next month when the water is much lower to complete the trek to the ridge summit.

If you are looking for a wilderness adventure between eight to 10 miles round trip, and an elevation gain of 2,400 feet with many exciting photo opportunities, this is your hike.

Start early morning when the temperature is cool and the six hours of hiking is much easier. The return hike is all downhill as the temperature increases during late morning.

Details: Take Highway 41 to Wawona, cross the South Fork Bridge, turn right on Chilnualna Road, drive by the Redwood Inn to the end of the road at the Chilnualna Falls parking area. Trailhead is located above Chilnualna Creek on the left.

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