Chilnualna Falls from Wawona Road in Yosemite National Park, California, USA.
Staging out of Oakhurst, California motivates the completion of one hike just inside the south gate of Yosemite National Park prior to progressively venturing further towards Yosemite Valley via Wawona Road (Hwy 41). This day is no exception.
The first hike of this day will be on the Chilnualna Falls Trail to Lower Chilnualna Falls. Access from Wawona Road is on the opposite side of the bridge over South Fork Merced River where, earlier in the week, Forest Drive led to the trail-head for Swinging Bridge.
A quarter-mile (0.4 KM) north of the Wawona Hotel the turn right crosses the bridge over South Fork Merced River, onto Chilnualna Falls Road for the 1¾ mile (2.7 KM) drive to signed trail-head parking.
The trail curves right on the footpath and the hike ascends the hillside adjacent to and above the rocky cascades of Chilnualna Creek.
The short, steep, excellent-quality arrives at an overlook of Lower Chilnualna Falls in only 300 feet (91 m) of elevation.
Granite ledges and outcroppings provide excellent views of the thundering Lower Chilnualna Falls from a variety of angles and locations in the challenging contrast of early morning light.
The return hike from Lower Chilnualna Falls is via same route taken in even though there are several alternatives.
Climbing the granite staircase beside and past the cascading water of Lower Chilnualna Falls will link to the trail to Chilnualna Falls further upstream.
This will change the hiking dynamic to a substantially more aggressive 8.2 mile (13.1 KM), 4.5 hour and 2,400 ft (732 m) of elevation.
The endeavor is a relentless climb to Chilnualna Falls following fast-flowing, cascading water culminating in a twisting, 240 ft (73 m) free fall through a narrow gorge.
The trail passes numerous cascades separated by pools and granite slabs as well as spectacular views of the Wawona area and Chowchilla Mountains. The complete Chilnualna Falls trail links to a labyrinth of trails leading to Bridalveil Creek, Buena Vista Peak and Buck Camp. Reluctantly, the longer hike will be left for another day.
Back at the trail-head there is an alternate trail crossing the Chilnualna Creek for access to Swinging Bridge along South Fork Merced River.
The 4¾ mile (7.5 KM) loop beginning from Pioneer Yosemite History Center and Covered Bridge to Lower Chilnualna Falls and across Swinging Bridge would be an attractive and fairly easy, relatively flat day hike with a fascinating host of attractions.
Return to the car initiates the drive north and east on Wawona Road through Wawona Tunnel and past Tunnel View into Yosemite Valley.