Exceptional year for western Sierra Nevada wildflowers
Sierra Nevada mountain bike ride of the month: Iron Lakes, Sierra National Forest
The Sierra Nevada trail of the week: the Convict Creek trail, Inyo National Forest
The Sierra Nevada trail of the week: the Panorama trail, Yosemite National Park
If you are looking for a quiet hike in Yosemite National Park away from the hiking hordes crowding the main trails in the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, the Chilnualna Falls trail out of Wawona is the perfect possibility. Only a hand full of people take this hike per day and even fewer make it to the top of the falls. There are numerous opportunities for solitude.
There is a small window in mid-summer when the conditions are prime for enjoying this trail. Take this hike too early and the stream is too cold and dangerous for swimming; too late in the season and the stagnant pools become breeding grounds for a particularly annoying species of mosquitoes.
Conditions are optimal now. The cold dangerous runoff from the deep spring snow pack is receding. Wildflowers are blooming in profusion. The mosquitoes are almost non-existent and the pleasingly pungent aroma of the mountain misery make this a very aromatic walk. It can be warm on this south facing slope. However, there are numerous inviting pools in which to take a refreshing dip.
Chilnualna Falls are actually a series of cascades extending roughly two miles along the length of Chilnualna Creek from the 6400 ft. level down to 4200 feet. The trail is 4.1 miles to the upper falls with a total elevation gain of 2100 ft.
The foot trail starts at the west end of the North Wawona road and leads quickly to a lower set of impressive falls. Most people do not venture further than these. However, the trail immediately switchbacks up a slope to meet the horse trail and continues north paralleling Chilnualna Creek. Any number of isolated pools can be accessed from the use trails trending east from the main trail.
After about 1.75 miles, the trail skirts away from the stream and contours up and around granite cliffs to finally reach the upper Chilnualna falls at 4.1 miles. The slopes here are precipitous and a fall or slip would have significant consequences. Keep a tight leash on all children.
For more info: Swimming Holes of California. Yosemite National Park.