Easy to fall for Chilnualna Falls Trail

While famous (and rightfully so) for its majestic waterfalls, Yosemite Valley doesn't own a monopoly on them.

Southern Yosemite also boasts its share of waterfalls - and you won't have to fight off a pack of European tourists to see them.

Of these, Chilnualna Falls offers the most scenic approach, with several opportunities for swimming and head-dunking en route. And since the approach can be hot and dusty, not to mention the 2,400 feet of elevation gain spread over four miles, any chance to cool off is welcome.

You'll need to muster a little energy to reach the falls, but the views and scenery are worth the sweat.

From the trailhead at the end of Chilnualna Falls Road, hike about 200 yards to the first meeting with Chilnualna Creek, where beautiful cascades plunge down the granite. A stone staircase aids in climbing.

Before long, the trail becomes less steep and assumes a gradual ascent while climbing through a forest of ponderosa pines and incense cedars. Your nose will be constantly bombarded with the smell of bear clover, a tiny white flower currently blooming throughout the route.

At 2 miles, the trail reaches a small clearing with a commanding view of Wawona Dome and points beyond. Yep. That's where you're headed.

The trail is mostly level until approaching the first of a dozen switchbacks. Keep your eyes peeled for the first glimpse of Chilnualna Falls high up on the cliff wall.

Soon, the entire length of the falls comes into view. A rocky traverse brings hikers almost to its very brink, which tumbles hundreds of feet into a small, confining chute.

Due to loose gravel and a lack of protective railing, don't venture too close to the edge. Instead, enjoy the expansive view of the entire Wawona area from a safe distance.

Before turning around, continue up the trail another quarter-mile until it emerges above a prominent 60-foot cascade overlooking Chilnualna Falls proper. About 100 yards to the right of the granite-lined trail alongside the creek is a great area for exploring, swimming and relaxing.

Be sure to get plenty of rest and water, if needed, before heading back. As always, all water should be filtered or treated before drinking. It is 4.1 downhill miles back to the trailhead.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 27, 2002