Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hike past cascades on Chilnualna Falls Trail

A string of fantastic cascades await day hikers on a segment of the Chilnualna Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park’s Wawona area.

While the entire trail heads to a set of three waterfalls spectacular in their own right, families with children will find that too steep and too far of a walk. Still, hiking the first half-mile for a 1-mile round trip offers an impressive view all its own.

Spring best time to go
Getting to the cascades still requires an elevation gain of about 700 feet, so make sure everyone is in shape and feeling up to it. Early summer marks the best time to hike the trail, as more water runs through the cascades.

To reach the trailhead, from Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41, cross the South Fork of the Merced River bridge then turn right on Chilnualna Road (It later becomes Chilnualna Falls Road). In about 1.6 miles is a trailhead parking lot on the right/south. From the lot, walk northeast along the roadside to the trailhead. Be careful to not take the wrong fork here – hikers go right while those on horses go left.

The trail ascends through a largely evergreen forest, roughly paralleling Chilnualna Creek, though the first major switchback takes you away from the water. The creek heads out of the high mountains down into the valley where it joins with the South Fork of the Merced River near the Wawona Pioneer History Center.

Along the way, the Wawona Dome rises over the creek to the northeast. The dome tops out at 6897 feet.

Safety first
Though the granite rocks overlooking the cascades appears tempting to climb upon, don’t. Wet rock is slick, and you don’t want to fall into a rapidly moving stream concealing hard rocks beneath the surface.

You’ll also want to stay on the trail, not just to prevent erosion but to avoid itchy poison oak. In addition, there are some steep drops.

Once you’ve gone about a half-mile or have reached 4900 feet elevation, feel free to turn around.

If with older teens and if you’re in good shape, you can significantly extend the hike by continuing on, though. Several switchbacks head to the valley rim, where you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Wawona area below as well as of Chilnualna Falls, which tumbles some 690 feet over a set of three waterfalls. That’s a strenuous 8.2-miles round trip with a 2,400 feet elevation gain, however.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.