• Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    28 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4500 Feet

Easy Parking
Forest
Groups
Lake
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

It's the south side of Yosemite National Park. Not that many hikers and beautiful views of the south valley rim with Half Dome and Clouds Rest area. Awesome little alpine lakes too.

Hiking and camping at Buena Vista Lake is a beautiful way to see the south side of Yosemite… the name says it all. With beautiful 360 degree views from Buena Vista Peak you get to look at the backside of Half Dome, up to Clouds Rest and all the domes and peaks in-between.

You can reach the trailhead from the south side of the park coming in on 41. Right as you pass the Wawona Lodge take a right on Chilnualna Falls road. If you are camping overnight stop by the Wawona Lodge to pick up a permit. As you pull into the Wawona Lodge, look at the building to your left and you will find the permits outside. Once you have your permit, head to Chilnualna Falls Trailhead parking lot at the end of the road. It is easy to go pass the parking lot. If you do and you go as far to cross over a bridge, you have gone to far. The parking lot is around 4,000 feet elevation. Pit toilets are at the parking lot.

Once you start your hike follow the foot path up to a small waterfall. After you have passed the waterfall the trail begins upward to Chilnualna Falls. It goes up 4.6 miles and about 2,500 feet elevation. Beautiful views of Wawona Dome during this section. The lower part of Chilnualna Falls is hard to get to but you won't really be worried about it. The upper part of the falls are great with pools to jump in if you're hot.

After the falls keep heading up the Chilnualna Creek, following the trail for 2.6 miles. At the next junction head left 0.7 miles to meet back up with the Chilnualna Creek. Once you reach the third junction take a right following the creek up. You might stop around here for lunch. Nice flat rocks along the creek to sit and hang out. Continue up the Chilnualna Lakes Trail 5.1 miles to Buena Vista Lake at 9,000 feet elevation. It is a beautiful view to get to because the hike in strenuous with constant up and very little down.

Once you have reached the lake drop your pack, set up camp and head up to Buena Vista Peak to watch the sunset. It will be a class 2 scramble to get there but super fun. Just be mindful of unstable rocks. It's about a 0.5 mile hike up to Buena Vista Peak.

We hiked out the same way we came in, but we did a little bushwhacking from Buena Vista Lake down past a couple no-name lakes on the map and cut back onto the trail. You can turn this into a loop and continue westward by Royal Arch Lake and several other lakes.

This is a really great place to get to. We only saw about 8 people pass by us on the trail. The south part of the park is awesome and not a lot of people around. Definitely worth getting out there and checking it out!

Pack List

  • Hiking attire
  • Backpack
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Tent
  • Water purification
  • Food
  • Bear box - Pick up from Wilderness station in the Valley or rent from REI
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Trekking poles
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Austin Trigg

Austin Trigg is an outdoor lifestyle photographer based in San Diego, CA. With the passion for the outdoors, Austin finds himself in search for the perfect space and time waiting to be captured. Austin's approach is about living simply, communication and timing. He finds his creativity within his photography by bringing all those attributes to his imagery. Drawn to the wilderness and its climates, Austin plays with light to portray scenery in a more detailed and technical perspective. His passion for sharing his message with photography constantly pushes him to new heights, whether on Mt. Whitney at midnight, hanging over Taft Point at sunrise or driving throughout the night, all to get the shot.

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