Start with the Wawona Meadow Loop (Pioneer Yosemite History Center), a flat and shockingly uncrowded 3.5-mile sweep around the lovely Wawona meadow and somewhat incongruous 9-hole golf course. This wide trail was once fully paved, and is still bikeable, but the pavement has eroded over the years and now you’ll find much dirt and tree detritus.
Best in late spring because the wildflowers bloom in profusion, this trail takes about two hours to navigate. If you’d like a longer trip, you can extend this walk to five miles (with about 500 feet of climb/descent) by taking the detour at the south end of the meadow.
If you’re up for a hardcore hike and a waterfall experience few who visit Yosemite ever see, take the difficult, 8.5-mile trail to Chilnualna Fall (trailhead near Pioneer Yosemite History Center). Plan 4–6 hours for this 2,300-foot ascent, and bring water, snacks, and a trail map. On this amazing hike, you’ll see a few fellow hikers, and many tantalizing views of the cascades.
Sadly, there’s no created viewing area, so you’ll need to peek through the trees to get the best looks and photos. The trail runs all the way up to the top of the falls, but be careful to avoid the stream during spring and summer high flow—it’s dangerous in there, what with the waterfall and everything!
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition