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.
How to get to the Buena Vista Lake trailhead
We got to 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.
How to get to Buena Vista Lake
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 your hot or just want to dip your feet in.
After the falls keep heading up the Chilnualna Creek, following the trail for 2.6 miles. At the next junction we went left 0.7 miles to meet back up with the Chilnualna Creek. Once we got to the third junction we took a right following the creek up. We stopped around here for lunch. Nice flat rocks along the creek to sit and hang out.
We continued 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. 14 miles total one way from the parking lot to lake. Very long day but its worth it!
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.
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 hike 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!