Hiking Clouds Rest | Yosemite National Park
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Hiking Clouds Rest: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 8,171 ft.
Distance: 13.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.
Hike Type: Day-hike
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Food Storage: There are six bear boxes at the Sunrise Lake trailhead. The trailhead is very popular and was busy when we arrived. Since we were staying in Yosemite Valley on this trip, we made sure to leave all scented items in our room and didn’t need to use the bear boxes.
Restrooms: A pit toilets is available at the trailhead.
Cell Service: Non-existent at the trailhead, but surprisingly quite good standing at the top of Clouds Rest.
Crowd Factor: High! This is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park, so you can expect plenty of fellow hikers on the trail.
Permit: None required for day-hikes
Date Hiked: October 31, 2020
Hiking Clouds Rest
Julie and I arrived in Yosemite late on a Friday morning, did a couple of shorter hikes, before checking in to the Yosemite Valley Lodge for the weekend. With Clouds Rest being such a popular hike, we knew an early start was essential for the long day ahead.
Following a 5:00 a.m. wake-up, we loaded up our gear and made the hour drive from Yosemite Valley to the trailhead off Tioga Pass. The hike begins from the Sunrise Lakes trailhead at 8,171 feet. There are just a handful of true parking spots and the rest is street parking. We started our hike just before 8:00 a.m. with temperatures in the low 30s.
The trail starts off flat as it meanders through a pine forest. At 0.75, a small offshoot from the trail gives you a glimpse of where you’re heading. For the 1st mile-and-a-half you’re only gaining 180 feet of elevation. Be sure to enjoy this easy part of the hike, because the next section switchbacks steadily for 1.25 miles. Stone steps here will be familiar if you’ve hiked to Upper Yosemite Falls or the Mist Trail.
Once you reach the top of the switchbacks this is a good place to take a snack break as we did. This is also the junction that heads to Sunrise Lakes and the High Sierra Camp. After a brief rest, the two of us continued straight ahead towards Clouds Rest.
Past the junction, the trail descends and is even flat in sections. Having just made the previous climb, it felt pretty good to go downhill even if you know that means you’re going to be going uphill on your return!
At 4.25 miles, you will come to an unnamed pond, which is a good place to filter water if needed.
Eventually, you’ll come to a junction that leads east to Merced Lake. Continue heading straight ahead (southwest). The official trail mark here indicates 2.5 more miles. It’s worth mentioning that most of this hike aside from some initial views on the switchbacks are pretty uninspiring. You spend a good portion of the hike in the trees, which is still nice but you have to keep your head down and keep hiking.
Once you do come out of the trees though, the view get much better. You can see Clouds Rest and several other granite domes off in the distance. The trail climb sharply here as you make your way west towards the summit of Clouds Rest. You’ll descend once again (because of course!), before making your last push up to Clouds Rest.
The last 500 feet of gain are tough and traversing the sometimes very narrow ridge line to Clouds Rest can get a bit scary for those who are not big fans of heights. But the views across the valley and of Half Dome are awe-inspiring. We reached the summit with 2,200 feet of gain and an elevation of 9,785.
Despite the narrow nature of the last section of this hike, there is plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the views. For a fall day during the pandemic, there were still a good number of other hikers at the summit, but we didn’t feel crowded as everyone pretty much kept their distance.
After spending about an hour at the summit, we began our descent wanting to get back down to the Valley before sunset. Despite some slow going on a few of the uphill sections, we made good timing getting back to the car before 5:00 p.m.
Final Thoughts on Hiking Clouds Rest
This is a long day-hike with limited views for about 90% of the time, culminating in one of the best looks at Half Dome in Yosemite. We have wanted to do this hike for a long time and it was definitely worth the wait. Looking down on Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley makes all the hard work getting there (and back to the car) that much more satisfying. Visiting on the last day of the 2020 reservation process and off-peak (the end of October) probably helped with the crowd factor a bit. We can only imagine how busy this trail is during the summer season. Be sure to pack lots of water, get an early start, and enjoy your hike!
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