Article Overview: Hiking the Clouds Rest Trail in Yosemite National Park.
Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite National Park is an excellent and rigorous high-altitude hike, though it’s often treated as a backup plan for the more popular Half Dome Hike. At the apex, you’ll stand nearly 10,000 feet above Yosemite National Park with 360° views of the park and beyond. You’ll even get to look down on Half Dome since Clouds Rest is 1,000 feet taller!
I would strongly argue that the Clouds Rest hike offers its own “first choice” worthiness for the smaller crowds and a true connection with the wilderness beyond what Half Dome offers.
If you’ve read enough of my adventures with the More Than Just Parks team, you’ll know my name is Jennifer, and I 100% always try to avoid crowds. That simple fact lured me to Clouds Rest. The epic views will forever be what brings me back.
Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite National Park
Table of Contents: Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park
Table of Contents: Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite National Park
- Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite National Park
- 5 Quick Things to Know about Clouds Rest Hike
- Clouds Rest Hike: Step-by-Step Day Hike Guide
- Map of Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
- FAQ: Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
5 Quick Things to Know about Clouds Rest Hike
- $35 per vehicle, but why not buy the America the Beautiful Pass to support parks and access more than 2,000 locations for just $80?
- Mobile service is not available for most of this hike. I took along this guidebook, and I like this map best for Yosemite National Park.
- The first three miles include ravenous mosquitoes. Bring bug spray. Here’s my favorite. Don’t forget sunscreen, especially at this altitude.
- I loved my stay at the Rush Creek Lodge, and the hot tub was a great addition after a long day.
- This is a high-altitude hike starting aroun 8,100 feet and summiting at 9,926 feet. Altitude sickness is one of the biggest safety concerns.
Clouds Rest Hike: Step-by-Step Day Hike Guide
Length: 12.4 miles out-and-back
Time: 6-8 hours
Altitude: 8,170 starting, 9,926 finish, with up-and-down trail sections adding up to 3,200 feet of change.
We took the route from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest, which is the most common. You’ll find two lots here; choose the one farthest from the lake. We parked at 8:00 am and snagged the last spot in the lot.
The first mile is a breeze and a little wet if you time it closer to spring or a recent rainfall. You’ll be on the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead while the signs will show the distance to Clouds Rest. The biggest water crossing you’ll face comes in the first 1/10th of a mile at Tenaya Creek.
The water can be high in spring. Bring water shoes. Once you’re past the river, the rest of the first mile is flat. That will quickly change.
GLACIAL LINES: Check the elevation as you go because anytime you are below 8,900 feet, you are where a glacier once carved the very ground you’re walking on. Go higher than 8,900 feet and you’re above where the glaciers carved the adjacent valleys.
The First Climb of Clouds Rest in Yosemite
Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite has two steep climbs, and the first one starts a mile into the journey. For another mile and a half, you’ll ascend 1,000 calf-burning feet through woods with dirt paths and random boulders along the way. The trail weaves in and out of stone staircases.
When you reach the end of that incline, you come to a clearing where the trail veers off to the actual Sunrise Lakes, but keep following the signs to Clouds Rest. At this clearing, it’s another 4.7 miles to the top.
The Downslope of Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
The ups and downs of Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite tease you for about half a mile, knowing the inevitable uphill surge lies ahead. Some of the mile markers on this trail won’t always add up to the pedometer if you’re measuring the distance on your own.
The unnamed pond you come across on this flatter stretch of trail is the halfway point to the summit. At a clearing, you’ll face a fork with the Pack Trail. The sign reads Clouds Rest is 2.5 miles ahead, but really you just face another 1.5 (rather challenging) miles.
The Final Ascent of Clouds Rest
The trail widens to a clearing as it rises above you. Leave the woods behind, and you’ll stare straight up the spine to the overlook. This section is steep, and I wouldn’t want to do it in the snow or when the rocks are wet.
Plot your course now. The razor edge of Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite looks more intimidating from afar, but you’ll find some places are just a few feet across with a 5,000-foot drop straight down Tenaya Canyon. Those who are afraid of heights should bear left going up the spine to stay in a less intimidating section.
The Spine of Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
As you make the final steps to the spine of Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite, Yosemite unfolds around you.
As we worked to the tip of the spine on Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite, it was easy to see what looked like ants crawling up a big rock in the distance. That was Half Dome. No regrets.
I’m not sure if there’s a photo, video, or social media influencer in the world who can capture the true majesty of this panoramic place on the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite.
Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite Routes
Yosemite National Park doesn’t talk much about Clouds Rest. Finding scattered information on the park’s website seems like chasing your tail at times, but we’ve done the work for you to clear up the confusion. At last, you’ll get full details about the Clouds Rest hike.
Clouds Rest in Yosemite is a destination, not an actual trail. While you’ll take different named trails to get there, the signs along the way are very clear about directing you to Clouds Rest.
You have three ways to get there, from strenuous to expert level.
Clouds Rest via Sunrise Lakes
Base Elevation: 8,150 feet
Summit Elevation: 9,931 feet
Length: 12-14 miles roundtrip
Hike Time: 7-8 hours
Clouds Rest via Yosemite Valley
Base Elevation: 4,040 feet
Summit Elevation: 9,931
Length: 21 miles roundtrip
Hike Time: 12 hours
Level: Extremely strenuous; consider backpacking overnight
Clouds Rest via Pywiack Cascade
Base Elevation: 8,150 fee
Summit Elevation: 9,931
Length: 6 miles to the climbing area
Hike Time: Varies
Level: Rock climbers only
Another option is to go from Tenaya Lakes to Clouds Rest and then hike back down to Yosemite Valley, which is about 19 miles. That order can also be reversed.
If you want to summit Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite and Half Dome in one day, plan for a 23-mile hike. Only expert-level hikers should consider this option.
This color-coded map can help you plan your campsite location.
Getting to Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
The first step in planning a trip to Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite centers around the status of Tioga Road. Tenaya Lake’s trailhead is unavailable for about five to six months of the year. Tioga Road closes sometime in November and doesn’t open until sometime in May, June, or July, depending on the snowpack, trail damage, and the weather.
Those taking the route from Yosemite Valley can use Shuttle Stop #16. You’ll need a vehicle for the more popular route starting at the base of Tenaya Lake since the shuttle doesn’t go that far. A smart travel tip to avoid the summer crowds of Yosemite National Park would be to enter through the Tioga Road Entrance, which is just 15 miles from Tenaya Lake.
Map of Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
FAQ: Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
A permit is not needed for the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite if you are doing it as a day hike. If you are camping overnight, you’ll need a Wilderness Permit.
The elevation gain from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest is 1,781 feet, but don’t let that seem like an easy hike. The high altitude of the starting point at 8,150 can impact your health on the trail.
Clouds Rest and Half Dome both provide strenuous hikes with scenic views. Half Dome is more popular as it’s an icon of the park. Hikers want to climb those famed cables. Clouds Rest stands nearly 1,100 feet taller than Half Dome, but it’s not quite as long. Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite and Half Dome both provide challenges for those with a fear of heights, but Clouds Rest isn’t quite as intimidating at the top.
Altitude Sickness on Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
High altitudes will impact each person differently based on how long they’ve adjusted to the altitude and the altitude of their hometown. An altitude of 8,000 feet draws the demarcation line of when High Altitude Illness, otherwise known as Acute Mountain Sickness, can set in. I have hiked and lived in enough high-altitude locations that I know that my body starts feeling the effects at 8,500 feet. Know your limits.
Most importantly, the biggest health challenge on the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite is that altitude sickness usually takes six to 12 hours to set in. That means you could be well into a rigorous hike before your body starts reacting. Once you suffer from altitude sickness, the only solution is descending.
Signs of altitude sickness include trouble breathing, appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting. More serious side effects are displayed in the form of confusion, loss of coordination, and extreme fatigue.
Treating Altitude Sickness
You can limit altitude sickness by taking the proper steps:
- Acetazolamide: Talk with your doctor about getting this prescription to help acclimate to high elevations faster or treat symptoms of altitude sickness. This medication is especially important for high-altitude campers who suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
- Acclimate: Give your body time to acclimate to the altitude before you attempt the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite. Take a day or two at a lower elevation.
- Hydrate: Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite has many exposed areas, which can cause dehydration in the summer. Stay hydrated to help your body adjust and to avoid the double-whammy side effect of dehydration and altitude sickness.
- Carb Up: Make your meals at least 70% carbohydrates to provide energy and offset high altitude side effects.
Wildfire Risks on Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite
The high country where Clouds Rest Hike in Yosemite is located can be prone to wildfires, and that could lead to trail closures. Fire restrictions are put in place when weather conditions create potential fire dangers. Check the Fire News section of Yosemite National Park’s website to see the current status of fires.
“Fire season is officially enacted when fire danger rating indices for the park show Moderate for 3 consecutive days.”Yosemite park staff
Wildfires spread and bow to the winds and weather conditions. WATCH THIS SHOCKING VIDEO showing just how fast a wildfire can spread. This is from the 2014 Meadow Fire, which closed Clouds Rest.
Hikers on the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite also need to know the risks of lightning. The best time to climb Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite starts at dawn so that you can complete the hike before the frequent summer late afternoon and early evening thunderstorms.
MORE: A backpacker’s guide to surviving storms.
Why is Clouds Rest Shaped Like That?
Clouds Rest isn’t a peak; it’s an arête (take the “b” off the word barette, and you’re saying it right). Something to think about when you stand atop that beautiful feat of nature is this – glaciers carved the two valleys that flank Clouds Rest. Along the way, they shaved, shoved, and snagged rock off the sides of the mountain, grinding their way forward.
Arêtes are formed by two glaciers moving along either side of a mountain. Download the map below to see how the glaciers moved to form Clouds Rest, Half Dome, and El Cap, just to name a few.
When more than two glaciers are at work, they create a pyramidal peak. A great example of a pyramidal peak is the Matterhorn.
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