Everyone talks about Half Dome. You can’t have a conversation about Yosemite without someone asking, “Have you done Half Dome?” But people should really ask, “Have you done Clouds Rest?”

Clouds Rest from Sunrise is what Yosemite means to me wrapped up in a nice little bow. A fun rocky summit, hiking through terrain that only means Yosemite, incredible views of the Valley, and yes, crowds of inexperienced but eager tourists. It was the site of my first backpacking trip in the park, and having very few memories of the trail I decided it was time to go back, but for a dayhike this time.

Trip Report

Approximately 14 miles round trip with around 3000 ft of gain, it’s not exactly an easy hike for most people. I’ve been doing so much off-trail travel that I was a bit complacent in my mindset, assuming it would be a quickie since it is all trail to the peak. Well, it still took all day. I do appreciate saving the time on route-finding, however.

Just want the hike details? Get logistic information, map, and GPS track here.

I can just SMELL the Yosemite in this photo!
I can just SMELL the Yosemite in this photo!

The trail wanders through pine forest and granite hillsides, the sights and smells unmistakably Yosemite. The trail attracts a large number of users, especially now that the Half Dome permit system is in place. I think a lot of people use this as their backup hike, and with good cause. A similar (better?) view without the cables! The crowd ranges from experienced climbers to first-time hikers, and despite the range of skills and abilities everyone seemed to be having a great time on a beautiful July day.

Beautiful flowers and meadows along the trail
Beautiful flowers and meadows along the trail
Where do we go next?
Where do we go next?

Having not hiked around crowds like this for a strenuous hike in a while it was kind of fun to chat with others. It’s inspiring to see people out of their comfort zone but still stoked to be in such an amazing place. Everyone seemed excited and happy to be out on this beautiful Yosemite day.  But the biggest observation I had is that no one seemed prepared to make navigation decisions. No maps, lots of questions at each trail intersection, and one temporarily lost high schooler who took a wrong turn at a trail junction. Everyone assumed that the trail would just point them to their destination. No wonder people get lost! And here is a PSA for anyone who visits Yosemite: never trust those trail signs. I can cite more times they were wrong than right. Bring a map and know how to use it!

Finally to the final ridge of Clouds Rest
Finally to the final ridge of Clouds Rest

Anyways, after several miles of hiking through the beautiful meadows and forest, you finally spy the ridge of Clouds Rest. This is where the fun begins! It starts off wide, with tiers of granite functioning much like a wide staircase. In the final few hundred feet to the summit it narrows, and although there is plenty of space to walk the ‘catwalk’, it unnerves a large number of hikers. The dropoff on either side is airy and  extends thousands of feet. It’s not a peak for someone with a fear of heights!

Clouds Rest Catwalk, Tenaya Lake (trailhead) in the distance.
Clouds Rest Catwalk, Tenaya Lake (trailhead) in the distance.

Some people stop and enjoy the view from below this final catwalk. Others pick their way along slowly and deliberately. Others run and skip (I may or may not have done this). It all depends on comfort level – I definitely didn’t skip on my first visit! But when you get to the high point it is a wide open space with room for everyone. Everyone looks across at Half Dome and laughs at the people in line for the cables. We relax and enjoy a similar view into the Yosemite high country, the Valley, and surrounding ranges  while munching on snickers bars and beef jerky.

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest
Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest
Cathedral Range from Clouds Rest
Cathedral Range from Clouds Rest

After the obligatory summit shots we retraced our steps back to the Sunrise Lakes trailhead. It was a full day of hiking and a spectacular summit. If you are looking for a worthy alternate to Half Dome, I can’t recommend this hike enough. Do it!

Made it!
Made it!
Clark Range from Clouds Rest
Clark Range from Clouds Rest

Map and GPS Track

Leave a Reply

  1. Misti @oceanicwilderness.com

    I can agree with you on people not being prepared, except I often see people carrying little to no water! That always amazes me.

  2. Chris Marks

    One of the reasons I usually don’t mind the crazy crowds on the Yosemite classics is exactly what you touched in – seeing so many people way out of their comfort zone, but usually enjoying themselves.

    It’s been way too long since I’ve done Clouds Rest. Perhaps it’s time to revisit soon!

  3. Jeff Hester

    I actually summited Clouds Rest by accident. My wife and I were on Day 2 of our JMT thru-hike, and “missed” the turn to Sunrise. We kept climbing. She was sure we were heading the wrong way, but I (being the more experience) insisted on continuing. We even asked some hikers coming down the trail… “Hi! Where ya coming from?” To which they replied… “Sunrise.” So we were on the right trail, right?

    We kept climbing (keep in mind, wearing full packs) until it was really obvious we weren’t where we were supposed to be. But we got to to top and enjoyed a “bonus” summit view that we hadn’t originally planned.

    Here’s my Clouds Rest panorama: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151739225719344&set=a.10150655715239344.412228.281739894343&type=1&theater

    We never made it to Sunrise that day. We camped off trail (shhh) and then hiked to Tuolumne the next day. And that was the only time in 22 days that we strayed off the JMT. Actually, not a bad deviation.

    1. calipidder

      Ha! That is a great story. At least you got the bonus view from Clouds Rest!

  4. David Link

    Never had the desire to climb Half Dome. Never will. Love North Dome, but Clouds Rest is still on the list. Maybe next year…

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