Do you want some of the best views of Yosemite? Do you want to watch hikers struggle up the cables on Half Dome? Then a hike on the Clouds Rest Trail starting at Tenaya Lake is for you! This is a 14.5 mile round trip hike to an elevation of 9,926 feet and hovers above Half Dome. The trail head elevation is 8,150 feet.
This is not as strenuous as Half Dome, but pretty close. I hiked this with my brother, sister in law, and nephew in late July 2016. This summer was extremely hot (in the 90’s) and there were several fires that decreased visibility. But this hike was amazing and so were the views!
We started out a little late, about 8 am. The parking can get bad, and we parked along the road. The trail head is off Tioga Road at the west end of Tenaya Lake. You will be looking for “Sunrise” signs. There are pit toilets at the trail head. Nearest plumbing and food is at the Tuolumne Meadows about 5 miles away.
There are multiple signs along the trail, as hikers could be going to more than one destination. Quite a few hikers are actually going to Sunrise Lakes. So, after the switch backs (I will get back to these crazy things shortly), about 2.5 miles into the hike, you will find the first fork. If you go left, you will be on the Sunrise Lakes trail. So go right. Then, within about 2 miles of the Clouds Rest summit, you will notice another fork. If you turn left on this one, you will reach the John Muir Trail leading to Little Yosemite Valley. Stay to the right.
As you start out on the hike, there are a few water crossings. Since we were there end of July, they didn’t pose much of a threat as if we were hiking earlier in the season. There is some steps, wood, and rocks to cross it. I didn’t get great photos of it. In this early part of the trail there are some nice open meadows and the trail is relatively flat.
The switchbacks. So, the nice thing is that they are early on in the hike. The bad thing, it’s about a 1,000 foot gain in elevation. About a mile and a half in, they start. I can’t imagine doing this in the late afternoon, but there were people hiking up when we were on our way back. Be careful as the opportunity to sprain an ankle going up is possible. This part of the trail is pretty uneven. Also note, you are at a higher elevation hiking making it more difficult if you are not use to it.
After the switchbacks, you will get to the first fork in the trail. Remember, if you are going to Clouds Rest, stay to the right. This is the scenery at the top of the switchbacks.
And so now after you get to the top, you will need to go down the hill… sorry. Not what you wanted to do after switchbacks up, especially when you know you will have to go back up again! The hike continues for several miles along a beautiful trail of trees, creeks, ponds, and wildlife. Even though the elevation gain is 1,775 feet, you will be doing more. My iPhone 6 (although not completely accurate I know) states I hiked 199 flights of stairs on this day. And yes, there is cell service and 3G/4G in spots along this trail.
I want to remind everyone, there is no potable water on this trail. So, unless you have a filtration system on you, you will need to bring all your water with you. Again, this is about a 14.5 mile round trip hike. I brought with me my 3 L camel-back full of water, plus 3 one liter bottles of a sports drink with plenty of food. You should drink enough water to be able to urinate after your hike. If you can’t, then you didn’t drink enough and you are dehydrated. I didn’t drink all the fluid on me, but better to be safe then sorry. Plus, we ended up talking to hikers on our way back down who clearly did not have enough water on them and they were still hiking up. We gave up extra water we knew we didn’t need to a few people who were very unprepared. Do not expect that to happen! (people giving you water) And don’t give away your water unless you are sure you have enough first.
Consider bringing 1/2 to 1 cup of water for every 3o-45 minutes of hiking, especially on a trail like this. We passed one women who asked my brother if we thought the pond water (in the picture above) was okay to drink. She had no filtration system with her. Quite possibly she could have drank it and had been fine, but my younger sister has had giardia and I remember that experience for her. I do have a UV Water Purifier which I did not bring, but after that hike, I might bring it for others. The nurse in me wanting to help. I have seen some people say UV doesn’t kill bacteria, but read here for the science on it. Hospitals now use UV light to kill the worst of bugs in their rooms. Note, it won’t get rid of the dirt or floaties, so use a bandanna to rough filter first.I digressed.
Now comes the climb back up! The trail becomes more rocks, less trees as you climb. The views are great and you can start to see the top! This final section up is not nearly as bad as the beginning with the switch backs.
It might be fair to note here that if you are afraid of heights you may not like this last part. In order to get to the top, you will have to hike the ridge line. And it’s a pretty shear drop on either side of the ridge line, which is only about 10 feet across in spots. This is not a good time to get dizzy, pass out (from dehydration), or trip and fall. It is less dangerous than Half Dome, but I was calculating the ways I could accidentally fall to my death. I wouldn’t hike this last part in the rain or wind. Trust me, the pictures do not do the drop off justice.
After you get past this, it does open up to an area were many people can rest. Watch out for the trail bandits. This little guy actually got into my brother’s pack with me sitting next to it, and ate part of his sandwich within a few minutes. Remember, do not feed the wildlife!
While the top is large enough for many people, it does get crowded as people stop and hang out for a while to enjoy the views. You will have an uninterrupted 360 degree view of Yosemite! With a pair of binoculars, you can watch people pull themselves up the cables on half dome from here. You then feel much better about your choice in day hikes. You do not need a permit to hike Clouds Rest.
This was an amazing hike, and it took almost as much time for us to hike down as it took to hike up. The trail, and switchbacks on our way back were getting more traffic, and so we stopped often to let others pass on their way up. Hiking etiquette notes that it is polite if you are heading down, to move to the side to let others hike up. Why? It takes more energy to hike up so stopping unnecessarily and then starting takes more energy. The ascending hiker might want a break, and if so, they will wave you by. This hike took us about 7 hours with our break on top and a few rests along the way to grab a snack and pictures.
One other minor issue on this hike, along with the individuals who didn’t bring enough water, were the two people playing music. With no headphones. Just don’t. If you want music, wear headphones. Use only one earbud in one ear so you can listen for potential dangers with the other (think rattlesnakes at the least). Leave No Trace principles are clear that music like that is a violation. Take the online course to learn more about these principles. I personally am in nature to listen to nature and country music is not nature I am looking for. And I am pretty sure the deer, bears, and other wildlife don’t want to hear it either.
And to end, my picture of the geological survey marker at the top!