Clouds Rest Hike Guide

Clouds Rest Hike Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions for the Clouds Rest Hike
  • Parking and Trailhead for Clouds Rest
  • Gear Recommendations and What to Expect on the Hike
  • Clouds Rest Trail Maps
Total Distance12.5 miles (20.1 km)
Hike Time6-8 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)3,260 feet (994m)
Highest Elevation9,926 feet (3025m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200
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The Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite is a favorite of the park rangers; you get incredible panoramic views from over 1,000 feet above Half Dome. And unlike Half Dome, for the Clouds Rest hike, no permit is needed, the distance and climbing is manageable, and you don’t have to navigate anything like the anxiety-inducing cables section.  It’s considered one of the epic Yosemite hikes and is definitely worth the effort.

The last ridge to Clouds Rest gets a bad rap for being scary. While not an ordinary experience, the ridge doesn’t offer nearly the level of the danger or anxiety that the cables on Half Dome do. I’ll talk about the ridge later in the guide so that you can master it without fear.

Where Does the Clouds Rest Hike Start?

Like most destinations in Yosemite National Park, you can reach Clouds Rest from various trails and routes. The most common and shortest route, which I cover in this guide, starts from Tenaya Lake, which is off Tioga Road in the northern section of the park. Depending on the traffic, it’s roughly an hour from the Yosemite Valley to get to the trailhead. And in the winter, the Tioga Road is often closed because of snow. Check the Yosemite NP website closures page for current conditions.

Use this trailhead address:
Sunrise Lakes Trailhead, Tioga Pass Rd, Lee Vining, CA 93541

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The Sunrise Lakes Trailhead parking area is in a turn-in from Tioga Road, and offers a decent amount of parking. People visiting Tenaya Lake and doing overnight backpacking trips also use the parking lot, so it can be full. There is overflow parking along Tioga Road around the parking area.

The trailhead has a primitive toilet, food storage lockers, and bear-proof trash receptacles, but no water.

Gear For the Hike

This is a tough hike and I recommend having proper hiking gear when heading to Clouds Rest. There is a tough climb and about 50% of the trail is exposed, so bring 3L of water. There are water sources along the trail if you want to treat and refill. Good hiking footwear is a must and trekking poles will help on the climbs. In the spring and early summer the mosquitos and bugs can be intense; bring some repellant with you just in case. As someone said in the hiking forums, “I wanted to lay down and let the mosquitos fly me to the summit.”

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated August 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Clouds Rest Trail Maps

Like most trails in Yosemite NP, the trails to Clouds Rest are well-traveled, well-maintained, and easy to follow. The only thing to note is that the mileage markers on the (metal) trail signs don’t match with the current trail; they are longer. I’m not sure if this is something the park is going to fix, or if they do it to scare folks a bit, but just something to note as you hike along.

Click To View Map

Clouds Rest Hike Guide Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Elevation Profile

Clouds Rest Hike Elevation Profile
The hike to Clouds Rest is not a straight uphill. The hardest part is the initial climb. After that you have some rolling terrain and then the final climb to the summit, which is not as steep or tough as the first climb. This is a one-way view of the hike FYI.

The high elevation can make this hike seem much tougher than it would be at sea-level.  People have been evacuated on this hike because of altitude sickness. Check out the section on altitude sickness on my guide to Mt Whitney so that you can stay safe.

Hike Landmarks

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Trailhead08170
Start of First Climb 1.58200
First Summit2.59220
Pond3.68960
Last Climb Start4.28880
Start of Ridge5.99620
Clouds Rest6.29926

3D Map

Clouds Rest Hike 3d Map
From Tenaya Lake, you have a level section before the first climb. Then it’s a slight downhill with some rolling terrain, and then a climb up to the summit. You can see the drop on the west side of Clouds Rest in this view.

How Dangerous is the Clouds Rest Hike?

Clouds Rest Hike Directions 30
Although the final push to Clouds Rest is exposed, it’s not super-narrow if you follow the trail, which goes to the left of the actual spine in the narrower parts. The view here, which is probably 20 feet wide, is generally as narrow as you will experience.

Having hiked Half Dome and Clouds Rest many times, I can confidently tell you that Clouds Rest is much LESS scary if you have a fear of heights. Here’s what you need to know.

Clouds Rest Spine
Here’s a view of the spine looking back from the summit. Take the trail to the left (right here in reverse view) of the top of the spine and you’ll be fine. You can also see that there is not a sheer drop down to the right in this shot. Just rocks and some trees.

Clouds Rest Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

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The trail starts on the boardwalk right next to the toilet.
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Hike over the boardwalk.
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Stay straight on the main trail, avoiding the trail to Tenaya Lake on the left.
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Hope over the rocks to cross Tenaya Creek. In early spring the rocks can be underwater.
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Another trail to the left, bear right and straight.
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This sign doesn’t mention Clouds Rest, but you’re still in the right place. Keep going straight.
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One last side trail to the left going to the Tenaya Lake Loop Trail. Hike straight.
Clouds Rest Hike Directions 1
Right after that junction you’ll see a trail sign mentioning Clouds Rest (but it’s not 7.1 miles from here).
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Enjoy the next mile or so of flat, shaded trail through the pines.
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After about 1.5 miles you’re going to start the hardest climb of the day. It’s rocky and steep. Take your time.
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There are some switchbacks and gentler sections.
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And then there are some steep rocky sections. Know that conquering this first climb should be the toughest thing you do on the hike.
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At the summit, hike straight, avoiding the trail on the left to Sunrise Lakes.
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Here’s another sign for Clouds Rest at the junction.
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And now you have a downhill followed by some rolling terrain.
Clouds Rest Hike Directions 33
The peak off to the left is Sunrise Mountain, not Clouds Rest, and you don’t have to hike up it.
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During the rolling section you’ll pass this beautiful seasonal pond.
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And then the trail gets rocky and you start to climb again. From here to the summit, the climb is more fits and starts than a tough grind.
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At the intersection with the Pack Trail, go straight.
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Here’s the trail sign at that junction. Not much farther to go.
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Eventually you’ll catch a glimpse of Clouds Rest in the distance to your left.
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If you look back to your left you’ll also see the dramatic Mt Clark, at 11,527 feet. It’s not the highest peak in  Yosemite, but it is very prominent. It was named after Galen Clark, the first “guardian” of Yosemite. You can learn more about him in my guide to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Clouds Rest Hike Directions 23
You have one little downhill section before the last push to Clouds Rest.
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When the trail reaches the beginning of the ridge, make the hard left and follow it.

From here on out the trail goes over the granite. There is enough trail traffic here so that you should be able to see footprints in the dirt and smoothing on the rocks to mark the trail.

Clouds Rest Hike Directions 25
Go straight down the middle of the granite, avoiding the right side.
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You’ll see a sign for Clouds Rest. Keep heading straight, favoring the left side of the spine.
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You can see that if you get too close to the right side, the drop is extreme. BTW that’s Half Dome in the distance to the right.
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Here you can see how the trail follows the left side of the spine. You can also see footprints in the dirt from other hikers.
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More views of the left-side trail, here it’s some steps made out of granite.
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One last stretch before you reach the summit.
Clouds Rest Summit
Here you are, the summit!
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Down to the right are nice views of Half Dome. That little white line up the middle of Half Dome is the cables route.
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When you’re done at the summit, just head back down the same way that you came.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.