Clouds Rest Hike Guide
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||12.5 miles (20.1 km)|
|Hike Time||6-8 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||3,260 feet (994m)|
|Highest Elevation||9,926 feet (3025m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Entry Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Yosemite National Park|
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
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.”
The Best All-Around Hiking Footwear
For most hikers, a hiking shoe is the great choice, and the Moab 2 is a winner. The ventilation is great, they last forever, offer good protection, and have a solid grip. There are sizing options for everyone’s foot in this really comfortable and reliable shoe. This shoe is also a favorite of thru-hikers. The only downside is that they are a little heavy. If you are looking for something more aggressive or lighter, check out the bottom of my gear page.
Latest Price on Women’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated April 2021.
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.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.
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.
|Start of First Climb||1.5||8200|
|Last Climb Start||4.2||8880|
|Start of Ridge||5.9||9620|
How Dangerous is the Clouds Rest Hike?
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.
- The “spine” section of exposed trail over granite is roughly the last 0.3 miles of the hike to Clouds Rest.
- On the right of the spine is Tenaya Canyon, a steep drop, and on the left is a gentler slope with some talus and vegetation (before a steep drop).
- You don’t actually hike on the literal “spine” the entire way. The trail goes on the left side of the spine on the narrowest section, away from any steep drop. I’ll show you pictures in the directions below. Stay to the left and you’re fine. If you do follow the spine all the way, you will be on a narrow section about 3-4″ wide with a steep drop on the right side.
- I would (anecdotally) say that the trail never is really less than 5′ wide, which is wider than the main Grand Canyon trails. Most of the time it is much wider.
- There is always a trail. You are never hanging, jumping, or inching along a ledge or cliff edge.
- I encourage you to watch the 360 video (link below) so you can look down and get an idea of what it’s like.
- If you experience fear, just go a few steps at a time, pause, look ahead for the trail, and continue. Don’t look around at the horizon.
- The actual summit is not narrow and is wide enough for lots of people.
- If it’s very windy, it can be a little nervy. I’ve crawled when winds were 30mph up here.
- If there are thunderstorms, it’s not safe to be in this exposed location.
- In modern times, the only death on Clouds Rest was in 2009, when a woman fell from the summit, not the spine.
Clouds Rest Hike Directions
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Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great
Turn by Turn Directions
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.
This guide last updated on September 18, 2020. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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