Yosemite National Park, CA
Family Friendly?: Yes
Age Range: Pre-Teens +
Recommendations: This is a long hike with potentia
Most people know Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park as the ridge you see behind Half Dome from Yosemite Valley, if they notice it at all. What most people don’t know is that Clouds Rest is actually higher, more accessible and offers a superior view than Half Dome.
The Clouds Rest hike begins at Tenaya Lake. The trail crosses the Tenaya Lake outlet and in my experience it is best to take off your shoes to make the short, shallow crossing rather than spend the entire day with wet feet. Be forewarned, I have been attacked by unrelenting swarms of mosquitoes in this area so bug spray is highly suggested. The worst of it doesn’t last long, but you will be covered with bites in seconds without protection.
Once you have successfully run the gauntlet of little vampires, the trail meanders for a while through a scenic forest before hitting a stretch of challenging switchbacks. The switchbacks are tiring, but they offer up some excellent views of Tenaya Canyon and burn a good bit of the vertical pretty quickly. After the climb, the trail meanders for a while longer until you reach the Clouds Rest Trail junction with the Forsyth Trail. Bear right for the push to the summit. You will cross one minor ridge, drop into a saddle and then a few hundred yards later the trees will thin and the views begin. From there go a few hundred yards more and when the trail begins to fade out, carefully scramble up to the crest. The scene from the crest is absolutely astounding, however the summit still lies a few hundred yards further up the ridge. This final bit is fairly exposed with no trail to speak of, so you need to take your time. It’s not nearly as exciting as the cables on Half Dome, but if you fear heights you may take pause at continuing. The view from the summit is one of Yosemite’s best with a perspective on Half Dome that few people ever see. Turn 360 degrees and every bit of it is spectacular, from familiar valley features to endless high country.
All told, the Clouds Rest hike is about 14 miles round-trip but in my opinion it feels much easier than it looks. Because the trailhead is quite a bit higher than the valley, you get to look down over twice the vertical that you had to walk up – a great bargain! For experienced walkers it is a very comfortable day hike. As always, keep an eye out for thunderstorms. Even though you get off the summit ridge quickly, you really don’t want to be up there with lightning around.
If you know how to take care of yourself in the backcountry and are comfortable walking by headlamp, Clouds Rest is an amazing place to watch sunset over Half Dome and the valley. It is a truly memorable outdoor adventure. You can be off the exposed part in just a few minutes so there is time to take advantage of the fading light to get to less risky terrain. I once had to endure a lecture from a park ranger about the dangers of hiking alone after dark, but she agreed that (at the time) there was no rule against it. She had been after some rowdies who were throwing beer cans in the lake so she was probably just venting. Although chances are slim that you will meet a ranger, you might want to check on that before trying it yourself.
Although the opportunities for hiking in California are endless, I often find myself returning to Clouds Rest. It is just one of those places that never gets old.