CLOUDS REST (via Sunrise Trailhead)

Trail Information Photos 1 2

looking down at Half Dome in the distance from the summit of Clouds Rest (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

A Summit Higher than Half Dome:

With an elevation over 1000 higher than Half Dome and massive bare walls that slope thousands of feet down into Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest is an impressive peak that can be seen from all over the park, including Tunnel View and Olmsted Point. While it is possible to hike from Yosemite Valley up to the summit of Clouds Rest, the strenuousness of the 16-mile round trip with 6000' of elevation gain will discourage all but the strongest hikers. A hike in from Tioga Road to the north makes for a more reasonable day hike through some beautiful wilderness scenery. The final push up the narrow and exposed ridgeline is a thrilling experience.

Strenuous day hike
Sunrise Trailhead off of Tioga Road, just south of Tenaya Lake
Time Required:
7-10 hours to summit of Clouds Rest and back
13 miles to Clouds Rest and back
Elevation Change:
Roughly 2000-feet of elevation gain in two separate pushes with a 400-ft descent in between. (Sunrise Trailhead: 8151', Clouds Rest summit: 9931')
Summer to autumn (whenever Tioga Road is open for the season and the route is not covered in snow)

Getting to the Trailhead:

The Sunrise Trailhead is located along Tioga Road, roughly 1.4 miles east of Olmsted Point at the south end of Tenaya Lake. The small parking lot on the south side of the road is well-marked but is almost always full. Extra parking can be found along the sides of the road but look out for any "no parking here" signs.

map icon linking to large map Clouds Rest Map
(hiking in from the Sunrise Trailhead)

Hiking to Clouds Rest:

From the parking lot, follow the trail south and cross Tenaya Creek. (Rocks have been put in place to help with the stream crossing, but in spring melt conditions, you are still likely to get your feet wet.) You will pass two trail junctions very early in the hike; make sure you follow the signs to Cloud Rest and or Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

hiking up the trail to the Sunrise Lakes (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

The first 1.5 miles of the hike are pleasant and mostly level as the trail wanders south through the forested landscape of rolling granite formations. Soon enough we have our first big push of the hike as the trail ascends roughly 1000 feet to gain the ridgeline east of Tenaya Canyon. This stretch of trail has a lot of intricate old tail work (steps, etc.) although much of it has crumbled over time.

At the saddle and junction with the trail to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, continue south as the trail starts its descent into a forested meadow. Sunrise Mountain can be seen prominently to the east. (Early in the season, there may be a few spots where your feet may get wet.)

As you reach the south side of the meadow, the trail begins another 1000-foot ascent and after the next junction, the trail turns west to head for the Clouds Rest ridgeline. At this elevation, most people will feel somewhat out of breath from the constant uphill; take it easy and know that you are almost there! Once the trail hits the first exposed teaser view down into Tenaya Canyon, the effort will all seem worth it.

walking on top of the narrow spine of Clouds Rest (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

The final half-mile stretch to the summit is simply spectacular as you ascend a narrow ridgeline of granite slabs with tall drops on both sides. (While the exposure might not be considered perilous, it can definitely be intimidating to those with a fear of heights. Do not push yourself beyond your limit.) Once at the summit, you can get a wonderful 360-degree view all around Yosemite.

Just south of the high point are several nice spots to relax and take in the view with the profile of Half Dome and the Subdome standing prominently in the distance. If you are lucky enough to be doing a one-way through hike, it's another 8 miles and 6000' descent to the floor of Yosemite Valley. Otherwise it's a mostly downhill return hike to Sunrise Trailhead.

NOTE: There is an old alternate trail that wanders around the east side of Clouds Rest avoiding the actual summit, although it may be a bit washed out and hard to follow in parts. If there is any threat of thunderstorms, get off of the summit and head for lower ground.

Joe's Spin:

The hike from Sunrise Trailhead to Clouds Rest makes for a strenuous yet rewarding day in some classic Yosemite wilderness scenery. The elevation definitely plays a factor in difficulty and helps keep away the crowds. If you don't mind the exposure, hiking along the summit ridgeline is an absolutely stunning experience.

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