If you are a hiking enthusiast in California then you simply have to tick the Clouds Rest Trail off your adventure list. I had the pleasure of hiking this trail in July of last year and it blew me away. So much so that I feel the need to write about it here and share my experiences with the world!
Before I tell you all about the amazing Clouds Rest Trail at Yosemite, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emily Lake (@emilyuphigh) and I grew up in rural northern California, in a community surrounded by outdoor recreation and a family who was very outdoor minded. It was easy to spend a lot of my formative years outside, camping and hiking.
Reflecting back now as an adult, I think I took a lot of my upbringing in nature and the opportunities I had to explore outside for granted – it was just normal for me. But then, in the busyness of my early adulthood life, I let my time outdoors fall away and lost a little part of me in the process.
It wasn’t until my 30’s when I chose to rekindle that special part of me that feels so alive when I’m exploring a new place. I began to put a lot of energy into hiking and eventually backpacking – cultivating what I would now refer to as a core part of who I am. Although now I spend my working hours in public service, I spend as much free time as I can exploring new places in nature – particularly in the mountains with a pack on my shoulders.
Why I Love Backpacking and Hiking
I have a deep reverence for the human body and what it is capable of, believing the limits of what we can do physically and mentally are so much further out than we give ourselves credit for most of the time. In the same breath, I find that nature with it’s cycles, stillness and purpose is such a beautiful teacher of what is possible in life, and what matters most.
So naturally, combining these forces makes sense to me – using my body to propel me further into the environment is such an easy way to connect with who I am and who I can be. I love hiking and backpacking for those reasons. It forces me to grow because I’m constantly met with new situations and challenges that I get to work through. I also get to witness and experience the wondrous beauties of mountains, meadows and lakes!
Inspiration to Hike Clouds Rest Trail
Clouds Rest Trail is truly one of these wonders. This trail will inspire with it’s beauty and push you to be better than you were before you encountered it. Mary Oliver had it right when she wrote that if you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much. So I’m usually a solo hiker.
But I was fortunate a number of years ago to make such a friend as to be an extension of my family, and together she and I have hiked many miles and backed multiple trails. Clouds Rest Trail was one of our united treks together through California’s extraordinary Sierra Nevada mountain range.
During the height of the pandemic, Yosemite National Park had all but shut down. However, the park reopened with a permitted entry system allowing for limited numbers of day hikers to access it’s trails. My friend and I were able to secure a day permit and decided to hike Clouds Rest Trail.
It had been a trail on our radar for years. And it was at the top of our list of places to experience with this permit because we knew that what was a normally very busy trail would be notably less populated due to the nature of the park’s quota at that time. So we wanted to take advantage of that.
Enjoying the 14-Mile Out and Back Hike
We started our drive to the trailhead in the dark early hours of the morning and made the four hour drive to Tenaya Lake where we began the 14 mile hike, to the most scenic and stoic lookout location in all of Yosemite.
To begin with, Tenaya Lake is stunning, with sandy edges, shallow waters making way to deeper expanses, and stony outcrops – all combining for a destination to please families, paddle boarders, sun bathers, and the like.
The hike to our intended destination continued over a couple of easily traversed water crossings, through beautiful forested meadows, along lovely vistas overlooking portions of the Yosemite Valley, with visually enchanting and muscle triggering rocky stairways parting the path for us.
We were so excited that although it was roughly seven miles one way, the entire trek was a joy of anticipation to the view that would pay off all the work to get there. The approaching rocky stairway to fully ascend Clouds Rest is so iconic that it was just as fun and rewarding to hike upon it as was to stand upon its precipice and take in the 360 degree view of the Yosemite Valley, complete with clear views of Half Dome and Mount Hoffman.
Biggest Challenges of Clouds Rest Trail
It’s not a trail for those afraid of heights, as the final climb scales the spine of the mountain, with large stones acting as giant steps to traverse to a pinnacle allowing for the perfect view down into canyons and deathly drop offs in multiple directions. The scene is tremendous and the work to get there will be more than worth it, but it’s not for the faint of heart either.
Considering the length of 14 miles and elevation gain of more than 3,000 ft, paired with the circumstances of the final ascent, I would recommend this hike for confident and experienced hikers. Even if you can go slowly, this is one to expand your personal boundaries with. You will be grateful you did!
Highlights of Clouds Rest Trail
The best part of this trip was, perhaps unsurprisingly, being at the top spending time taking in the many views and sights, taking photographs, and eating my lunch in the presence of such incredible creations of nature.
We were rewarded by not having the space overcrowded by others and with a rather large area to spread out at the top. There was plenty of room to find our own private perch to rest and fuel up, as we had earned it.
After the hike back down the trail to the lake, we spent some time near the water, enjoying the place we were at while we had the opportunity to be there, before making our drive back home in the dark once again.
I would love the opportunity to do this hike again as part of a trip from a different starting point such as Glacier Point or Happy Isles Trailhead. Both of these options add more mileage and come from different areas of the park to provide greater exposure to all the visual wonder it has to offer. Of course, I would need a permit for that too! And a bear canister 🙂