At 9,931 feet, Clouds Rest is the highest point in Yosemite Valley. I have hiked here three times since 2017 so I am very familiar with the Clouds Rest Trail in both summer and winter. There are two different approaches: One from Yosemite Valley (within the park) and the other from Tioga Pass Road at Tenaya Lake. I have also done this hike from both approaches.
The trek from Tioga Pass Road is not accessible during winter as the road is not plowed, so the approach from Yosemite Valley was our only option. This is the much more strenuous approach (double the distance and elevation gain). My friends Trent, Ben and I were looking for a winter trek that was going to challenge us, which is what inspired us to hike it in the snow.
This turned out to be 2-3 times as hard when compared to hiking it in the summer but it was quite a thrill and we enjoyed the challenge. I would love to do it again in summer but the winter experience was quite awesome!
Hiking the Clouds Rest Trail in Winter from Yosemite Valley
The Clouds Rest Trail begins in Yosemite Valley at Happy Isles, which is the same starting point as the Half Dome Trail. From there the trail takes you up the Mist Trail and/or the John Muir Trail (depending on the route you take) until you reach Little Yosemite Valley. The main highlights along this section of the trail are two iconic waterfalls (Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls) followed by many flights of stairs until you reach the top of Nevada Falls.
This section on the trail can be pretty crowded with tourists who hike along the Mist Trail to gaze at these inspiring waterfalls. Once you reach the top of Nevada Falls and enter Little Yosemite Valley, the crowd factor will die down a bit since the trail will get more strenuous from this point onwards.
Along the portion of the trail that travels through Little Yosemite Valley, you will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of Liberty Cap and the backside of Half Dome (a massive and smooth granite rock wall in Yosemite National Park). Little Yosemite Valley gives you a glimpse into the less traveled backcountry of the national park which has much less of a crowd factor.
As you start climbing up Clouds Rest and the summit, you will soak in 360-degree views of Yosemite Valley, which includes Half Dome in the distance and various rock formations in the valley like El Capitan, the Three Brothers, Sentinel Dome, North Dome and Mount Watkins. Behind you will see the high country and various peaks like Mount Hoffman, Mount Conness, Mount Lyell, Mount Dana and Mount Clark. The views are incredible!
My friends Trent and Ben joined me on this winter ascent of Clouds Rest. We have all done various other challenging hikes in California so we knew what we were getting ourselves into – especially in the snow. We all really enjoyed the trail – it was Ben’s and Trent’s first time on this trail as well and they both had a thrill. All three of us enjoy a trek that challenges the mind and body, and we push each other along the way. It was a great experience!
Camping on the Clouds Rest Trail in Winter
We started the Clouds Rest Trail in Yosemite Valley and ended in Yosemite Valley (where we started). It was a two-day trek in total, so we camped one night in a tent about 7.5 miles into the trail. The entire trek was about 20 miles roundtrip (out and back). We finished off the trek on day two where we summited and came all the way back down to the trailhead.
In the winter it is too difficult to do this hike in one day because the snow slows you down and makes the trek more challenging, since you are breaking trail the entire time. If you need a comfortable place to stay before and after your trek, I would recommend the Yosemite Lodge in the Valley. Overnight accommodations in the valley can get pretty pricey though, so for budget hikers I would suggest sleeping in your car or pitching a tent.
Why Winter is so Special in Yosemite
Hiking Clouds Rest in winter was a breathtaking experience. Although it is a tremendously difficult feat, you will be able to see views that no one else may ever see from your vantage point if you make it up to the top of Clouds Rest. In my opinion, the snow really brought out the beauty in the national park – I would say we were in a winter wonderland!
The many attractions along this trail can still be seen regardless of whether snow is present or not. Many people can say they have hiked the Clouds Rest Trail in summer but very few will say they have hiked it in winter!
Prepare with the Right Winter Equipment
This trail took us two full days to complete. The biggest challenge was the presence of snow which slowed us down significantly since we were carving out the trail as we went. We had to use winter equipment like an ice axe, crampons, snowshoes and mountaineering boots since alpine conditions were present. You should have a clear understanding of these tools and gear before you attempt a winter ascent of Clouds Rest.
Map reading capabilities would also be beneficial as you will be following a trail that you cannot visibly see since the snow is covering it. You must know how to use a GPS device so you stay on trail and don’t get lost. Also, you will need to carry a water filter and wind burner stove so you can melt snow to cook food and filter your drinking water along the way. You will wear yourself out if you try to carry all your water for the entire two days.
Best Views on the Clouds Rest Trail in Winter
The best viewpoint along this hike is from the summit of Clouds Rest but you can get some good views along the trail as well. Nothing beats the 360-views that you will be rewarded with from the summit at 9,931 feet. Below are a list of must-see spots that every hiker should look out for on this trail:
- Vernal Falls – on the Mist Trail
- Nevada Falls – on the John Muir Trail
- Liberty Cap – in Little Yosemite Valley
- Backside of Half Dome – in Little Yosemite Valley
- Mount Conness – viewable from the summit
- Mount Lyell – viewable from the summit
- Mount Hoffman – viewable from the summit
- Mount Watkins – viewable from the summit
Favorite Memory from this Hike
My favorite memory was the final summit push on the last 300 feet. It was tough but as you creep up on the summit one foot at a time, the fruits of your labor begin to come into sight and the euphoria really kicks in. I was filled with this rush of emotion despite the toll it had taken on my body.
Summit fever is a real thing and nothing feels better than summiting a mountain peak. If you want a true sensation of being “high” I recommend you do this hike! You will make memories that will last a lifetime.
Tips for Hiking the Clouds Rest Trail in Winter
- Know what you are getting yourself into – preparation is key!
- Check the weather and ensure you do it on a sunny day for the best views.
- Know how to use crampons, an ice axe and snowshoes.
- Be aware of the hazards and don’t go beyond your comfort level.
- Carry a water filter and wind burner stove for water filtering and snow melting purposes!
- Carry a satellite communicator like a Garmin inReach so you can call for help and/or message family members if you run into trouble.
- Don’t go alone.
- Don’t forget to have fun and make memories for years to come!
- Feel free to message me on my Instagram account @sertanusanmaz if you have any further questions!