In a previous post, I walked through what I called the Snow Creek Trail from Tenaya Lake to the Valley. This time we’ll take the much more challenging route to the valley via Cloud’s Rest. This is a long, 17+ mile trek. This does not include a side trip up to Half Dome and back. Being that this is such a long trip, it might be prudent to plan this as a backpacking trip. It all depends. If you are “into” hiking and that’s what you live for, then it might be day hike, albeit, fast-paced and strenuous. However, if your goal is to enjoy the views, the outdoors, and/or take pictures, then you’ll probably want to break it up into, at least, two days. If you also want to tackle Half Dome, then almost certainly you’ll want to break up into two days (or more). By most accounts, if you do Half Dome, you should plan your climb so that you can leave to come down from Half Dome in the early afternoon to avoid the typical thundershowers characteristic in the mid to late afternoon during the summer months. Of course, you’ll need a wilderness permit for overnighting, but you’ll also need a permit to do Half Dome, itself (even if as a day hike). Check with the park service on that. They only allow 300 permits (for Half Dome) per day and you’ll need to get “in line” online, to get your climbing date and, once acquired, get the wilderness permit for the backpacking. But I’ll leave all those logistics to you. I’ll focus on just the hike itself.
The image of Cloud’s Rest is taken from near Olmstead Point. That peak near the far end is where “Cloud’s Rest Footpath” is located about 9 miles into the hike at nearly 9900 feet.
The “topo” graph at the end of the article assumes the hike starts from the picnic area on the northeast side of the lake. The hike starts off tame enough for the first three and a half miles with an elevation gain of less than 100 feet, but as you approach the Sunrise Lakes Junction (about 4 miles in), the elevation rises a good 1000 feet to 9260 feet. Leaving the lake area you are in the south side of a valley or canyon (the “Snow Creek” Trail starts off in the same canyon, but on the north side). After a short while (maybe a quarter of mile), you’ll turn south toward Cloud’s Rest into another canyon. This canyon contains some narrow, rock walled cliffs and some comparatively wide open treed areas, but the elevation change is minor.
About three and a half miles in, the elevation begins an increase in height from about 8200 feet to peak at 9260 by the four mile point at the Sunrise Lakes Trail Junction. This is, by far, the most strenuous part of the hike (aside from its length). For the next two to three miles the treed terrain is comparatively flat never getting higher than 9200 or lower than 8950 feet. A half mile past the junction to the trail to Merced Lake (at 6 miles in), another incline begins. The trail veers to the right and up to the crest of Cloud’s Rest. This is a steady rise of about 900 feet, but is spread pretty evenly over about 2 ½ miles.
At nine miles in, along the crest of Cloud’s Rest there is as fork in the road. The left fork creeps to the edge of Cloud’s Rest and is called the Cloud’s Rest Footpath and it is more of a detour than a separate trail. The path runs about a half mile before joining back up with the main trail. This path will peak at 9880 feet, but will offer what appears to be a spectacular view of, not just the canyon below, but all the way out of the Yosemite Valley. If you choose not to take it, the main trail is a 1/10 of a mile shorter…hardly worth the savings given the view you’d miss.
This marks about the half way point and from here, the trail is, for the most part, all down hill. But only in elevation. Some of the best views in the park are still ahead of us. For the next three miles, there is a steady decline in elevation from where Cloud’s Rest Foot meets up again with the main trail (at 9383 feet) and where it meets the junction with an unnamed trail (at 7235 feet). You’ll be treated to view of Half Dome from the opposite side and you should even be able to see a steady stream of hikers on the way up (if you’ve got good eyesight, a telephoto on your camera or some good binoculars). You’ll also be able to see parts of Little Yosemite Valley as it heads up to Merced Lake.
A half mile later you come to the junction to the Half Dome Trail. It is two miles from this point to the top of Half Dome. In two more miles (14.5 miles in) you will come to the John Muir Trail Junction. This is where the Cloud’s Rest Trail ends. You’ll pass a Ranger Station on the left just before reaching the junction (Elev. about 6125). Just a bit over a half mile farther, you’ll come to the junction of the Mist Trail, which you’ll want to take. But, maybe, you’ll want to wait on that. Just a 1000 more feet down the road is the top of Nevada Falls which might be a nice stop if you haven’t seen it before. When ready, head back up the trail to the Mist Trail and head down. There is a very nice vantage point to see Nevada Falls down along the Mist Trail about a half mile from the top. Once again, with the help of Google Earth, I can pinpoint where the vantage point is located. See the “X” on the image “Nevada Falls Vantage Point.”
Just a bit farther on you will come to the Silver Apron Bridge and the Emerald Pool and finally Vernal Falls; another fabulous view. As you head down the steps from Vernal Falls which should be very late in the afternoon, you will see, very vividly, why the Mist Trail is so named. Illuminated by the setting sun, the mist swirls around the cascades. The mist and the grasses that captured some of it are back lighted by the sun and sparkles. Savor it. In a mile and a half, your hike will be completed.
The total length of the hike could be as much 20 miles or more depending on the side trips you take. Below is line graph of the elevation changes marking various points along the way.