I still have a few hikes/climbs left on my bucket list and Clouds Rest in Yosemite has been on my list for awhile. Running from Lake Tenaya, up and over Clouds Rest, past Half Dome and then down to the Valley floor has been a route that I’ve wanted to do, but arranging a ride back at the end complicates that course. So, instead Dylan and I decided to conquer the trail as an out and back. I had a few days off around the 4th of July and baseball for Dylan just ended which meant our days off were free. With a couple free days on the calendar, we picked Monday, July 2nd for our adventure and left the house at 4 AM. I had contemplated leaving Sunday afternoon and setting up camp outside the park, but decided we could attempt the drive and hike in a single, albeit long, day. No dogs are permitted on the dirt trails in Yosemite so we had to leave Obi at home. The weather smiled on us as we had been dealing with 100 degrees temps at home in the days before but on July 2nd temps in the upper 70’s and low 80’s throughout the day. Also, fires had pushed a lot of smoke into the Central Valley as we drove from the Sacramento area but the air was pretty clear in Yosemite on this day as the smoke was sitting just on the other side of the mountain range.
Clouds Rest is about a 6 1/2 – 7 mile (each way) hike from Lake Tenaya. The Sunrise Lakes Trail trailhead sits on the west side of Lake Tenaya off the Tioga Pass road. Take note: this is only a trip you can take when the road is open and clear of snow. The night before, I downloaded the route to my watch so I could make sure we followed the right trail. We just needed to stay on the Sunrise Lakes Trail which would take us all the way to Clouds Rest, but since I hadn’t been in the area before, having the route on my watch would keep us pointed in the right direction. I hadn’t even thought about mosquitos which meant I didn’t pack any bug spray. This could have proven a fatal mistake as we were nearly eaten alive the first mile passing through the meadows as our path paralleled the Tenaya Creek. Thankfully we ran into a couple that offered us some bug spray from their pack. With the fresh smell of insect repellent emanating from our bodies, we pushed forward.
Around the 1 1/2 mile point, we encountered the first big climb. A moderate climb for about a mile might cause you to question if the hike will be worth the effort. Don’t turn around here as it will get easier. Unfortunately, we passed a couple that was already turning around and giving up their quest for another day. The trail is a little thin in a couple spots however as long as you keep heading up you’ll find it again. Even the views at this point are postcard worthy as the rising sun lit up the granite mountain ranges behind us. And at some openings, we could spot Lake Tenaya off in the distance as a reminder of how far we had already climbed.
Eventually we reach the summit of the first climb at about 9,100 feet. A group of hikers had gathered at the summit and were sitting in the shade at a trail junction. We passed through and went straight ahead and were soon heading down. We dropped a few hundred feet in the next 1/2 mile and I reminded Dylan that climbing out of this on the way back was going to be tough. At one point, we passed another hiker sleeping in the shade but for the most part we had long stretches of walking and talking by ourselves.
Another mile or so later, we were passed by a young guy running and asking if we knew where Henry Lake was. We said we didn’t. He thought we might have passed it but neither of us had seen any markings or lakes. Dylan and I had a little ray of hope that we might be able to jump into a lake and cool off. We hadn’t encountered any water sources since leaving Lake Tenaya and were only climbing higher so it didn’t look promising. However, in 20 minutes or so, we rounded a corner and came up a small lake/pond. It was pretty shallow so neither of us were tempted to jump in.
At about the 5 mile point, the trail noticeably started to go up and the trees began to thin. We had glimpses of little Yosemite and some incredible peaks to the east. One of those was Mt. Florence that stood proud and tall above the others around it. I don’t know if Mt Florence can be climbed but it looked incredible from our vantage point.
About 2/3 of the way up the last climb, we stopped and decided to have lunch. It was around 12:30 and we were both hungry. We found a log under some shade, pulled out our sandwiches and took about 20 minutes to fuel up for the last part of the climb. The last 1/3 of the climb offered more amazing views in all directions. We could even spot Lake Tenaya way, way off in the distance. It looked so small that it was hard to believe it was the same lake we started from earlier that morning.
And before we knew it, we were climbing up to the ridge of Clouds Rest. We were rewarded with some jaw-dropping 360 degree views as we scrambled up the last 100 feet to the very top of the ridge. Both sides had drops of over 1000 feet and we could see Half Dome and El Capitan and the rest of Yosemite all around us.
At the top, we claimed an empty rock, sat next to each other and tried to appreciate what was before us. There were probably 30-50 people at the top. On a weekend, I could see this being a very busy spot so I’d recommend a weekday attempt if possible.
The hike from Lake Tenaya to the Clouds Rest is a moderate hike and Dylan did great as a 10 year old. This was his longest hike and I think the highest altitude he has reached by foot. It’s well worth the effort and even though there are some awesome views along the way, nothing can compare to the views atop Clouds Rest.
As we started down, I pulled out my GoPro to snap a quick video of Dylan walking along the ridge. It’s hard to tell scale from a video but I wouldn’t want to be up here on a really windy day.
On the way back, we connected with a couple visiting from Tasmania. The two of them were travelling around the western states for a couple months, backpacking and sightseeing. Chatting with them made the next couple miles click off before we knew it. We parted ways near the bottom of the climb and followed the path back to the car. After we said goodbye, Dylan said, “They spoke English with just a little accent. What language do you think they speak in Tasmania?” That explanation took the next 30 minutes.
Dylan had a headache so we took our time and took some breaks in the shade. We were back in the car around 5:30 PM and them home by 10:30 PM. Couldn’t have ordered a better day.
Here’s a link to the hike on Strava if you want to see details or download the course: