Trailhead Location: Sunrise Lakes
On the southern side of Tioga Road, southwestern end of Tenaya Lake (Latitude, Longitude: 37.825883, -119.470066)
Payoff Factor: 5
(1 being “Meh…”, 5 being “Hike? What hike?”)
Difficulty Factor: 4 (some sections are a 5)
(1 being your Grandma can do this hike, 5 being you’ll feel like your Grandma when this hike is over)
Length (Distance): 12.6 miles
Length (Time): 5-7 hours
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 3,218 feet
This is easily one of the top 3 day hikes in Yosemite National Park and likely a top 10 National Park hike. The sweeping panoramic, 360-degree views from the summit provide an incredible display of several of Yosemite’s most prominent landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, Mt. Hoffman and Tenaya Lake.
It is a fairly long and difficult hike with some exposure thrown in just before the summit as you cross a narrow ridge with deep drop-offs on both sides. If you’re afraid of heights you probably don’t want to attempt this hike although there are excellent, but not 360 degree, views just before you cross the arête. You will see conflicting mileages on this trail, but I'm going with the distance from the GPS app I use on my phone as it has been very accurate every time I've tested it.
The trail is easy to follow with only a couple different intersections, but both are well-marked...just keep following the Clouds Rest trail! The trailhead is at the Sunrise parking area which is at the southwestern tip of Tenaya Lake off Tioga Road. You will find bear lockers at the trailhead; we suggest using these if you plan to leave food in your vehicle during the hike.
The trail will run along Tenaya Creek for the first half mile or so and then begins a very steep climb at about two miles in. This is easily the hardest part on your legs as the trail climbs about 1,000 feet in less than a mile (20% grade)...it's no fun on the way down either! From there the trail descends a bit then makes a moderately steep climb to the summit of Clouds Rest.
This hike can easily be done in a day or can be combined with overnight or extended backpacking trips to Sunrise Lakes or Little Yosemite Valley if you're crazy enough to summit Half Dome the next day.
Keep an eye out on those pesky chipmunks at the summit. They will get into your food and are very persistent in doing so!