Hiking & Backpacking / Outdoor Adventures

Epic Yosemite: Sunrise Lakes to Cloud’s Rest

The summit of Cloud's Rest

When it comes to classic Yosemite peaks, Half Dome gets all the attention. All the maps and trail guides talk about Half Dome. Every person who finds out you’re in Yosemite has to ask, “Have you done Half Dome?”

But what they should really be asking is, “Have you done Cloud’s Rest?”

This rocky ridge, though taller than Half Dome at 9,931 feet, sits in the shadow of its more famous cousin. But for those in the know, this is the place with the best views in the whole park — better than Half Dome, and far less crowded on the trail and at the top.

If you didn’t win the lottery for the Half Dome cables (and even if you did), put this at the top of your Yosemite list. You can summit Cloud’s Rest on a day hike but it’s most spectacular as an overnighter, which we did after backpacking in from Sunrise Lakes.

Despite an elevation change of 2,700 feet, the biggest challenge on the hike was the extra weight in water we had to carry. With no water source near the summit of Cloud’s Rest, we needed to bring enough water for our hike in, that evening’s dinner, the next morning’s breakfast, and the next afternoon’s hike out.

From Sunrise Lakes, we retraced our steps back to the trail junction with all the signs. It was only four miles to Cloud’s Rest from here, but would feel like the longest four miles of my life.

The Forsyth Trail descended sharply for the first half mile, winding down a granite staircase through stands of wildflowers. It flattened out for the next two miles, passing through a beautiful wooded valley.

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from Sunrise Lakes

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from Sunrise Lakes

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from the east

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from the east

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from the east

Hiking to Cloud's Rest from the east

We stopped at a little lake on the trail to fill up every bottle and bladder we brought with us; 164 ounces later, I was pretty sure I’d tip over if a leaf had so much as fallen on me.

Our climb began shortly after. The trail started opening up to views of Yosemite Valley, and we had our first peeks at Cloud’s Rest as well as a whole skyline of domes.

Hiking to Cloud's Rest

Hiking to Cloud's Rest

Granite

The last mile zigzagged up Cloud’s Rest and offered expansive views over the valley. If I squinted, I could see the little blue dot that was Tenaya Lake, the start of our hike way, way out there. It’s mind-boggling to picture myself as an even tinier dot traversing those ridges just a few days ago.

View of Tenaya Lake far, far away

Climbing Cloud's Rest

Just before the final scramble to the summit, we reached the infamous Cloud’s Rest Foot Trail. A narrow ridge no more than 20 feet wide (with the smallest section about 10 feet wide), the summit looked like a stack of building blocks. It was a relatively safe hike out, but you definitely didn’t want to trip on anything as both sides were fully exposed.

At the start of the Cloud's Rest Foot Trail

Walking on the infamous Cloud's Rest Foot Trail

I walked along the entire length of the arête to the very tip-top of Cloud’s Rest at 9,931 feet. The views were imposing and humbling. I almost had whiplash just taking it all in. This way… no, that way… no, over there… oh look, over there!

The Cloud's Rest spine

View from Cloud's Rest

The tippity top

The tippity top

Cloud's Rest summit

I don’t know another place in the park where you could get an unobstructed 360° view from the farthest reaches of the high country to the well populated valley floor. All around us were peaks, peaks and more peaks, one after another, layered like a opulent painting.

This is what makes Cloud’s Rest so special — no other dome stands between you and your view, and you really feel like you’re in the center of Yosemite. I could even see Cathedral Peak in the distance, the site of my very first backpacking trip in 2008.

Hiking along the Cloud's Rest ridge

Hiking along the Cloud's Rest ridge

Views for days

Views for days

Cloud's Rest summit

Cloud's Rest summit

The golden hour

The golden hour

Cloud's Rest summit

To the west stood Half Dome and though a thousand feet shorter, was no less impressive. The Grand Dame of Yosemite domes was a striking feature of the valley. We could even make out a faint streak of white where the cable path was installed.

View of Half Dome from Cloud's Rest

View of Half Dome from Cloud's Rest

We sat on the ridge, munching on jerky and chocolate and laughing at all the people in line to climb the cables on Half Dome. They looked like little ants marching up and down the face.

Half Dome

With the sun waning on the horizon, we started debating where to set up camp. Should we hike down a bit and pitch our tents on a lower ridge? Should we hike all the way down and camp in the woods below Cloud’s Rest? Our main concern was wind; but with the air being so still and warm, we decided to set up camp right on the spine, on a 20-foot span of granite standing thousands of feet above the valley floor.

Half Dome in the golden light

The golden hour

Our tent catching that golden hour glow

Setting up camp on Cloud's Rest

Setting up camp on Cloud's Rest

Setting up camp on Cloud's Rest

Setting up camp on Cloud's Rest

There was no “better” view at camp, as each of our tents had a primo view of the Yosemite peaks. We anchored to every possible boulder, block, chockstone, and chickenhead — guylines going everywhere. Walking just a few feet in any direction from our tent brought us right to the edge of the spine, so something as simple as, say, going to the restroom at night was not something we wanted to do while still half-asleep.

Pitching a tent near the edge of the ridge

Our camp on top of Cloud's Rest

Camping on top of Cloud's Rest

Camping on top of Cloud's Rest

Hands down, Cloud’s Rest is and was the most epic campsite I have ever, ever experienced. I think this was the point in our trip where all of us felt like our lives had changed in some way.

Watching the sunset to a soundtrack of Ben Gibbard on my iPod speaker, I was tearing up thinking about how exquisite that place, and especially that moment, was. When it comes down to it, being able to be present is such a great gift in life.

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

At night, we had our own private planetarium. I could lie down on the rock, look up at the sky, and have a 360° IMAX viewing of the Milky Way sprayed across the screen. I actually had trouble finding my favorite constellations because there were so many other stars visible!

When my friend finally went to bed, his tent glowed like Venus against a backdrop of orange lights from the city far off in the distance… Fresno, perhaps?

Glowing tent

After taking in a glorious sunset the night before, we woke up to a beautiful, quiet sunrise. The first rays of light spilled over the top of Half Dome while we were brewing coffee. Only one other hiker had managed to make it up to Cloud’s Rest for sunrise and he stayed for less than an hour, so we had the whole ridge to ourselves that morning, watching the park change colors over the course of several hours.

Dawn on Cloud's Rest

Sunrise at Cloud's Rest

Sunrise on Cloud's Rest

Sunrise shoot

The top of Cloud's Rest

One of many spectacular views from Cloud's Rest

When we finally packed up around noon, still no one had made it to the top. We took the Cloud’s Rest Trail heading down and west from the summit. Now if I were to do Cloud’s Rest again, I definitely would not take this trail to the top… You’d have to be quite hardy to go up it from Little Yosemite Valley, which we were hiking down to. (Not that going downhill is any easier than going uphill.)

Descending the Cloud's Rest Trail to the west

Descending the Cloud's Rest Trail to the west

Descending the Cloud's Rest Trail

The western trail to Cloud's Rest

And to cap off our Cloud’s Rest experience, we saw this sweet thing while descending to our next destination.

A sweet sight on our hike down

Trail map: Click here
Segment log: 5 miles with 2,700 feet elevation change
Next segment: Cloud’s Rest to Little Yosemite Valley

Read the full “Epic Yosemite” series:

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

61 Comments

  • mz
    March 1, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    Hi there, did you know that camping on Clouds Rest is ILLEGAL–and that it’d be terrible backcountry camping etiquette even if it wasn’t illegal, given that you’d be obstructing the path of hikers who come up to see the sunrise or sunset? I’d recommend you remove this post so as not to inspire other campers to break the rules and degrade the experience for fellow hikers. Thank you

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      March 9, 2020 at 7:52 pm

      Hi, I appreciate your comment. Several years ago when I camped on Cloud’s Rest, it was not an issue per the rangers we spoke with and I realize that things may have changed by now. As always, I encourage backcountry hikers to study and follow the current rules when they apply for their permits.

      Reply
      • JPl
        August 8, 2020 at 12:14 am

        From Yosemite – “No camping is allowed within 100 ft of all trails and water sources, since there is a designated trail on Clouds Rest, one cannot spend the night on or near the summit proper because you would be violating the 100 foot rule.” You need to add a note to this blog — it’s one of the first things that comes up on a google search for camping and Clouds Rest. It’s irresponsible not to.

        Reply
  • Lindsay Marcelle Bouchard
    October 26, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    Hello there I was wondering how long the hike was to the top of clouds rest? My boyfriend and I are starting to plan our trip for June 2020 and definitely want to make this a priority hike/camping stop.

    Reply
  • shana foster
    August 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    I love your camp shoes! they look super light for a pack. I just stumbled on your blog while trying to follow my significant while he hikes for 8 days with his boy scouts in the park. Can you tell me what your shoes are and where you purchased them? Your pictures and descriptions are wonderful. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      August 19, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Thank you Shana! Those Timberland camp shoes were discontinued a while ago, but this style is similar with its zip-around feature: https://amzn.to/2HdOde3

      Reply
  • Vinay Gadamsetti
    May 1, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Linda, great Post, wondering if you needed wilderness pass to camp there? How hard is to camp if you don’t have a pass?
    Thanks,
    Vinay.

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      June 10, 2019 at 12:42 am

      Hi, thank you! Yes, you need a backcountry permit for all overnight trips in Yosemite, and the rangers do check if they cross your path. You can reserve permits on Yosemite’s website. The more popular trailheads do “sell out” early, so plan your trip well in advance and have a couple of alternatives in mind if you can’t start at the trailhead you want.

      Reply
  • kdv
    May 6, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    I am looking to camp at clouds rest with a group of 13 other people. We will have about 7 tents, do you think this would be possible? Doesnt look like there is much room…

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      October 17, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      There are plenty of tent spaces down the trail (below the summit). I don’t recommend you camp on top with your group.

      Reply
      • Charles Wang
        June 13, 2017 at 10:37 pm

        Where did you camp on this hike? Was it below the summit or on top of Cloud’s rest summit?

        Reply
  • Jimmy C.S.
    March 28, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Hi There,

    Wondering if you used or needed a bear can while you slept at the top? Thinking about doing this overnighter after seeing your pictures!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      April 27, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Yes, bear cans are required if you spend the night in the backcountry.

      Reply
  • JDV
    March 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Hi, we’re planning almost the same trip here, but we have only 3 days/2 nights. I’m thinking the Tenaya Lake trailhead to Sunrise Lakes, set up camp and then those of us who want to can day hike it to Cloud’s Rest and back in the afternoon. Next day hike to Little Yosemite Valley. Day 3, wake up early and hit Half Dome, then back to LYV to pack up and finish up at the Happy Isles trailhead.

    Based on your experience, does this sound doable for a family of reasonably fit people? I wish we had another day.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      March 7, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      We’d planned a leisurely pace (average of 5 miles per day so we could settle in and relax at each campsite), but if you like a speedier pace and can huff out more mileage, I don’t see why you couldn’t shorten the trip. We met plenty of fastpackers on the trail that did much more in one day. This is something you’d have to discuss with your group.

      Reply
  • JDV
    March 2, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Hi, we’re planning almost the same trip here, but we have only 3 days/2 nights. I’m thinking the Tenaya Lake trailhead to Sunrise Lakes, set up camp and then those of us who want to can day hike it to Cloud’s Rest and back in the afternoon. Next day hike to Little Yosemite Valley. Day 3, wake up early and hit Half Dome, then back to LYV to pack up and finish up at the Happy Isles trailhead.

    Based on your experience, does this sound doable for a family of reasonably fit people? I wish we had another day.

    Reply
  • Sejal
    August 30, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Just competed the same trip and enjoyed an amazing sunset/sunrise and full moon rise/set! Totally epic. I would love if you shared what great meals you made on your trip – I’m getting tired of the freeze dried meals ;).

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      September 9, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      After the first day or two, I typically make freeze-dried meals but doctor them up with ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, dried porcinis, fresh shallots and garlic, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and carrot slaw, bacon bits, olives, shaved parmesan, pine nuts, walnuts, and swirls of olive oil. It’s the little things. 🙂

      A walk down the instant food aisle at a supermarket usually yields some good finds, even if you normally don’t eat all that processed food at home: chili, jamabalaya, gumbo, mashed potatoes.

      I’m also a fan of the instant food from Asian markets, like fresh udon or ramen noodles (vacuum-sealed in pouches), Japanese curry, Chinese sausage (lap xuong), mabo tofu, and various soups like miso or hot and sour (to serve over quinoa or orzo).

      Pitas have many uses as sandwich pockets, flatbread for pizza, and a dipping vehicle for hummus. Salami, peanut butter and apples, and tuna pouches all make a great snack. And I always, always make spam musubi for a backpacking trip. They’ll go for three or four days if wrapped well in plastic!

      Reply
      • Sejal Patel
        April 27, 2017 at 2:58 pm

        Venturing out in another Yosemite trip – any advice for making spam musubi that will last without refrigeration for backpacking?

        Reply
        • Linda from Garden Betty
          May 18, 2017 at 6:43 am

          My spam musubi lasts 3-4 days in my backpack, as I’ve eaten them all by that point. I wouldn’t risk eating them beyond that.

          Reply
  • Mike
    August 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Linda, your story was so inspiring that my wife and I plan on going in a few weeks.

    Quick question though, where did you end up parking? Is there a trailhead parking lot at Sunrise Lakes?

    Thanks Linda!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      August 5, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      We parked at the trailhead at Tenaya Lake. Enjoy your time up there!

      Reply
  • Larry
    June 15, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Linda, thanks for sharing! You captured beautifully what I remember doing more than a decade ago. Cheers

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 23, 2015 at 11:48 am

      You’re welcome! I’m happy to hear it brought back some wonderful memories for you.

      Reply
  • Backcountrycow
    March 24, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    What an amazing campspot! Thanks for the helpful post, can’t wait to do Cloud’s Rest!

    Reply
  • Gillian Lee Keller
    February 16, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Hi there! This looks epic! We were wondering about how long it took you to climb up to the top?! We are thinking of camping at sunrise lakes and going to the top and back down in one day… / if that is possible. We are pretty good hikers but have not been to this area before. Is it a very challenging hike with just a day pack?
    Cheers!!!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Yes, you can do Sunrise Lakes to Cloud’s Rest as a day hike. It’s 5 miles with 2,700 feet elevation change each way, so it’ll be a long, challenging, but doable day if you’re well acclimated and in good shape. We backpacked to the summit with around 40-50 lbs on our backs, so your hiking time would differ greatly from ours.

      Reply
  • J
    January 2, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks for the post, And the amazing pictures. I plan on going there in June 2015. I was wondering where exactly you camped up near CR, as I’m reading and ppl are saying you aren’t allowed to on the very top. 🙂

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      January 2, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      We camped right on top of Cloud’s Rest. Just be aware that there’s no water, no fire, not a lot of flat spots for tents, even fewer features to secure your tents to, and you’d have to descend the mountain if you need to go #2.

      Reply
  • ecostar72
    August 26, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks to your post, I’m headed there with three friends next week!!! looks amazing!!!! Thank you so much. Any recommendations in Sierra

    Reply
  • Brad
    May 27, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Did you need a wilderness permit to camp here?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      May 30, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Yes. The Yosemite site lists available entry dates for all of their trailheads.

      Reply
      • Molly Mann
        May 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm

        Was your permit Sunrise Lake trailhead? Such a beautiful hike. I have never been so Yosemite before and I am finding the website hard to navigate. Thank you!!

        Reply
        • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
          October 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm

          Yes, we started at Sunrise Lakes trailhead.

          Reply
  • RDeLaurentis
    May 1, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I just camped near the same CR location a week or so ago. Your trip looks amazing, I’m glad I stumbled upon this post. Though if I were there and I heard somebody playing music out of an Ipod speaker, I would have drop-kicked it into Tenaya Canyon…

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      May 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks, it was definitely a trip to remember!

      Also, we were the only ones at Cloud’s Rest, so we brought music. If you were camping with other people playing music, I’m sure they’d respect your desire for quiet if you simply asked them to turn it off.

      Reply
  • sue hutson
    September 22, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Thank you for making us almost feel like we were there! Gorgeous pictures! I live on the east side and don’t get to hike much in Yosemite as I always travel with my dog, but I must find a sitter someday for this epic hike. I would never, ever climb Half Dome with all those throngs of folks, solitude rules!

    Reply
  • denise
    August 29, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    seriously…amazing. that view – especially at night. wow!!

    dumb question – what do you sleep on? i’m thinking those rocks must have been hard.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      August 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      I sleep on a Thermarest pad. Though it’s only an inch or two thick, I don’t feel the ground at all. It also makes a great lake floaty! See my last Epic Yosemite post. 🙂

      Reply
      • sri
        October 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm

        Hey Linda, What are ur suggestions for clothing and dress? Which month 8f year did you guys went?

        Reply
        • Linda Ly
          October 19, 2014 at 6:28 pm

          Clothing depends on weather and how long you’ll be on the trail. Always check the forecasts and bring layers. If you’re new to backpacking (or backcountry hiking in general), I do not recommend this route unless you’re going with experienced backpackers.

          We went in July. Mid to late summer is best if you want to avoid snow in the high country.

          Reply

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