Why Backpacking Clouds Rest Should Make Your Permit Application Lineup

Views from Clouds Rest are as worthy as they come in the State of California. Now if we could just brainstorm a better way to provide egalitarian access to the summit…

By: Andrew Johnson
November 13, 2016

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Literally, no good reason as to why it took me so long to hike to Clouds Rest. If there is, I’m really not sure what it is. As a self-proclaimed view hunter that’s been diligently exploring California and the Western U.S. with handfuls of cameras over the last few years, the views from the summit of Clouds Rest in the middle of the Yosemite Valley are nearly peerless in the Golden State. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. And CA has so many diverse and harmonious views – both known, and those yet to be discovered…with its urban centers, topographical variety, vast ranges and whatnot (Fun fact: California shares its climate with a few global regions: Western Australia, Costal Chile, and parts of the Mediterranean Rim).

When I was first getting into camping, it took a few hard fails before I fully digested the importance of the permit application process and subsequent lottery. Like, what if all vacationing and travel was like that? You couldn’t directly purchase airfare because of an oversaturated buyer’s market, so rather than receive an e-mail receipt to confirm your booking, you are entered into a ‘lottery’ in which you may or may not be able to travel to your planned destination…(As an NBA fan, I’ve always struggled with the idea of a truly randomized lottery). That would make holiday travel pretty tough. In terms of our national parks, though, it’s all we got at the moment, and though I’m probably sipping the haterade here, I don’t really have a better solution to striking a balance between overpopulation and environmental conservationism. So until I workshop a better solution to pitch the National Park Service, I’m with it! That said, in order to plan for a few of the more-oft visited destinations throughout the southwestern United States, it’s necessary to pipeline the permit application windows for those travel spots that do require a permit (i.e. Half Dome, Havasu Falls, Mt. Whitney, various parts of the Grand Canyon and Zion Narrows, etc.). Alternatively, depending on the park, you can outrun everyone to the starting line, and can often secure unused day and/or overnight permits on-site (where available), if you’re willing to line up outside the ranger station/visitor center at dawn. Note: I used to think all campers were irie until I saw a few people go all Black Friday on some of these lineups. Don’t be scurred, though, people be people J. To the extent you can carve the time, I’d recommend researching the lottery period for your desired route/location, and having each person in your party independently enter to maximize your chances of obtaining a permit. And if you have a list of potential travel destinations like me, can you please consider adding an overnight backpacking permit for Clouds Rest??? Thank you!!

Once in Yosemite Park, you can jump the shuttle (it runs from 7 AM to 10 PM), which will drop you off at the trailhead (Stop 16) for the Happy Isles/Mist Trail, which goes to Vernal Falls, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and beyond.  As soon as the crowd starts to thin (depending on what time you start), the first push is an even, quality burn, and I’d recommend taking the John Muir Trial the first few miles up to Vernal Falls. It’s a little less travelled, provides nice middleground views of the falls and the backside of Half Dome, and is fairly shaded in the morning (for those traveling during warmer months; I last went in late May, and it was almost 90 degrees on the valley floor and about 40 degrees at the summit).

Once past the falls, which makes for a natural rest stop, you’ll continue on (the trails briefly merge after Vernal Falls, so as long as you’re generally heading north/northeast, you’re in good shape), and just past the backpacker’s camp, you’ll come to a figurative fork in the road. Left >>> Half Dome. Right >>> Clouds Rest/Tenaya Lake/Tuolumne Meadows. Permit check by a floating park ranger should be in and around this area. Once you make the pivot, you might be about halfway through your one-way to the top (if you begin from the valley floor, as opposed to camping at the backpackers camp near Vernal Falls or coming in from the east side). After that, it’s left, right, left (*foot after foot, not directional turning) – all the way to the top, which, at 9,996 feet, is the highest point in Yosemite. We scouted some turf, pitched our tents, and dropped our packs at the end of the tree line, just before the naked shoulder begins to emerge and crest into its exposed peak, hiking the final ~1.5 mile stretch with a couple of day packs and summit essentials.

As the park’s zenith, it offers wildly sweeping panoramic vistas of the park. For this reason alone, Clouds Rest should join your permit application lineup. Total 360. Like virtual reality, but without the virtual part.

West-facing views offer gorgeously unobstructed lines of sight to Half Dome and throughout the valley floor. North and south-facing views provide viewsheds into the northern and southern expanses of the park (particularly views to the south). Facing east (depicted in the cover shot), you can see Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, the Sierra Nevadas and, if you strain your eyes, parts of northern Wisconsin. Hopefully, the photographs alone are a sufficient sales pitch (not that you really need one). Views from Clouds Rest are as worthy as they come in the State of California. Now…if we could just brainstorm a better way to provide egalitarian access to the summit…

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.