Walk among the Clouds
The Clouds Rest Trail is one of the premier hikes in Yosemite that does not get the crowds you'll find on Half Dome. This is an excellent alternative if permits are not available for Half Dome. The trail starts on the southwest side of Tenaya Lake at the Sunrise Trailhead. There is a fair amount of parking available. You can also park along Tioga Road. Bear Storage Lockers are available at the Trailhead as well. Don't leave any scented items in your car or it will be at risk to a bear. They are known for breaking into cars.
The trail starts off on pavement but turns to dirt soon after. You'll cross a creek and continue on relatively flat ground. The first mile meanders into the forest. You'll be treated to a magnificent view of Clouds Rest a little less than a mile into the hike. Continue on and the trail will start heading uphill. This portion is the longest climb of the hike. It's good to get it out of the way early. As you make your way up the switchbacks you'll be treated to nice views to the north of Mount Hoffman. Also keep your eye out for Yellow Bellied Marmots. I saw four of them throughout this hike.
At the 2.5 mile mark, the trail reaches a saddle where you come to a signed trail junction. The Sunrise High Sierra Camp heads to the east. Continue straight for Clouds Rest. The trail immediately starts descending downhill and continues for roughly a half mile. Things level off and you'll eventually come to a small pond. This is your best opportunity for treating water. This is also a good area to camp. The trail continues through the forest with limited views.
You reach the next junction at the 4.5 mile mark. This is a signed junction as well but there is no mention of Clouds Rest. A trail takes off to the left and leads to Little Yosemite Valley. You'll need to continue heading straight. As you proceed the trail starts to gain elevation again. Keep in mind your hiking at roughly 9,000 feet so you might find yourself winded. Take a moment to catch your breath and continue when you're ready. Your almost there!
The last stretch involves a mixture of flat hiking and uphill. You'll have some brief glances of the summit as you near. Finally you emerge from the forest and can see the final climb. The climb to the top follows a granite staircase. There is no set "trail". Just head up whatever route you choose. There is a drop on both sides but I never felt any anxiety along this stretch. There was a light wind blowing. Strong winds will make this stretch a little dangerous. After a few minutes you'll reach the summit and are greeted with 360 degree views of Yosemite. Half Dome lies below you to the west. You look down on the cable route. The Clark Range lies to the south. You're starting point, Tenaya Lake, lies to the west. Mount Hoffman lies to the north.
After you have your fill on the summit, return the way you came. You can also continue hiking west. This will lead you to the Half Dome trail. You can summit Half Dome (Permit Required) or head for Yosemite Valley. Whatever route you choose will be rewarding. After completing the hike, you'll look at Clouds Rest in a different light.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.