Stop and smell the roses: Backpacking Clouds Rest in Yosemite

Skylar Schoemig/Staff

‘Tis the summer to stop and smell the roses. ‘Tis the summer of adventures that fill your spirit with youth and resilience. ‘Tis the summer of getting lost in Yosemite’s marvelous backcountry. The crisp, fresh air nourishes the soul, the mountain runoff rejuvenates the body, and the sublime scenery allows you to forget that cellphones and social media exist. Embrace the silence. Allow your mind to sway like the dazzling pine trees above. 

Clouds Rest from Yosemite Valley is a stellar backpacking destination for those of all experience levels, especially first-time backpackers! The trail is an 18-mile round-trip trek, with the final destination at 10,000 feet above sea level. Clouds Rest has extensive views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley and miles and miles of wilderness. You can take a day hike to Clouds Rest without a permit, or obtain a first-come, first-served backpacking permit at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Permits go fast, however, so be sure to get there in the early hours of dawn for the best chance.

This trail is not easy. The steep switchbacks can be quite strenuous at parts and require ample water and a good pair of hiking boots. I suggest you hike from Yosemite Valley to Little Yosemite Valley Campground the first afternoon and set up camp before night falls — especially if it’s your first backpacking trip. Set up tents, collect wood, fill up water bottles and cook dinner. Then wake up early to hike the final stretch to Clouds Rest the following day.

Take this time to relax, enjoy good company and sing campfire songs. If you wander a bit past Little Yosemite, you will stumble upon a wooden bridge crossing a stream. This is a splendid place to sprawl out on in the pitch darkness of the night and explore the constellations above.

Sunrise Creek is only steps away from Little Yosemite Valley Campground. This creek is an excellent spot to fill up water bottles and refresh. When backpacking with friends, creeks and streams always seem to spark a desire to get naked and jump in — especially when you’re close to the campsite and two whiskey sips in. Don’t resist the urge!

Switchback after switchback, the three remaining miles up to Clouds Rest are the toughest but most rewarding. Take in the buoyancy vibrating from each tree, listen to nature’s anthem, and take breaks!

Overlooking the infamous Half Dome, one is taken aback by this masterpiece created by nature’s paintbrush. The layered shadows of mountains far off into the distance put life into perspective, making you feel microscopic. Nothing compares to the views from the peak of Clouds Rest. 

Appreciate the various colors that come and go as dawn becomes midday and midday becomes twilight. As you chase the sun back down to Little Yosemite — or Yosemite Valley — absorb the electric yellows, grays and oranges that light up the path for you. 

Escaping to the depths of the Clouds Rest trail makes living the simple, uncluttered life seem very appealing. Backpacking allows you to become one with nature and truly test your abilities. 

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected].