Clouds Rest vs. Half Dome: Which One Should You Hike?

Clouds Rest vs. Half Dome: Which One Should You Hike?

Half Dome Hike, Clouds Rest Yosemite

Of course, if we had our choice we would hike both no question. But alas, sometimes in life you simply cannot have it all. When choosing between 2 of Yosemite’s most iconic hikes, here is some information to take into account.

A tough choice, but in the end you can’t go wrong as they both offer the best Yosemite views you can experience.


Half Dome Hike

Standing at 8,836 feet, Half Dome is one of the most iconic features in Yosemite National Park.  Lace up your boots and prepare for an early start at Happy Isle’s trailhead. Start by ascending the Mist Trail, then cross the Vernal Fall foot bridge where you’ll get your first view of the 317 feet Vernal Fall.  Leave your cotton at home, the Mist Trail is sure to leave you wet.  Past Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall will come into view.  The backside of Half Dome will come into view as you hike toward Nevada Fall.  Leaving the crowds of the Mist Trail behind, and reaching the top of the fall, you will be rewarded with a stunning view of one of Yosemite’s largest waterfalls.  As you hike toward Little Yosemite Valley, enjoy the views of the less seen backside of Half Dome.  After a nice rest along the banks of the Merced, prepare for the rigorous ascent of the Sub Dome, followed by the Half Dome.  On top of the Sub Dome you’ll catch sight of the cables leading up to the summit of Half Dome.  When you get to the top of the cables and make your way across the flat expanse of Half Dome’s granite summit, be sure to go to the visor which hangs precipitously 4,000 feet over the valley floor.

  • Miles: Roughly 16 miles round trip
  • Trip Length: 12 – 16 hours
  • Difficulty: 
Fairly difficult, not recommended for kids
  • Altitude gain: ~4,000ft
  • Time of year open to the public: closed in winter
  • Annual foot traffic amount: High
  • Any permits needed: Half Dome permit + a Wilderness permit if you’re doing it as an overnight. Keep in mind you’ll need to be at the Permit Station pretty early to get in line for these.


Clouds Rest Hike

The hike up to Clouds Rest is a difficult yet rewarding one. You’ll start on Tioga Road at the west end of Tenaya Lake (Sunrise trailhead), and begin the hike with a view of the lake on the left. Make sure to take in the view as you gain elevation on your way up to Sunrise Lakes. Once you get to the junction past the lakes you’ll begin hiking along the ridge. Finally, the Spine will come into view.  Be wary of the 1,000 ft drops on either side as you make your way across.  Enjoy the views of Half Dome and the Valley from the top of Cloud’s Rest before heading back down.

  • Miles: 12.5 miles round trip
  • Trip length: 10-12 hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Altitude: 9,926 feet
    • Time of year open to the public: May be inaccessible in the winter
  • Annual foot traffic amount: High
  • Any permits needed: No permits needed.

While both of these hikes are strenuous, they also provide incredible views of Yosemite National Park.  If you’re looking for a less crowded hike, Clouds Rest is for you; however, if you’re looking to summit one of Yosemite’s best known peaks, Half Dome is a better choice.


* Lasting Adventures offers guided hikes of both of these, and if you just can’t choose, we also offer the Clouds Rest to Half Dome backpacking trip so you don’t have to!

Happy Hiking!

  • Ricky Deutsch
    Posted at 22:42h, 16 July Reply

    Alas- You CAN and should do them both! Clouds Rest … Park near Tenaya lake and hike towards Sunrise. 7 hrs RT if you are slow. Plenty of water sources. Look for the two USGS markers on the top. Use poles.

    • Pat Ransil
      Posted at 16:30h, 05 November Reply

      Hi Ricky! Absolutely correct, do both. I have done Half Dome 6 times (I think you have done it 70 or more!). I did Clouds Rest from Curry Village last week. It is quite long this way (~23 miles and nearly 6000 ft elevation) but great!

  • Matt
    Posted at 02:49h, 25 October Reply

    If you want more of a challenge getting to the summit of Clouds Rest, you can start your hike at Happy Isles just like Half Dome. In fact, up to the cutoff to the Half Dome Trail, it is the same hike. Besides hiking on the Mist Trail and doing a more challenging hike, this route has a couple of other advantages compared to the Tenaya Lake Route. First of all, you can do it early in the season when Tioga Pass Road is closed. Also, you can do it late in the season without any worries about trying to return to your car before dark. This is a concern since cars parked on Tioga Pass Road after sunset later than October 15 can be cited or even towed.

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