Backpacking Yosemite: Getting Permits
I recently organized a backpacking trip for 2 nights in Yosemite National Park. The permit process is among the strictest of all US national parks, and careful planning is required to secure permits to backpack in Yosemite. Having failed to get permits to backpack in Yosemite in the past, I was so excited to be granted our first choice of routes that we had listed on the application. We Were also lucky enough to secure Half Dome permits as part of the trip!
Our permit had us starting at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead and staying in the wilderness for 2 nights. We traversed Cloud’s Rest to the John Muir Trail, summited Half Dome, and finished at the Happy Isles trailhead (Yosemite Valley). This ended up being a great route! It was net downhill with a biggest day of 8 miles carrying our packs, plus the 5-mile round-trip to the summit of Half Dome from our campsite.
The trail to Cloud’s Rest was a mix of forest and steep switchbacks, with beautiful views from the steep sections. The uphill sections were difficult with the weight of our packs at altitude. We were happy to tackle the climb early to avoid the climbs in the mid-day heat.
Cloud’s Rest was absolutely incredible, and very difficult to traverse with a full pack. It is just a few feet wide at some points. Falling over could mean a plunge down 5,000 vertical feet of granite to the valleys below. It feels almost like walking on a knife’s edge in the Clouds.
I carefully walked across the granite spine and dropped my pack at the top, then I returned to find the “easiest” path for my brother and girlfriend to follow. They carefully followed my lead to the summit.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being up this high, looking over some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The pictures don’t do it justice!
After spending a good amount of time on the summit, we started to make our way toward the John Muir Trail to set up camp for our second night in the wilderness. The descent had stunning views as we made our way into the forest.
Once we got back into the forest, we were happy to be shielded from the afternoon sun. Temperatures were probably creeping into the mid-80’s. We soaked our feet in the freezing water of a glacier-fed creek after we had chosen a campsite for the night.
We got an early start for the hike to Half Dome. We left the campsite shortly after sunrise, and we were to the cables before 8am. The hike to the sub-dome was steep, but beautiful.
There weren’t many people there yet, which meant that we had the cables largely to ourselves for the climb and descent. The cables were a terrifying experience. The slope was steep enough that even my trail running shoes with their grippy soles were occasionally slipping. I was careful to keep a full palm grip on a cable at all times - losing grip on the cables could easily lead to a life-ending fall.
Once on top, we were treated to absolutely stunning 360-degree views of all of Yosemite. We could see Cloud’s Rest, where we had been the day prior. We could see the Yosemite Valley, 5,000 feet below. The fact that we were sharing the summit with just a handful of others, this early in the morning, made it that much more special!
The John Muir Trail to Yosemite Valley
You could say that Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome were highlights of the 3-day backpacking experience, but there was plenty more to see! Our hike out along the JMT provided for many beautiful views. We hiked along the Merced River and crossed over Nevada Fall and Vernal Falls.
We were lucky to have superb weather for all 3 days of our trip. Having grown up in California, I can’t believe it took me this long to visit Yosemite. I can’t imagine having a better experience. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to return!