Backpacking Yosemite

July 2020 ยท 4 minute read

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!

The Route

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.

Cloud’s Rest

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.

Looking over the Sierras from the trail to Cloud's Rest

View from the trail to Cloud's Rest

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.

A view of the approach to Cloud's Rest, looking slightly left

Approaching Cloud's Rest, looking slightly East

A view of the approach to Cloud's Rest, looking slightly right

Approaching Cloud's Rest, looking slightly West to Yosemite Valley

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.

Bobby poses as he carries his pack over Cloud's Rest

Bobby poses as he makes his way across Cloud's Rest

Chris and Katie on Cloud's Rest

Chris and Katie on Cloud's Rest

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!

Chris looks out to Yosemite Valley from Cloud's Rest

Chris takes in the views of Yosemite Valley

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.

Katie and Bobby walk along the trail

Descending toward the John Muir Trail

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.

A photo of the John Muir Trail winding through forest

A forested section of the John Muir Trail near our second night campsite

Half Dome

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.

Bobby approaches the top of the sub-dome as the sun rises over Cloud's Rest

Bobby climbs the sub-dome as the sun rises over Cloud's Rest

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.

A photo of the cables leading to Half Dome

The infamous Half Dome cables

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 view looking North from Half Dome

Half Dome has amazing views of all of Yosemite!

Chris on Half Dome, with the Yosemite Valley in the background

Chris celebrates the Half Dome experience!

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.

Chris, Katie, and Bobby smile from the top of Nevada Fall

Standing next to the top of Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall and the top of the Yosemite Valley

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!