Yosemite Hiking – Clouds Rest and the Lembert Dome

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View of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from atop Clouds Rest (Yosemite National Park).

 

Trip Overview: 2 day/2 night camping and hiking trip in Yosemite National Park. Two hikes totaling ~20 miles and +/- 4,000 feet with a starting elevation of 8,100 feet and a peak elevation of 9,900 feet. Highlights include expansive granite cliffs/domes/valleys, alpine lakes, and green meadows. We completed this trip at the end of July in 2015 (Friday night through Sunday afternoon).

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Overall map for the weekend trip to Yosemite National Park. Campsite (red triangle), Clouds Rest trailhead (red star), Clouds Rest peak (red circle), and Lembert Dome / Tuolumne Meadows (red rectangle).

Overall Map, Yosemite National Park, Clouds Rest (pdf)

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Preparations:

Permits and reservations: No permits are required for hiking up to Clouds Rest or to the top of the Lembert Dome. As a result, these are great hike alternatives if you are unable to obtain permits to hike to the top of Half Dome. If you plan to backpack and camp in the wilderness area around Clouds Rest, an overnight permit is required though.

For camping, it is best to reserve sites well ahead of time as Yosemite is extremely popular. You can find information on reservations here. The date on which you can make a reservation depends on when your trip is, but you typically can reserve a site 4 months in advance. The campsites fill up extremely fast, so you will want to log in early on the day the reservation system opens up.

If you cannot get a reservation and still want to go to Yosemite, you can try to grab a spot at one of the first-come, first-served campgrounds. You can check the status of the campgrounds here. Generally these sites will all be filled up early on Friday, so you probably need to leave before Friday to grab a spot (though you could get lucky on a weekend).

Another option is to camp at one of the hike-in, backcountry sites. To camp here, you need a wilderness permit, which you can apply for up to 168 weeks in advance of your trip.

We wanted to camp at one of the hike-in sites at either Little Yosemite Valley, May Lake, or Porcupine Creek, so we submitted a request for a wilderness permit in February (for our planned trip in late July). Our group (12 people) ended up being too big and our permit request was promptly denied.

As a backup, we decided we would just camp at one of the drive-in reservable campgrounds. Early in the morning on March 15th (the earliest date to reserve sites for a trip in late July) we logged onto the campsite reservation website and tried to reserve campsites in Tuolumne Meadows. Sadly we were too slow and all the Tuolumne Meadow sites were filled up. Eventually, we ended up reserving campsites at the Crane Flat Campground. This campsite ended up being just fine. The only downside was it was a ~50 minute drive away from the trailhead for the Clouds Rest hike.

Day 0: On the first night, we drove up to Yosemite and checked into our sites at Crane Flat. The campsites were nice and each had picnic tables and fire rings. There were trees at the site, so we set up our hammock. And, there was plenty of room on each for multiple tents. Our campsite had a metal bear vault, but if you end up camping in the backcountry, you likely need a bear canister.

We made dinner, had a few drinks by our fire, and then got some rest so we could wake up early.

 

Day 1: 14.2 miles; +3,200 feet / -3,200 feet; Sunrise Lakes Trailhead to Clouds Rest and back.

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Map of the Clouds Rest hike in Yosemite from Sunrise Lakes Trailhead (red line).

Clouds Rest Map (pdf)

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Approximate elevation profile for the Clouds Rest hike.

On the first day, we hiked the popular trail up to Clouds Rest. This is a peak at ~9,930 feet elevation that provides great views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.

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View of the Clouds Rest peak as seen from Tuolumne Meadows (the peak on the left). (credit: Stegasauruscool)
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View of Clouds Rest (peak on the left) as seen from Olmstead Point. (credit: Jimbennettgeek)

We woke up early in the morning so we could eat breakfast and get to the trailhead. We packed our day packs with snacks and lunch, filled up our camel backs, and then drove ~50 minutes to the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead next to Tenaya Lake. The parking lot at the trailhead was small, but we were able to grab parking spots (we arrived at about 9:00am). You can also park along the side of the road in many places if the lot is full.

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Drive from Crane Flat to the Clouds Rest Trailhead.

We set off on the hike shortly after 9:00 am. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. Just follow any signs that direct you towards Clouds Rest. The beginning of the trail goes through the forest and is mostly covered. After an easy first 1.5 miles, the trail climbs ~1,000 feet in 1 mile. As the trail flattens out, there is a side trail that leads to the Sunrise Lakes. These lakes are a nice place to rinse off on the way back from Clouds Rest.

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Getting ready in the parking lot. (pictured: Pentax K-50 Waterproof DSLR Camera)
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Starting down the trail with our big group.
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View along the Clouds Rest Trail.
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Small lake alongside the trail at about the 3.5 mile mark.
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View of the lake at about the 3.5 mile mark on the Clouds Rest Trail.
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Continuing on through the forest.
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View further up the Clouds Rest Trail.
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First views of the Granite domes in the distance. As you climb there are fewer trees.

As you finally approach the peak of Clouds Rest, the trail follows a fairly narrow granite “cat walk” that leads to a wider area at the end of the trail. The views on either side the cat walk are great, but the views are best at the area at the end of the trail.

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Clouds Rest sign near the peak.
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Taking a quick break before scrambling up to the peak. (pictured: Adidas Terrex Fast Gortex Shoe)
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Towards the end of the trail, you must scrabble a little bit and follow a narrow granite cat walk. Note: this photo is actually us walking down from the peak. (pictured: North Face Long Sleeve Cool Horizon Shirt)
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Hiking along the narrow trail near the end point. (note: this photo is actually us walking down from the peak)
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At the Clouds Rest Peak there is ample room to sit down and have a snack while taking in the views.

Once you get to the peak, the views of Half Dome and the surrounding valley are spectacular. With a pair of binoculars you can see the line of people climbing up to the top of Half Dome.

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View of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest.
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Taking in the view. (pictured: prAna Stretch Zion Pants)
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View of the valley and shear granite cliffs.
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Expansive view of granite domes and peaks.
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Panoramic of Half Dome and the surrounding area.
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Panoramic from a slightly different view.
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Panoramic of the whole forward view from Clouds Rest.

Along the way back from the Clouds Rest, we stopped the first of the Sunrise Lakes to check out the scenery and go for a quick swim. The first of the lakes was really pretty and the cold water was freshening after a long hike.

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Lake 9166 in the Sunrise Lakes area.
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Lake 9166 in the Sunrise Lakes area.
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Lake 9166 in the Sunrise Lakes area.

After swimming in the lakes for a bit, we started to hear thunder and decided to quickly hike the last 2.5 miles back to the car. We made it to the car before any rain fell and the storm ended up missing the Crane Flat campground entirely.

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A storm rolling in in the distance.
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A storm rolling in in the distance.

 

Day 2: 5.1 miles; +980 feet / -980 feet; Lembert Dome area

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Map of our hike around up to the top of the Lembert Dome in Yosemite National Park (blue line).

Yosemite – Tuolumne Meadows and Lembert Dome Map (pdf)

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Approximate elevation profile.

On the second day, we decided that we wanted to go see Tuolumne Meadows. We woke up, ate some breakfast, packed up our tent, and then drove ~1 hour to the Tuolumne Meadows area. The drive is quite nice and is very scenic. When we arrive in the meadow area, we struggled to find parking until we snagged a spot across the street from the Lembert Dome Picnic Area.

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View of Tenaya Lake as seen from a turn off along the way to Tuolumne Meadows.
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Panoramic view of Tuolumne Meadows as seen from the side of the road.
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Tuolumne Meadows.
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Map of the route from Crane Flat to the Lembert Dome Area.

After parking and looking around, we realized there were people on top of the Lembert Dome and decided we wanted to hike up to the top of it. This ended up being a really neat hike. The dome is a giant granite slab that you can climb around on without the need for any ropes or equipment. At the top, you get great views of the Tuolumne Meadows area.

We started hiking from the Lembert Dome Picnic Area and took the Dog Lake Trail. At about the mile mark, you turn right and head toward the backside of the dome. After another ~0.5 miles, you turn right again and take the Lembert Dome Trail up to the top of the dome. When you reach the actual dome, there is not much of a trail, but you just hike/scramble along the dome until you reach the top (or until you do not feel comfortable going any further).

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Lembert Dome (left) as seen from across Tuolumne Meadows.
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Closer view of the Lembert Dome and the parking area beneath it. (credit: Moppet65535).
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Northwest face of the Lembert Dome and viewed from the Dog Lake Trail. (credit: Stan Shebs)
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Trail sign at the Turn off from the Dog Lake Trail.
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Backside of the Lembert Dome as viewed along the Lembert Dome Trail.
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Walking towards the top of the dome. (pictured: Osprey Daylite Backpack)
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Crouched on the dome looking down.
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View of Tuolumne Meadows from the top of the dome.
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Walking back off the dome.
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Panoramic of the view on the east side of the dome.
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Walking down off the dome. (pictured: Icebreaker Oasis Long-Sleeve Shirt)

When we got off the dome and back to the junction at the end of the Lembert Dome Trail, we decided to take the trail towards the Tuolumne Lodge rather than back towards Dog Lake. This trail crosses Highway 120 and then goes through the Tuolumne Lodge area. Eventually we met up with the Pacific Crest Trail, which follows the Dana Fork. We went up to the edge of the Dana Fork and took some pictures and explored the area. Then, we continued on the trail until it led us back to our car.

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Dana Fork near the PCT.
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Dana Fork near the PCT.
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Dana Fork near the PCT.
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Hiking on the PCT in Tuolumne Meadows.
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Tuolumne Meadows as seen from the PCT.
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Tuolumne Meadows as seen from the PCT.

After we got back to our car, we drove back down Highway 120. We decided to make one last stop at Tenaya Lake to rinse off and have our last beers before going home. The lake was beautiful and almost empty. We were super happy that we stopped.

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Lake Tenaya on the Sunday.

(check other trip reports here!)

8 Replies to “Yosemite Hiking – Clouds Rest and the Lembert Dome”

  1. What a great write up!!! I’m planning to do Clouds Rest on Saturday. Super excited. How much water did you pack? Were there mosquitos? How long did it take you?

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    1. I am glad you liked the write up! On the hike I took a camelback with 2 liters of water, but I remember being out of water by the time I got to the end of the trail. So, I would recommend bringing at least 2 liters. If you plan to purify water, there is the lake at the 3.5 mile mark, but I do not recall there being water sources between miles 3.5 and 9.5. There are mosquitos on the first and last ~4 miles of the trail. I don’t remember having any issues with bug when we got out of the forest area and up towards the peak. You’ll probably want repellent if bugs bother you, especially since things are likely to be wet this year with all the snow over the winter. We were on the trail for 7 hours, which included spending an hour on the peak and spending a half hour at Sunrise Lakes. We are moderately fast hikers though. I would note that you likely need to ford the Tenaya Creek at the beginning of the hike, so be prepared to get your legs wet. We were able to just rock hop across it in 2015, but it’s likely deeper this year. Have fun on the hike!

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      1. Ok, got it. I have seen two reports this week that say the water is ankle deep. And, there was a report on 7/16/2017 that said the creek crossing was knee deep, but easy to cross (not swift moving). So, the creek seems to be getting lower by the week at this point. I imagine by next week you may still have to take your shoes off and walk through ankle deep water, but you may get lucky and be able to rock hop with your shoes on. Good luck.

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