6 - 7
FATMAP difficulty grade
In Yosemite National Park, the high country of Tuolumne Meadows and the legendary rock walls of Yosemite Valley may seem a world apart.
They are each distinct regions of the park connected by many roundabout miles of road.
Studying a map reveals they are not really so far from one another, however.
The Meadows actually form the headwaters of the river that flows through the Valley.
They are separated by several miles and a several thousand feet of terrain, but trails make it possible to link these two realms on foot. The trip begins among the huge granite domes and snaking streams of Tuolumne Meadows.
En route to the foot of Yosemite Valley’s sheer cliffs, the trail links alpine lakes, forested canyons, flowing rivers, rocky ridgelines in the sky, and the famous cable climb to the top of Half Dome. There is actually a network of trails that navigate the complex topography here, so multiple routes from Tuolumne to the Valley exist, and they are all phenomenal.
The choice falls to personal preference for mileage and difficulty as well as availability of backcountry camps.
The journey typically takes 2-4 days and covers between 20-30 miles, depending on route and itinerary.
You will need wilderness permits from the national park for camping as well as a separate permit for Half Dome if you wish to take the optional side trip to the top.
Camping permits are distributed based on the trailhead and day of the start of your trip, then camping is allowed anywhere along the route, outside of restricted zones.
Be sure to learn and follow all backcountry regulations when you obtain a permit. Sunrise Lakes Trailhead to Clouds Rest To pack the most classic Yosemite experiences in the least amount of trail time, begin on Sunrise Lakes Trail and hike over Clouds Rest to Half Dome, then down into the Valley.
This is the shortest route, but skimps on nothing in terms of scenery.
You can take a longer variation by starting at Cathedral Lakes or Lyell Canyon Trailheads. The journey starts on the shore of Tenaya Lake, at the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead along Tioga Road.
At first the trail crosses marshy terrain among many trees near the lakes outflow, Tenaya Creek, but in less than a mile moves into more open, rocky terrain as it moves south and steadily downhill.
It then turns uphill for an uphill section near the rim of Tenaya Canyon, which you can glimpse as it grows deeper to the west.
Moving a short distance from the trail can reveal a great view of steep natural water slides as the creek tumbles into its granite gorge. At mile 2.5 the trail crests a hill at 9200 feet elevation, and meets a junction that leads east to the Sunrise Lakes and a designated High Sierra Camp, or south toward Clouds Rest.
It is 2.5 additional miles from here to the High Sierra Camp, and the lakes are on the way.
This is a worthwhile side trip if you have the time or if you have a site reserved at the camp.
The main route is southward toward Clouds Rest, however. Beyond the junction, the trail continues downhill, in and out of shady glades with rocky clearings in between.
To the east rises a huge granite dome that grows taller as you descend.
Just out of sight through the trees to the west, Tenaya Creek tumbles down through an ever-deepening gorge, which you will soon see from atop Clouds Rest. The pleasant downhill doesn’t last forever.
The climb up Clouds Rest begins around mile 5.
It can be bypassed with a trail to the south that drops immediately into the valley via John Muir Trail, but if you have the energy and aren’t too scared of heights, the grandeur of Clouds Rest is not to be missed.
The climb begins casually, with rolling ups and downs through the same rocky forests as before.
This changes abruptly when the trail breaks from the trees and emerges on a clifftop.
A mountainside of bare rock falls away to the right of the trail, into the depths of Tenaya Canyon now visible below. Straight ahead is the narrow ridgeline of Clouds Rest, and the only way to proceed is up.
As you climb, slopes become steeper on either side, soon the trail threads an airy ridge less than 20 feet wide, with long drop offs on either side.
This section is safe with careful foot placements, however unnerving for those afraid of heights. At the summit (mile 6.2, 9926 feet elevation), the ridge widens significantly, and fears are blown away by the huge view that appears.
Yosemite Valley unfolds before you, including Half Dome in perfect profile.
Admire the size and steepness of these glacier-carved granite monsters, and imagine the challenge that awaits in climbing them.
With binoculars you can even see the cables and people climbing them on the near side of Half Dome. Clouds Rest to Half Dome When you’ve taken in the view, continue over Clouds Rest to the other side.
Steep stairs forge downward, but with nowhere near the wild exposure as the way up.
Soon the trail dips back into the trees on the mountain’s southeast flank and switchbacks farther down into a valley. Mile 9.2 is the junction with the John Muir Trail, and where the Clouds Rest bypass rejoins the route.
Turn right to continue toward Yosemite Valley.
Less than a mile later comes the trail to Half Dome where you turn right again if tackling the cables, or continue straight to skip it. The cables are an epic adventure all their own, attracting many day hikers who hike up from the Valley to attempt it.
The popularity of this challenge necessitates special permits to keep the cables from getting dangerously crowded.
You can hike to the base of the dome, but not up the cables without this permit. Half Dome to Yosemite Valley After Half Dome, return the the John Muir Trail to continue the journey.
Another set of switchbacks make the final steep descent to the valley floor at mile 11.6 and the welcoming water of the Merced River.
Enjoy a swim and water refill in the cold pools before resuming the trail.
Little Yosemite Valley Campground is here as well, but camping is only allowed in designated sites with a specific permit. From here, the trip’s mileage is nearly over, but many of Yosemite’s iconic landmarks are yet to come, if you have a little extra time to explore them.
You will travel alongside the Merced, beneath the towering walls of Liberty Cap, and stare down the valley at the formidable face of Glacier Point.
Take an easy detour along the Mist Trail to gaze through the spray at both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls--vertical cascades of the Merced as the Little Yosemite Valley gets bigger.
The Mist Trail rejoins the John Muir Trail less than a mile from the journey’s end.
Finish at Happy Isles Loop Road in Half Dome Village. Note: You must organize a shuttle to complete this hike.
A concessionaire tour bus makes the trip between Half Dome Village and Tenaya Lake once per day, mid June to early September.
The YARTS public transit also offer shuttle as part of their route from Yosemite Valley to Mammoth Lakes.
Both services are available mid June to early September only, and maybe only on weekends outside of July and August.
Check schedules and buy tickets in advance to be sure to get a ride.
Outside of this season, you must drive shuttle yourself or arrange private transportation. Sources: http://www.norcalhiker.com/backpacking-tuolumne-meadows-to-yosemite-valley/ https://www.theoutbound.com/yosemite/backpacking/backpack-tuolumne-meadows-to-yosemite-valley https://www.outdoorproject.com/adventures/california/hikes/tuolumne-meadows-yosemite-valley-vogelsang-camp https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/california/tuolumne-meadows-to-yosemite-valley-trail