30 Miles Through Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most incredible climbing and hiking in the country, and getting to see it all is no small feat. Earlier this fall, I set out at 5am to accomplish this bucket list hike with a few key detours along the way. In total, this route was 30.22 miles round trip, which my partner and I accomplished in 17 hours, with 12 hours 48 minutes total moving time.

We drove to the valley at 3am, our last stop after camping in the lower Sierras. It was pitch black, yet we were still able to make out the faint outline of these giant rock walls as they blocked the stars from the sky, which looked like one vast dark expanse. Rolling into Curry Village around 4:45am, we prepped our gear and drank the last of the coffee under the glow of headlamps. Even in the middle of the night, the parking lot was bustling with hikers and climbers getting back or just leaving to explore for the day. We packed light, only the essentials: first aid, layers, headlamps, hiking poles, water filter and hydration systems, sunscreen and sunglasses, and snacks for the trail. It was going to be a long day, and we wanted to go as light as possible.

The first few miles are filled with climbing as we ascend out of the valley, passing waterfall after waterfall, with only our headlamps and the sounds of crashing water to mark their existence. We pass Vernal Falls as we follow the Mist Trail, then at the summit of Nevada Falls continue on the approach to Half Dome.

Looking down a rocky cliff to the valley below.

The view down into the valley from the Diving Board. Image credit: Ella Suring

The Diving Board

Located about four miles into the hike to Clouds Rest from Curry Village lies a turnoff that leads us to an overlook just on the side of Half Dome. If you don’t have permits or want an alternate challenge, this route offers a great view and adventurous route finding. The path isn’t clear, although it’s occasionally marked with hand built cairns. The latter section is almost entirely fourth class terrain that requires mountaineering or climbing skills to accomplish.

View of the scramble up to the Diving Board on the way to Clouds Rest.

The exposed scramble to the top. Image credit: Ella Suring

The hike is well worth it, though. You’re greeted with views of the entire valley and a steep drop off overlooking the bottom of Half Dome. We stopped here for breakfast as the sun rose into the valley. However, the downclimb was just as challenging as the approach. It took us a few hours to cover just a mile or two of terrain on these cliffs, but we eventually made it back to the main trail.

If you decide to leave out the Diving Board, the hike to and from Clouds Rest should be about 18 miles total.

We then continued to our final destination – Clouds Rest. This gave us a steady incline for about four miles, filled with many switchbacks and breathtaking views. There are a few false summits where it feels like you’re at the top of all of Yosemite, leaving you guessing on the final destination. But getting to the top offers spectacular views on top of a rock formation. Looking out in every direction, you can see smaller mountains for miles and miles, with both Half Dome and El Capitan in the distance. We stayed for sunset, as an unbelievable array of oranges, reds and purples lit up the sky directly above Half Dome.

View of Half Dome from Clouds Rest at sunset.

The sun setting beyond Half Dome. Image credit: Ella Suring

The hike back was a slightly nerve wracking and exhilarating experience all at once. Backcountry Yosemite is known for bears, and while we hadn’t seen any on our hike or heard reports prior to our departure, we still scanned the horizon for any creatures and remained on edge for the nine miles back to the car, again passing Nevada and Vernal Falls in the dark on our way down.

We arrived back in Curry Village around 11pm, crashing in our car for a few hours before starting the four hour drive back home. If you do this hike I’d highly recommend coming at this time of year, as the crowds have died down and the valley isn’t as hot as earlier in the fall. However, the sun does set earlier so make sure to prepare for shorter days. It was an incredible weekend and by far one of the most memorable hikes in California.