Cloud's Rest: Why you need to do this awe-inspiring hike in Yosemite

Yosemite is a playground for nature-lovers. The lush, swaying grasses of the valley, the towering granite faces that make up El Capitan and Half Dome, the winding river that cuts through it all. It's like crack if you love to hike and backpack, which I do, especially if I remember to pack a beer to drink at the top, which I usually do.

One weekend, my boyfriend and I got tired of the frenetic pulse of the Bay area and started the 4.5 hour drive to Yosemite. On the way, we decided to check out Tuolumne Meadows, which is at 8,600 feet and a less-visited sister of the valley floor. One of the top hikes up there is called Cloud's Rest, and early one Saturday morning, we headed out on the 14-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain around 1,775 feet.

The trail blew my mind. It wove through car-sized boulders and the most perfect slices of forest you'll ever see, like something out of Disneyland. We hiked past trees with bright orangish-red bark, across trickling, crystal clear streams. We passed a lake surrounded with a carpeting of bright green grass and wildflowers, and came upon moss and plants and flowers sprouting from the soft, brown earth in abundance. We saw bright red paintbrushes. Purple lupines. Yellow asters swaying on long stalks. Tiny blooms with a ring of purple petals. Fallen logs dotted the landscape, nurseries to tiny trees and plants.

Kristin Hanes

We stopped at one of these streams to filter water. I breathed in the mountain air, let the trickling of the brook wash my stress away. Already, I felt miles away from San Francisco. I wanted to live in this moment forever.

When we got closer to the summit, the sky started to change. Trees glowed red in the bright sun; black clouds towered over a mountain in the distance.

We knew we only had moments to enjoy the magnificent view at Cloud's Rest, where we could see views of the valley floor and the back of Half Dome. Yosemite feels surreal sometimes, like you can't really believe where you are. The altitude probably doesn't help.

On our way back down, I started feeling giddy and light-headed, and knew my body was adjusting to being so far above sea level. We paused in a meadow behind one of those big boulders, and I laid down to enjoy the sunshine and the wildflowers that bobbed their tiny heads in the breeze. It felt like a perfect moment, like I was communing with John Muir, the guy who explored and worked so hard to protect these lands.

I was so happy at the end of hiking Cloud's Rest. I'd call it a moderately strenuous hike, nothing that in-shape people can't attempt. It will blow your mind, trust me.

Kristin Hanes is a writer and frugal adventurer who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. Follow her on Twitter @KristinHanes