Half Dome, Mariposa County, CA, United States
Yosemite’s Half Dome hike combines its most iconic attraction and most prestigious hike.
Half Dome’s uniquely identifiable face stands proudly over the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. The trail to Half Dome from Yosemite Valley is an extremely steep and strenuous hike covering over 14-16 miles. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation along the trail that passes highlights such as Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, before reaching the cables on Half Dome’s steep granite domes. Steel cable handrails and wooden planks are set up along the dome to assist hikers to the summit in the summer months. The cables are removed every October, and replaced in late May.
Preparation is important for a hike of this magnitude. Understand your limits, take enough water, and plan appropriately. Several Half Dome hikers are rescued each year due to unpreparedness, and the most common first aid response issues are related to dehydration. If you have one, it is also a good idea to take a filtration water bottle or iodine tablets in case you need to replenish your water along the trail.
Most hikers kick off their journey from Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16), conveniently located approximately half a mile from the trailhead parking lot or just under three-quarters of a mile from Curry Village. The trailhead parking lot is situated just beyond Curry Village.
For early birds arriving before the 7:00 AM shuttle service begins, there’s the option to walk along the road, typically reserved for authorized vehicles, from either of the parking areas to reach the trailhead.
Since most people will be preparing for a long hiking day, getting a place to stay that is close to the trailhead can help you get an extra early start. The closest lodging to the Half Dome trailhead is Curry Village where you can get a comfortable night’s sleep in a tent cabin, hard-sided cabin or hotel room. Lodging at the Yosemite Valley Lodge or The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley also lets you wake up within minutes of the trailhead. The closest campgrounds are Upper, Lower, and North Pines Campgrounds, but securing reservations during the summer can be quite challenging.
Another possibility is Camp 4, which may require reservations depending on the season, or operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Yosemite’s backcountry trek demands appropriate hiking gear for a safe and enjoyable experience. If you lack specialized hiking equipment, opt for comfortable athletic attire and sturdy, slip-resistant footwear. Ensure your backpack contains the following essentials:
The highlight, or perhaps the most challenging part of this hike, lies in climbing the cables. These dual metal cables provide a lifeline for hikers, enabling them to conquer the last 400 feet of elevation without requiring specialized rock climbing gear. Notably, since 1919, fatalities on the cables have been relatively rare, but injuries are possible, especially among those who take unnecessary risks.
Regarding the cables’ operation schedule, they are typically put in place on the Friday preceding Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and taken down after the second Monday in October. Please be aware that these dates may change depending on the prevailing conditions.
It’s essential to keep the following in mind when tackling the cables: exercise patience and accommodate slower hikers. Yield to faster climbers when possible, and stay positioned on the inside of the cables. Also, avoid attempting the ascent during stormy weather. Being on the summit of Half Dome during a thunderstorm puts you at risk of being struck by lightning, and wet conditions make both the cables and the rock surface exceedingly slippery. Always check for current conditions and updates regarding cable status before embarking on this adventure.
As per Yosemite National Park’s guidance, it’s crucial to be mindful of the common challenges that Half Dome hikers face:
Taking the time to prepare, train, and gather information about the trail can significantly enhance your experience and turn it into a memorable adventure rather than a challenging one.
A Half Dome hike permit is required seven days per week while the cables are installed. This protects the wilderness character of the trail, reduces crowding, and increases safety. Prior to the permit system, hikers sometimes lined up to wait an hour or more in the hot sun just to get on the cables.
Day hikers can now enter a lottery to win some of the 300 permits available for Half Dome each day. There is a preseason lottery from March 1 – 31 (Eastern time). If you apply for the preseason lottery you will be notified about the results in mid-April. For those of us who prefer a more spontaneous trip, there is also a daily lottery. Enter the lottery two days before your intended hiking date, and get a notification late that evening about the results. So, if you wanted to hike on a Saturday, you would apply on Thursday, and know by Thursday night whether you should pack and prepare for your trip.
Day hike permits are exclusively available through online reservations at www.recreation.gov or by contacting (877)444-6777. You can Not get walk-up Half Dome permits at the Visitor’s Center.
Reservations for the permits can be made online at www.recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777.
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As you might expect, there are several routes to hike to Half Dome. The most popular and iconic route is the one that starts from Yosemite Valley. However, there are alternative approaches to reach Half Dome:
The most popular day-hike route starts at the Happy Isles shuttle stop in Yosemite Valley and climbs the Mist Trail. On the return journey, many people choose to descend via the John Muir Trail (JMT) instead of the Mist Trail. The JMT is slightly longer than the Mist Trail but offers some fresh views and a more gradual descent that is easier on the knees. After such a long hike, navigating the wet steep steps of the Mist Trail can be quite challenging.
Yosemite National Park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities, catering to hikers of various skill levels and preferences. Here are some popular hikes and trails within Yosemite that are similar to Half Dome:
The hikes to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are on the way to Half Dome, but you don’t need to go all the way to the top to enjoy these popular and moderately strenuous hikes to some of Yosemite’s most famous waterfalls.
For fantastic views of Half Dome from the bottom rather than the top, check out the Mirror Lake/Meadow trail. This easy, mostly flat hike is approximately a 2-mile round-trip and offers a peaceful escape with picturesque views of the lake (in spring) or meadow (in late summer/early fall) with Half Dome towering above.
Sitting just opposite Half Dome, Sentinel Dome is Half Dome’s baby cousin. For those looking for that high-up view of Yosemite’s grand landscapes, you could trade the long hike for a 2-mile jaunt, but keep the magnificent 360 view from the summit – the mesmerizing view of Half Dome from the summit of Sentinel Dome is an extra bonus!
Located just northwest of Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest is one of Yosemite’s less famous, but equally spectacular summits, and appeals to those looking for a challenging hiking day. The most easy approach is from the Tioga Road, starting from the Sunrise Lakes trailhead. This route is still long, 14.5 miles (23.3 km) round-trip, and includes 1,775 ft (540 m) of elevation gain, and instead of the infamous cables, you’ll walk a very narrow mountain ridge with incredible exposure on both sides. (For a really big day, you can also hike to Cloud’s Rest from Yosemite Valley, bypassing Half Dome for it’s taller neighbor.)
The duration it takes to hike Half Dome can vary significantly depending on several factors, including your starting point, hiking experience, fitness level, and weather conditions. A general guideline is to plan for approximately 12-16 hours.
The Half Dome hike is considered to be a strenuous and challenging hike. Hikers should be in good physical condition, have appropriate gear, carry enough water and supplies, and be aware of their own limitations. It’s also crucial to check trail conditions and obtain the necessary permits before attempting the hike.
Climbing Half Dome is a challenging and strenuous endeavor, and it may not be suitable for beginners or those without prior hiking experience. While it’s not impossible for a beginner to hike Half Dome, it’s strongly recommended that beginners first gain experience on less challenging hikes to build their fitness and confidence.
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