Looking to tackle the ultimate day Half Dome hike at Yosemite National Park? This guide will provide you with everything you need to know before beginning your journey to the magnificent Half Dome.
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Half Dome Hike Overview
It is famous worldwide as a World Heritage Site and for its dramatic geologic formations. Within these granite rocks and cliffs, numerous waterfalls flow year-round and massive ancient sequoia trees shield the valleys.
The most common way to begin your adventure to the Half Dome is via The Mist Trail. There are other alternative ascent trail options, such as Glacier Point or via Tenaya Lake. The Mist Trail is 14.2 miles round trip, making this route the shortest and most scenic. Most hikers take 10-12 hours to complete this. The best time to visit the Half Dome is anytime from late May to October.
The Half Dome is by no means a walk in the park. Half Dome is a 14-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 4,800ft. This is one of the longest and steepest day hikes in Yosemite. In 1865, it was reported to be inaccessible.
Those who are experienced climbers will take on the challenge of climbing on the Northwest face of the Half Dome, making this a U.S. first Grade VI climb. Hiking to the Half Dome via the Mist Trail is a less daunting option but still requires you to be physically fit and have previous hiking experience. There is a mountaineering component at the end with cables leading you to the top of Half Dome.
Brief Overview of the Route
Your journey will begin near the Happy Isles Bridge that crosses the Merced River. Due to the Half Dome’s famous reputation, the trails can get crowded.
To prevent this, the park has required everyone to obtain a permit. This permit allows you to access the cable route that gets you to the top of the Half Dome. You must apply for this permit in advance. They are awarded on a lottery basis beginning in March. You can apply for this permit online or by phone and it costs $10.
On the Mist Trail, you will climb hundreds of steps right beside Vernal Falls. It is crucial you take caution in this area, as the steps will be wet and slippery. Once you reach the top, you will hike beside Nevada Falls. Once you’ve surpassed the falls, there will be a decent length of flat ground through Little Yosemite Valley. After hiking through more forest-area, you will reach the sub dome.
This is what will lead you to the cables. The sub dome steps are at 8,000 ft. The cables are up from late May to early October. One thing to note is that the cable section is not for those who are afraid of heights. You are completely exposed and walking up vertically. Once you have reached the top of the cables, you are faced with spectacular views of the iconic vistas of Yosemite.
Half Dome Quick Facts
- Elevation: 6,100 feet (1,860 meters)
- Difficulty: Strenuous (requires physical fitness, especially on the cable route; it's the most difficult in Yosemite
- Granite dome located in the eastern park of Yosemite Valley
- The Half Dome Cable Route hike is 8.2 mi (13 km) and goes up to 4,800 ft (1,460 m)
- Length: around 14 miles (23 km)
- Very popular and gets busy in summer
- Permit is required (preferably for weekdays, as it's less crowded)
- Quickest route: Via the Mist Trail
The Half Dome is found east of Yosemite Valley. If you are using the Mist Trail, your journey will begin near Curry Village.
This 14-mile day hike begins on the Mist Trail, to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls, through Little Yosemite Valley, up to the Sub Dome, and to the cable route where you will reach the top of the Half Dome.
One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome by Rick Deutsch is a wonderful guide to prepare you for the Half Dome. It shares what to bring, a detailed trail description with altitudes, and other sights you should stop and see along the way.
For an overview of Yosemite National Park, Lonely Planet Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks by The Lonely planet is an excellent read. It features maps, itineraries, insider tips, and reviews for what to eat and where to sleep within Yosemite.
This is a strenuous hike that requires proper physical fitness and preparation. There are risks of twisting and spraining ankles near the falls due to the slippery conditions. There is some mountaineering skill required with the cables towards the top of the Half Dome.
You will be climbing vertically and you will be completely exposed. Other risks that have occurred on this hike are heat exhaustion, dehydration, and hyponatremia (low electrolyte levels). To avoid this, drink plenty of water, eat along the way, and take frequent breaks in the shade.
Typical Itinerary for Half Dome Trek
It is crucial to begin this hike at dawn. It will take you approximately 12 hours and you will want daylight left on your descend. There are other trails to get to the Half Dome but the Mist Trail remains the most popular and scenic route.
To the top of Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls
From Nevada Falls to Sub Dome
From Sub Dome to Cable Route
The Cable Route
A beautiful video overview of the Half Dome hike in Yosemite National Park by the official Yosemite National Park Youtube Channel. Park ranger Vickie Mates provides an overview of one of Yosemite's most challenging hikes.
Half Dome Overview
Best Time To Go
You cannot climb Yosemite without the cables. The climbing cables are in place from late May to October. If you’d like to see the waterfalls at their fullest, visit in spring in May or June. It’s extremely important to avoid the Half Dome in bad weather, especially if rain or thunder is in the forecast. The trail can become very dangerous.
Anyone who hikes the Half Dome must obtain a Wilderness Permit beforehand. These are awarded by lottery at the beginning of the month of March. It is $10 a person and you are able to apply via online on the National Recreation Reservation Service or by phone at 877-444-6777. You must apply for the permit at least two days ahead of your intended hiking day. To increase your chances of obtaining a permit, apply for less popular days such as Sunday’s-Thursday’s in September and October.
The Half Dome is one of the most difficult day hikes at Yosemite. It is strenuous and will require physical fitness and mountaineering skills on the cable route. If you are not comfortable with heights, you may want to avoid the cable route. Hikers report this being the most difficult section of the hike.