“THE premier route in Yosemite. Hike to the top of the most iconic granite dome in the USA.”
— Brian Smith
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildlife
A permit is required
to hike to Half Dome
seven days per week when the cables are up. A maximum of 300 people are allowed (about 225 day hikers and 75 backpackers) each day on the Half Dome Trail
beyond the base of the subdome. Permits are distributed by lottery via Recreation.gov, with one preseason lottery with an application period in March and daily lotteries during the hiking season.
What an iconic hike this is. An all-day journey to the top of Half dome and back awaits those willing to put in the effort. Along the way, hikers will revel in the beauty of two stunning waterfalls, pristine nature and awe-inspiring views.
Need to Know
Bring well broken-in boots or shoes with good ankle support and good traction. Some of the most common injuries Half Dome
hikers suffer are blisters and ankle injuries; good footwear is the best way to prevent these problems.
Many people find gloves helpful on the cables. However, if you bring your gloves up, pack them out. Hundreds of pounds of rotting gloves otherwise accumulate.
The only treated water on the trail is available (summer only) at a drinking fountain at the Vernal Fall Footbridge (less than a mile from the trailhead). Merced River water is available up to Little Yosemite Valley, however you should treat this water by boiling, using iodine, or using a giardia-rated water filter. Drinking untreated river water may cause significant illness.
The 14-to-16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome
is not for you if you're out of shape or unprepared. You'll be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) most of your way to the top of Half Dome
. Most would say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you'll see outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome
, and--from the shoulder and summit--panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
Most people take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome
and back; some take longer. If you plan on hiking during the day, it's smart to leave around sunrise (or earlier) and then have a non-negotiable turn-around time. For instance, if you haven't reached the top of Half Dome
by 3:30 pm, you'll turn around. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike. Regardless, each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries (hikers commonly struggle down the trail after dark because they don't have a flashlight). Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them.
Most people begin the hike from Happy Isles
(shuttle stop #16), which is about a half-mile from the trailhead parking lot or about 3/4 of a mile from Curry Village (parking available). Shuttle service doesn't begin until 7 am, so if you're arriving prior to then, you can walk on the road (closed to all but authorized vehicles) from either parking area to the trailhead.
Start the journey on the John Muir Trail: Happy Isles
to Half Dome Trail
. You can either stay on the JMT all the way to Half Dome Trail
for a longer but mellower hike or turn left onto Mist Trail
after one mile. This route follows Mist Trail
for an up close and personal view of Vernal and Nevada Falls. Eventually, you'll merge back onto the JMT. After just over 5 miles, look for the Half Dome Trail
to branch off to the left.
The trail steadily climbs to the north-northwest through the forest for roughly a mile before turning west and then southwest toward Half Dome
. You'll eventually emerge from the tree-cover onto solid granite and begin ascending a steep series of switchbacks to a saddle below the cables.
The most famous--or infamous--part of this trail is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.
The Half Dome
cables usually go back up the Friday before Memorial Day (conditions permitting) and come down the day after Columbus Day.
Tips while using the cables:
Do not attempt the ascent if:
- Take your time and be patient with slower hikers
- Allow faster hikers to pass you (when possible)
- Remain on the inside of the cables
- Storm clouds are in the area
- The ground is wet (the cables and rock become very slick when wet; most accidents on the cables occur during wet conditions)
- The cables are down for the winter (typically, from the day after Columbus Day until Memorial Day weekend) (Check conditions update for status and any available updates)
Flora & Fauna
Black bears frequent Yosemite's Wilderness and are adept at grabbing backpacks from hikers and campers--during both day and night. Always keep your food within arm's reach (or on your back); never leave it unattended. If you see a bear
, act immediately to scare it away: make as much noise as possible by yelling. If there is more than one person, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the bear.
Squirrels, Steller's jays, chipmunks, and other animals also live along the trail; never feed them or allow them to get your food. Do not leave your pack unattended (e.g., at the base of the cables or while you take a swim or nap). Keep wildlife wild: respect them from a distance.
Improper food storage
and feeding of wildlife may result in a fine (up to $5,000).