Half Dome (Yosemite National Park)

In the summer of 2006 I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, with a group of friends. Half Dome rises nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and is located 8,800 feet above sea level. Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to any hiker. This is a must do hike for those looking for a true adventure.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead is at the east end of Yosemite Valley, to which almost all roads in Yosemite lead. From the 140, just stay on the road until you're in Yosemite Valley; from the north (Big Oak Flat) entrance, do the same; from the Tioga Road, go west until it terminates at Big Oak Flat Road, then turn left and follow Big Oak Flat Road to the valley; from the south entrance, take highway 41 (which you're already on) all the way to the valley. Once you've reached Yosemite Valley, keep an eye out for signs to Curry Village and head in their general direction. Once you've reached the Curry Village vicinity of the valley, you should start spotting signs for trailhead parking. Follow them to the trailhead lot or park at Curry Village.

If you're taking the Glacier Point route, take highway 41 to Glacier Point Road and then take Glacier Point Road to its eastern terminus at, appropriately enough, Glacier Point. A great map of Yosemite Valley with hiking trails is provided Here. This Hike begins at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16 on the map just provided). The National Parks Services website also has popular hikes in Yosemite Valley listed Here.

Parking: Your closest option is the trailhead parking lot. It's just past Curry Village, on a road that's marked "Service Vehicles Only". However, your private car is allowed to enter this road to get you to the trailhead parking lot. The trailhead lot has a few dozen bear-proof storage lockers in which you can store all the scented stuff you don't want to haul up the trail with you. They tend to fill up early, though. If the trailhead lot is full, you can park at Curry Village, which you'll find near the east end of Southside Drive. As you head east into Yosemite Valley, you'll find road signs pointing the way.

Description of Hike: The 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you're out of shape or unprepared. You will be gaining elevation, approximately 4,800, most of your way to the top of Half Dome. But the reward at the top and the journey is well worth the effort. Along the way, you'll see outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. Note, because of the crowds, if you hike to half dome on a weekend make sure you leave early. We left our Yosemite campground at 5am to get a head start on the trail.

Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back; some take longer or shorter. If you plan on hiking during the day, it's smart to leave around sunrise (or earlier). Each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries. Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them. The most famous part of the hike 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.

CABLE TIPS: BRING GLOVES! Take your time and be patient with slower hikers. Allow faster hikers to pass you (when possible). Remain on the inside of the cables. Most of all, do not attempt the ascent if storm clouds are in the area, the ground is wet, or if the cables are down for the winter. The cables are typically down, from the day after Columbus Day until the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. (check conditions update for status and any available updates). Also you can bring a clip in harness if you like to be safe on the cables. A permit is now required to climb the cables on half dome from May to October while the cables are up. Click Here to obtain your permit. More information about the permit system is provided below.

Further Thoughts: This was a great hike. I did this hike with a group of friends and we all made it to the top. We camped in Yosemite Valley for a couple days. The day before we hiked around Mirror Lake. We left our campsite early in the morning to do this hike. We did the hike on a weekend and we knew it would be crowded at the top and we wanted to beat the rush. Leaving early certainly paid off as this was before the National Parks Service implemented a permit system.

Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls were two amazing sights to see along this trail. California had a good size snow pack that year and the waterfalls were full with lots of water. We took the Mist Trail up to the top and returned via the John Muir Trial. Make sure to take your time on the Mist Trail as the conditions are very slippery and it is virtually raining due to the water fall spray on sections of that trail.

The views on this trail are absolutely amazing. Being in Yosemite and making it to the top of Half Dome is a major accomplishment as well. The cable portion of the climb is a little daunting at first, at least it was for me. But once I got on the cables and was on my way up I was fine. Please be on the watch out for bad weather. We were on the summit when a thunderstorm developed very rapidly. We made it down, before it got too close, but I was still very surprised to see (in my opinion very dumb) people still going up the METAL CABLES to the top knowing they had seen lighting and heard thunder.

The switchbacks before the cables are also very challenging and possibly more so than the actual cables. The trail going to Half Dome is well marked and was in great shape when I went. The parks service does a good job of maintaining these trails. This is truly a great hike and a must do for those visiting Yosemite. Please be prepared as this hike goes deep into Yosemite's wilderness. Have something to filter water or bring plenty of water with you as it is a long and strenuous hike. When you do this hike, especially in the summer you will likely see other people on the trail. Always have your camera ready as wildlife is abundant in this area. We saw plenty of wildlife while on this trail. A great reward after this hike is to go share a pizza at Curry Village in celebration of making it to the top of Half Dome. 

Rating: Elevation Gain: 4,800 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 16.4 Miles Roundtrip, slightly less if you take the mist trail (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 10 - 12 hours.


Bridalveil Fall

Half Dome (This Post)

View Half Dome in a larger map

NEW REGULATIONS ON HALF DOME: Copied From Park Website. Click Here for full details.

Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are now required seven days per week when the cables are up.  This is an interim measure to increase safety along the cables while the park develops a long-term plan to manage use on the Half Dome Trail.

A maximum of 400 permits will be issued each of these days (300 of these permits are available to day hikers). (Before the permit system was implemented in 2010, about 400 people used this trail on weekdays, while about 800 people used this trail on weekends and holidays, on average.)

In 2011, permits are available up to about four months in advance onlythrough Recreation.gov (see below for exact dates). Demand for permits will be very high; availability may last only a matter of minutes on the first day permits become available. Each permit has a service fee of $1.50 (which covers the cost of Recreation.gov processing the permit; Yosemite does not receive any money).

Permits are not available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis. However, any canceled permits may be available until midnight the evening before the hiking day through Recreation.gov. If you have a permit that you won't use, please cancel it so others may use it. (You may cancel your permit as late as midnight the evening before the hiking day.)

Note: Backpackers with an appropriate wilderness permit can receive a Half Dome permit when they pick up their wilderness permit with no additional reservation required. Rock climbers who reach the top of Half Dome without entering the subdome area can descend on the Half Dome Trail without a permit.
The Half Dome Cables are usually in place and available for use the weekend before Memorial Day, conditions permitting. The last day to use them usually is Columbus Day Monday. We can not guarantee the cables will be available on any given date. If you choose to get a permit for dates in May, early June, or October, there is an increased chance the cables will not be in place.

If you are unable to hike Half Dome for any reason (including weather, cables not available, illness, etc.) on the day you have a permit, we will not be able to provide a permit for a different date.


  1. We are looking for 3 Half Dome permits for August 18. We can swap our 3 permits for August 17 or work out whatever is good. Please respond to russkrug@comcast.net


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