Half Dome Hiking Guide Yosemite National Park

Guide to Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite Valley

Half Dome, within Yosemite National Park, is one of the most beautiful and famous landmarks in the United States. Yosemite has much to offer making it one of the most visited parks each year.

Half Dome and the stunning Yosemite Valley are major highlights. There are several hikes and multi-day treks, and the Half Dome hike is one of the best. This strenuous hike is open from the Friday before the last Monday in May through the second Monday in October when the cables are up. 

Note that at the very top part of this hike, the cables section requires a permit. Permits restrict this hike to 300 people per day (225 for day hikers and 75 for backpackers) so planning ahead is essential.

Read on to learn all the Half Dome hiking details to help you plan your hiking adventure. Happy hiking!

Half Dome Hiking Guide
Half Dome hike

Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.

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Half Dome Hiking Guide

Permits

There are a few ways to get a permit to hike Half Dome.

  • Advanced lottery system: The preseason lottery system is for 225 tickets. Select your dates in March and you find out your climb date in April if you get selected. 
  • Daily lottery system: Approximately 50 tickets that are unsold or due to cancellation will be available each day. The daily lottery has an application period two days before the hiking date with a notification late that night. 
  • Backpackers: 75 tickets are available for those interested in backpacking overnight, including the Little Yosemite campsite. You would apply for a permit with a wilderness permit.

For more information about the Half Dome permits, check out the National Park Service site.


How to Apply for a Permit

Half Dome Yosemite National Park
Getting close to the top!

You can apply for the Cables on Half Dome permit through the recreation.gov site and you’ll need to register using your email address. Another option is to call the call center at 877-444-6777 which is open from 7 am to 9 pm PT. Note that you will need to pay a non-refundable application fee of $10.00 for each lottery application.


Tips for the Lottery

  • Avoid Friday or Saturday hikes so your chances go way up
  • Don’t go on a holiday weekend
  • Enter a selection of 6 dates (all mid-week) for groups of up to six people, and if you get accepted, they tell you the day you are able to climb, with no ability to change that date.

Hike Details

Distance: 19 miles return (30.5 km)

Elevation Gain: 4,830 Feet (1,472 meters)

Time: 7 Hours 40 Minutes 

Difficulty: Difficult


Half Dome Hike

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite
At the bottom of the cables section

Most start the hike just before sunrise. Parking is available a half-mile from the trailhead in the lot just past Curry Village. Both trails begin at Happy Isles/Shuttle Stop #16. If you take the shuttle, you will cut out the extra mileage from parking. 

Shortly after a mile into the hike, you have two options to ascend – the John Muir Trail (JMT) and the Mist Trail. We recommend going up the Mist Trail and descending down the JMT. The Mist Trail is the shorter but steeper of the two. This route is more scenic with waterfalls along the hike up. John Muir Trail is more gradual and longer but helps those wanting to avoid as many steps. It adds 1.5 miles each way, so we recommend this route on the descent. When you arrive at the top of the Nevada Falls, both the Mist Trail and JMT meet again.

Above Nevada Falls, there continues to be an ascent until Little Yosemite Valley. There is a campsite here for overnight backpackers.  Most of the terrain around Little Yosemite Valley is relatively flat until the last area of the climb. The final push on the backside of Half Dome is very steep and very strenuous.

With stunning views in every direction, steps lead you up to the cable section that leads you to the summit of Half Dome. There are gloves available for use at the bottom of the cables. This is where the fun begins. You’ll find hikers attempting this climb each day at different paces, early birds already will already be on their descent, and some scared half to death will be waiting, and passing people will occur.

It is incredibly steep and one slip off to the side would not result in a happy ending. Be careful, stay within the chains, and be smart on the climb.


What to Bring on the Hike

Guide to Hiking Half Dome Yosemite Summit
Summit of Half Dome
  • Permit
  • Hiking day pack
  • Enough food for two meals
  • Lightweight snacks (jerky, nuts, gummies)
  • Water (lots of it)
  • Sunblock
  • Hiking shoes
  • Headlamp – if you are expecting to finish late
  • Light waterproof jacket
  • Pack rain cover
  • Gloves
  • Optional – harness

Hiking Tips

  • Try to get to the cables as early as possible. There is only one route up and down, you may have to pass people and it is not the easiest to do so. Going early helps with less traffic. Going up the cables, you will feel it in both your legs and arms. It’s definitely a very tough stretch and you need to keep a good grip.
  • Bring enough snacks, food, and water. You need to properly hydrate and refuel during the hike.
  • Bring gloves for the cables.
  • Do not attempt this hike if there is any rain or storms in the area, as the granite and cable section will get extremely slippery and one can easily slip and fall to their death. More than 20 people have died on the Half Dome cables section.

Other Favorite Places to Visit in Yosemite

Half Dome Hiking Guide: Yosemite Valley
  • Yosemite Valley – Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls
  • Glacier Point
  • Mariposa Grove – Giant sequoia trees
  • Tenaya Lake
  • Tunnel viewpoint

That’s it – have a great time hiking the Half Dome in Yosemite Valley!


Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


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