Half Dome: The Best Yosemite Hike
Everything you should know about the Half Dome Hike
Yosemite National Park is one of America's most famous National Parks. The park is an icon and an international travel destination for millions of people every year. If you haven't been to Yosemite, check out our How to Visit Yosemite Guide.
Yosemite is known for it's famous cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and storybook like rivers. Out of all of the rocks in the park, there is one that sticks out the most. Literally. It's called Half Dome.
Half Dome is Yosemite's most distinguishable sight and for a good reason. Half Dome is dauntingly huge and oddly unique. The rock sticks out of the Earth like it doesn't belong.
And the best part about it? You can hike or climb to the top of it.
Planning and Preparing for the Half Dome Hike
When I say climb, I'm half right and half wrong. You can quite literally summit Half Dome by rock climbing, whether with ropes or free climbing (yikes). But this page isn't about that kind of climbing. If you want, you can find out more about climbing the Northwest Face of Half Dome here.
For most people, Half Dome is a 16 mile round trip hike by foot. The very last stretch of the hike is not-passable if you don't have a permit, and there's a ranger waiting to check. Only 300 people per day are allowed up the last stretch during season, when the cables are up. Rangers take the cables down during the cold season.
You can apply for a Half Dome Permit here or by calling 877-444-6777. It's lottery style. Apply as soon as you know you're going. There's also a daily lottery, so if you get rejected, apply again or have a friend apply again a couple days before your trip.
We got rejected the first time we applied but were lucky when we applied again two days before. More information about the Half Dome Permit can be found here. Most people apply for Saturday, so i you can, apply for Sunday or a weekday.
If you're a backpacker, you don't need to apply/reserve if you have the appropriate wilderness permit. They reserve spots for backpackers with the permit each day. Ask for the Half Dome Permit when you pick up your Yosemite Overnight Wilderness Permit.
Finally, don't forget to check the weather before you trip!
How to hike Half Dome
So you want to summit Half Dome! It's going to be an almost 20 mile hike depending where you start your walk, which trail you take (Mist Trail or John Muir Trail), and where you stop along the way. The hike will take at least 6-8 hours depending how fast you walk. It's better to leave very early and take it slow. Before your journey, stop by the visitor center and get a map. Guides at the visitor center can also tell you if the Half Dome hike is right for you, whether you have enough water, and whether it is too late in the day or not.
What you will need for the Half Dome Hike
Equipment and gear you should bring for the Half Dome hike are:
- Work gloves to grip the cables that take you up the last stretch to the top of Half Dome
- Well-gripping hiking boots or trail shoes
- Flashlight in case the sun sets
- A watch because it's annoying to check a phone during a hike
- Trail snacks and food for a picnic at the top if you'd like
- Clothes according to the weather forecast
- And plenty of water. We ran out early and were dehydrated on our way back. Bring at least 3-4 liters. Camelbaks highly recommended.
Directions for the Half Dome Hike
- Start your hike in the early morning, walk from your campground or the visitor center to the trailhead for the John Muir Trail
- Follow the John Muir Trail to the Half Dome Trail or take the Mist Trail shortcut to Half Dome Trail. We recommend the Mist Trail shortcut, it's a spectacular walk
- Take the Half Dome Trail to the base of the Sub-dome. There is a ranger at the base of the Sub-dome waiting to check your permit. If you don't have a permit, this is the farthest you can go
- After checking in with the ranger, walk up the granite stairs of the sub-dome to the base of Half Dome
- At the base of Half Dome, put your work gloves on and then slowly make your way up the cables to the top of Half Dome. Stay calm and relaxed, and have one hand gripping the cables at all times
- Congrats, you made it! Have a picnic and take priceless pictures
Need a good hiking boot? Read our blog post to learn what our favorite hiking boots and trail shoes are
Tips for the Half Dome Hike
- The hike to the top of Half Dome is at least 16 miles roundtrip and 4,800 feet in elevation gain, so it's strenuous. Leave early and take it slow
- The top of Half Dome is a large, flat area where you can relax and have a picnic with your friends
- People take extreme pictures on two rocks that jut out at the top the face side of Half Dome - The Visor and Diving Board
- Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike
- Carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries in case the sun sets
- The hike can be done in a single day, but some people break it up by camping overnight in Little Yosemite Valley
- You can carabiner yourself with a safety rope to the cables as you ascend up Half Dome
Hike Half Dome today!
Hiking to the top of one of the most famous rocks in the world is one hell of an accomplishment. Afterwards, no hike will ever feel the same again. Or will it? Check out more adrenaline inducing hikes like Zion National Park's Angel's Landing Hike or Pinnacles National Park's High Peaks Hike.
Half Dome FAQ
When is the half dome hike open?
The season for hiking Half Dome is from May through October. Half Dome is closed and no permits are issued during the winter because of safety reasons. The hike up Half Dome is very dangerous during cold, wet, and icy conditions. You can apply for the half dome lottery during the preseason in March. Click here for more information.
Why is Half Dome shaped like a dome?
It's the result of millions of years of nature at work. Half Dome is made out of granite. But this granite use to be molten lava underground. The lava cooled, hardened into granite, and got pushed up above the Earth due to tectonic movement. Then, natural erosion from weather and glaciers (ice) rubbing against the rock resulted in the shiny, smooth granite you now see throughout Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas. Pretty cool!