7 Tips for Your Half Dome Hike

Jul 2017

Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park (and the world) – and for good reason! The views from the top are hard to describe, but we’ll just throw out the first adjectives that come to mind so you have an idea: magnificent, mind-blowing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, majestic…  Still feels like we didn’t do it justice but you get the idea! If it’s not already, the Half Dome hike in Yosemite should be on your hiking bucket list.  Sometimes a bucket list can feel never-ending, and you may not be sure where to start. If you want to hike Half Dome this summer, there are some things you need to know before you can check it off your bucket list!

A person looking at the view from the top of Half Dome.
The view at the top of Half Dome. Photo by: Matt Cairns

1. You Need a Half Dome Permit

Unless you plan on a multi-pitch climb or Alex Honnolding it, you’ll need a permit to summit Half Dome. The Cable Route requires each hiker has a permit that is awarded through a lottery system that takes place at the end of March. In addition, 50 or so daily permits are awarded two days in advance throughout the summer by lottery as well.  

 Check out Recreation.gov for more information on the Half Dome Lottery.


2. You Can Hike Half Dome in a Day

Many people hike Half Dome in one day, but it is not recommended without proper training. The first thing to consider, is getting a permit for a day hike. There are 225 day hiking permits available each day and they are granted by lottery. You have a few different trail options if you are conquering this iconic granite beast in a day, but no matter which trail you choose a day hike on Half Dome is going to require a minimum of 14 miles and 4,800 feet of elevation gain. Most hikers take from 10-12 hours to hike Half Dome and back! Check out Tip #7 below for ideas on which Half Dome trailhead to start at.

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
The summit of Half Dome


3. Escape the Crowds, Go Backpacking!  

If you plan to summit Half Dome while on a backpacking trip (which we highly recommend), you will need a wilderness permit to do so. To apply for a wilderness permit in advance, it’s $5 for the application, $5 per person, and $8 for the Half Dome permit request. In addition to the permits that are granted up to 24 weeks in advance, there are also some available at 11am the day before your hike on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you include Half Dome on your Wilderness Permit Reservation Form if you are applying in advance!  What’s more, you wont be so gassed at the end of the day because with a backcountry campsite, the mileage and elevation gain will be reduced.

Visit NPS.gov to learn more about wilderness permits.


4. Best Time to Hike Half Dome

When permits are available, that’s the best time to hike Half Dome! The cables go up the Friday before Memorial Day and are removed the day after Columbus Day for the winter. This can vary someway each year depending on weather conditions. Our guided Yosemite Half Dome Backpacking trips run from June to September. For the best odds when entering the Half Dome Permit Lottery, apply for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Your odds are three times lower on weekends.


5. Tips for Conquering the Half Dome Cables

The best tip we can give you is to only hike Half Dome when the cables are up. The cable section is difficult enough with the help of the cables, an extra challenge really isn’t necessary or worth it. Aside from that here are a few pro tips:

  • Use gloves, they will definitely come in handy (pun intended)
  • Wear hiking shoes/boots with a good grip (not regular tennis shoes or trail runners)
  • Secure all loose items in your pockets and backpack
  • Use the“facilitrees” before starting up the cables, there’s no bathroom at the top. Please practice Leave No Trace.
Two hikers hiking down Half Dome's cables.
Heading down Half Dome’s cables

6. Aim for an Early Summit and Turnaround Time

The summit of Half Dome lives 8,800 feet above sea level. This puts the summit above tree level so If you see storm clouds approaching, quickly and carefully get back below treeline. Lightning strikes can be a serious threat during a storm. Even if you do avoid getting struck by lightning, rain makes the cable section even more dangerous and slippery. Always check the weather before your hike!


7. Trailheads to Start Your Half Dome Hike From

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite.
Hiking the trail to summit Half Dome

There are more than a few routes you can take to reach Half Dome but the list below will help you choose one. This only lists trailheads that can be used for either a multi-day or a single day hike. Although the mileage is doable in just one day, we recommend using The Happy Isles trailhead for all Half Dome Day hikes. All other options offer 19+ miles in one day.

Routes to Get to Half Dome

  • Happy Isles (via Mist Trail)
    • 14.2 miles / 22.85 km round trip
  • Happy Isles (via John Muir Trail) 
    • 16.5 miles / 26.6 km
  • Glacier Point
    • 20 miles / 32 km
  • Tenaya Lake
    • 23 miles / 37 km
  • Sunrise Lakes
    • 19-22 miles / 30-35km
  • Mono Meadow
    • 21-23 miles / 34-37 km
  • Cathedral Lakes
    • 20+miles / 32+ km

Some mileages aren’t exact and are based on where you end your hike

Want the pros to handle all the details and do the worrying for you? That’s what we’re here for! Join us on our guided Yosemite Half Dome Backpacking Trip and let us take care of everything – except for the walking that is.

One of many scenic viewpoints while hiking to Half Dome.