How to Hike Half Dome Banner

How to Hike Half Dome in 2024: A Step-by-Step Guide

Are you ready to conquer one of the most iconic hikes in the world? Learn how to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, which has it all: awe-inspiring granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, and a thrilling cable route to the summit. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, this comprehensive guide will provide you with everything you need to know to tackle Half Dome in 2024 and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Key Takeaways

  • Increase your chances of conquering Half Dome by applying for multiple permit types with their own timelines and availability.
  • The best time to hike Half Dome is in September, when the temperatures are moderate and waterfalls peak. Start early for fewer crowds & plan early for higher success rate on permits!
  • Train weeks ahead with strength exercises & the right gear to safely summit Half Dome while taking into account potential challenges, weather conditions & wildlife encounters.

Get Half Dome Permit via Lotteries

usa, california, yosemite national park

Understanding the permit process is a vital step before heading to Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park has implemented a permit system to ensure the safety and enjoyment of hikers on the Half Dome cables. There are three types of permits available: pre-season lottery, daily permit lottery, and wilderness permits. Securing one of these permits brings you a step closer to the thrilling experience of climbing Half Dome and the breathtaking summit views.

To increase your chances of obtaining a permit, consider applying for multiple permit types. Each option has its own timeline and availability, so stay persistent and be ready to embrace the adventure.

Pre-Season Lottery

Image from NPS: This chart shows Half Dome preseason lottery applications by day of the week.
Image from NPS: Lottery applications per day.

The pre-season lottery is your chance to secure a Half Dome permit for the entire summer hiking season. Applications open on March 1st and run until March 31st, so don’t miss out on your opportunity to explore this majestic trail! With a maximum of 300 permits awarded per day (225 for day hikers and 75 for backpackers), the lottery provides an exhilarating opportunity to plan your Half Dome journey in advance.

You can expect notification about your application status by mid-April. If you weren’t able to secure a permit through the pre-season lottery, don’t fret! There are still alternative ways to obtain a permit or explore other stunning trails in Yosemite.

Daily Permit Lottery

The daily lottery is another exciting option for obtaining a Half Dome permit during the hiking season. Approximately 50 permits per day (depending on known cancellations) are available through this lottery system, offering a last-minute opportunity for spontaneous adventurers.

Apply two days before your planned hike date to participate in the daily permit lottery. You will be notified later that night about the status of your application. So, keep your boots ready and seize the opportunity to explore the majestic Half Dome.

Success of daily permit lottery per day.

chart of success of half dome daily permit lottery by day
Success of daily permit lottery per day.

Wilderness Permits

For backpackers planning to spend a night or more in Yosemite Wilderness, wilderness permits offer the opportunity to include Half Dome in your multi-day itinerary. A portion of Half Dome permits is specifically reserved for backpackers, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Yosemite.

One popular camping option for Half Dome hikers is Little Yosemite Valley, providing an unforgettable experience surrounded by nature. Keep in mind that hiking Half Dome in a single day with a wilderness permit is not allowed, but there are still numerous other hiking opportunities available in the park for you to explore.

How to Apply for a Permit

To apply for a permit, visit Recreation.gov or call 877/444-6777 (call center is open from 7 am to 9 pm Pacific time; online requests can be made any time during a lottery period).

Best Time to Hike Half Dome

yosemite, mountains, half dome

The best time to hike Half Dome depends on both seasonal considerations and personal preferences, such as choosing between weekdays and weekends. The Half Dome cables are open from late May through early October, with September being an ideal time to visit (in my opinion). You can enjoy mild temperatures and see the peak runoff of waterfalls, providing a beautiful backdrop for your hike.

Weekdays offer the advantage of fewer crowds and potentially higher success rates for obtaining permits. For an optimal hiking experience, aim to start as early as possible – ideally at sunrise or even before (with a headlamp). This will not only allow you to avoid the afternoon heat but also give you ample time to complete the hike and navigate any challenging sections of the trail.

Seasonal Considerations

1. Late Spring (End of May to June)

  • Weather Conditions: Temperatures are warming up, but higher elevations, including Half Dome, can still experience cooler temperatures. Rain is more frequent during this period.
  • Trail Conditions: Melting snow can make the trails wet and slippery at the beginning of this period. By the end of May, the cables are typically installed, marking the beginning of the hiking season.
  • Wildlife and Plants: Wildflowers start to bloom, offering a vibrant display of colors. Wildlife is active, with animals emerging after the winter months.
  • Preparation Tips: Bring waterproof hiking boots, be cautious of slippery patches, and consider using trekking poles for added stability.

2. Summer (July to August)

  • Weather Conditions: Days are warm, and temperatures can get quite high during midday. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, bringing sudden downpours.
  • Trail Conditions: The trail is mainly clear but can be dry and dusty. The cables are up and provide assistance during the steep ascent to the summit.
  • Wildlife and Plants: Full bloom of wildflowers and increased activity of wildlife can be observed. Mosquitoes and other insects can also be more prevalent.
  • Preparation Tips: Start your hike early to beat the heat and potential afternoon storms. Carry ample water, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

3. Early Fall (September to the Second Monday of October)

  • Weather Conditions: Temperatures begin to drop, offering cooler hiking conditions. Thunderstorms become less frequent as the season progresses.
  • Trail Conditions: The trail remains accessible, but watch for fallen leaves which can be slippery. The cables are removed on the second Monday of October, signaling the end of the hiking season for Half Dome.
  • Wildlife and Plants: The fall colors start to appear, offering a picturesque backdrop. Animals are more active, preparing for the upcoming winter.
  • Preparation Tips: Dress in layers to accommodate fluctuating temperatures. If hiking close to the cable removal date, be extra cautious of early snow or icy patches.
yosemite, half dome, california

Weekday vs. Weekend

Both weekdays and weekends have their advantages when it comes to hiking Half Dome. Permits are required seven days a week, so you can apply to hike any day that suits you. Weekdays, however, tend to have fewer crowds on the trail, allowing for a more peaceful experience as you immerse yourself in the beauty of Yosemite Valley.

An early start is paramount to maximize your weekend hike, as the trail will fill up with other hikers. By hitting the trail at sunrise or earlier, you’ll have ample time to reach the summit and return in daylight, maximizing both your safety and your patience on the hike

Training and Preparation

Half Dome Cables

Investing time in training and preparation is fundamental to successfully conquer Half Dome. Meeting the fitness requirements and following training tips will ensure that you not only complete the hike but also fully enjoy the breathtaking views and sense of accomplishment that comes when you reach the summit.

Bear in mind that effective preparation extends beyond physical training. Research weather conditions well in advance, both weeks and days before your trip, and be ready to adapt your plans accordingly. It’s also essential to be determined and resilient to make the hike.

Fitness Requirements

Half Dome is a challenging hike, requiring a good level of physical fitness to complete the 17-mile round trip with a significant elevation gain of 5,000 feet. To tackle this strenuous day hike half dome, it’s best to start training weeks in advance, focusing on building your endurance and strength, especially if you have never hiked half dome before.

Some fitness recommendations include:

  • Hiking at least 12 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain
  • Training on stairs or hills
  • Incorporating lunges, squats, and rowing exercises
  • Doing sprints and jogging at a moderate intensity
  • Carrying a weighted backpack during training
  • Building ankle strength through exercises

Essential Gear for Half Dome

half-dome, yosemite, valley

Having the right gear is key to a successful and enjoyable Half Dome hike. Essential gear includes appropriate footwear, gloves, and safety equipment, all of which will help you navigate the challenging terrain and ensure your safety on the trail.

In addition to the gear mentioned above, it’s important to bring plenty of water for your hike – at least 4 liters per person – to stay hydrated throughout the day. With the right gear and preparation, you’ll be ready to take on Half Dome and revel in some extraordinary views.

Footwear

shoes, footwear, hiking shoes

Having proper footwear is a must for a successful Half Dome hike. The terrain requires hiking boots or shoes with ankle support and good traction to help you safely navigate slippery surfaces and steep inclines. Well broken-in boots with excellent ankle support and superior traction, such as climbing approach-style shoes like the La Sportiva TX3, are an ideal choice for this trip.

Wearing shoes with good traction is especially important when climbing the Half Dome cables, as the granite surface can be quite slick due to years of hiker traffic. Choosing the right footwear will not only ensure your safety on the trail but also make your Half Dome hike a more enjoyable experience.

Gloves

climb, adventure, hand

For climbing the Half Dome cables, gloves are a vital piece of gear. As you ascend the steep cable route, a strong grip is necessary to maintain your footing and keep you secure. Fingerless belly gloves are an ideal choice for this purpose, providing the grip and protection you need during this section of the hike.

Also, many wear nitriles utility glove for the hike, which can make for a very grippy option. Just be certain to bring gloves of some kind.

Safety Equipment for Hiking Half Dome

While most people don’t use safety gear when hiking Half Dome, having a Via Ferrata Kit, which includes a harness, a Y-shaped lanyard, and carabiners to clip onto the cables, is highly recommended for those with a fear of heights or seeking extra security. The use of a climbing harness and via ferrata system can provide additional peace of mind during the ascent, allowing you to fully enjoy the breathtaking views and sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the summit.

In addition to the safety equipment mentioned above, it’s important to pay close attention altitude sickness during your Half Dome hike. I like to keep a small can of Oxygen on me when I’m hiking at higher altitudes. Half Dome rises 4,737 feet above Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 8,844 feet above sea level. By taking these precautions and equipping yourself with the appropriate gear, you’ll maximize your safety on this unforgettable trip.

Navigating the Half Dome Trail

half-dome, yosemite, valley

Your journey to Half Dome will take you through three main trails: the Mist Trail, the John Muir Trail, and the cable route. Each trail offers unique challenges and breathtaking scenery, making the hike a truly unforgettable experience. For a successful hike, it’s important to get acquainted with each trail and it’s features.

Whether you start on the Mist Trail and connect to the John Muir Trail or begin directly on the John Muir Trail, eventually, you will veer off onto the Half Dome Trail, which leads to the exhilarating cable route and the summit. By understanding the route and planning your hike accordingly, you’ll be well-equipped to conquer Half Dome and create lasting memories.

Mist Trail

The Mist Trail is the starting point of most Half Dome adventures. Beginning in Happy Isles trailhead, this steep and challenging trail offers stunning views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, making the effort well worth it. However, the Mist Trail can also be slippery and treacherous due to the mist from waterfalls, so it’s essential to exercise caution and wear proper footwear with good traction to ensure your safety. Make certain you have all the right items before making your way from the valley floor.

As you ascend the Mist Trail, take the time to appreciate the breathtaking views and iconic landmarks you encounter along the way, such as the top of Vernal Falls and the roaring Nevada Fall. By tackling the Mist Trail with determination and respect for its challenges, you’ll be well on your way to conquering Half Dome and enjoying the adventure of a lifetime.

John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail view

The John Muir Trail offers an alternative route to the beginning portion of Mist Trail, providing a less intense hike than the Mist Trail while still showcasing equally beautiful scenery. If you opt for the John Muir Trail, you’ll enjoy a more gradual incline and an opportunity to experience Nevada Fall, which cannot be seen from Mist Trail.

When choosing between the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail, consider factors such as your fitness level, hiking experience, and personal preferences. Both trails provide access to the Half Dome Trail and offer unique challenges and rewards for your adventure.

Cable Route

Hiking Half Dome Clouds

The cable route is the final stretch to the summit of Half Dome, providing an adrenaline-pumping ascent that requires upper body strength and careful navigation. This 45-degree grade ascent is made possible by a steel cable installed along the granite slope, allowing hikers to safely climb to the top and experience the breathtaking views that await them at the summit.

When climbing the Half Dome cables, it’s essential to be aware of the potential dangers and to respect the difficulty of this section. Ensure that you’re wearing proper gloves(see info on gloves above), and make sure you can’t lose track of anything. Attach any hiking poles, to other hiking gear items securely to your hiking pack.

By tackling the cable route with determination and diligence, you’ll be rewarded with the sense of accomplishment and awe-inspiring views from the top of Half Dome that only a climb half dome can offer, taking you up to Half Dome.

Safety Considerations and Tips

Your safety during the Half Dome hike is of utmost importance. Taking the time to research and prepare for potential challenges, such as weather conditions, altitude sickness, and wildlife encounters, can make all the difference in having a successful and enjoyable experience on the trail.

By carefully monitoring weather forecasts, taking precautions against altitude sickness, and practicing safe wildlife principles, you’ll not only increase your safety on the trail but also enhance your overall enjoyment of the hike. Remember that preparation is key, and adapting your plans as necessary can help ensure a memorable and rewarding Half Dome adventure.

Weather Conditions

sky, landscape, mountain

The weather conditions significantly impact your safety and enjoyment during the Half Dome hike. Be sure to check the weather forecasts in advance and stay clear of thunderstorms, as they can make the cables and trail surfaces slippery & dangerous.

In addition, be prepared for cooler temperatures at higher elevations by bringing multiple layers of clothing, a hat, and gloves to stay warm and comfortable during your hike.

Altitude Sickness

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to be on the lookout for altitude sickness. As you ascend to higher elevations, your body may experience difficulty adjusting to the lower oxygen levels, leading to symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. To minimize the risk of altitude sickness, stay hydrated, take regular breaks, and ascend gradually.

If you experience severe symptoms of altitude sickness, it’s essential to take action and descend to a lower elevation quickly to ensure your safety and well-being. By being mindful of altitude sickness and taking the necessary precautions, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your Half Dome hike and create lasting memories.

Yosemite Wildlife Encounters

deer, animal, wildlife

Home to a variety of wildlife, Yosemite National Park requires visitors to adhere to safe wildlife principles during the Half Dome hike. Keep a safe distance from wildlife, and store food properly to avoid attracting wildlife.

Marmot

At elevations typically around 6,500′ and even soaring to the peaks of landmarks like Mt. Hoffman (10,850’), Clouds Rest (9,926’), and Half Dome (8,836’), one can frequently stumble upon the charming Yellow-bellied Marmots. These sizable rodents of Yosemite find refuge within granite crevices and various burrow systems. Displaying a notable absence of fear towards humans, they, much like bears, might approach visitors in their pursuit of food. Typically, marmots thrive in tight-knit colonies. Case in point: atop Half Dome, where two familiar marmots often nicknamed Marvin and Martha seem to hold court! Alongside creatures like chipmunks, squirrels, and mice, marmots stand out as some of the most prevalent wildlife guests might encounter in the vast expanses of Yosemite.

marmot, rodent, alpine marmot

Mule Deer

Among the myriad of wildlife that graces Yosemite, the Mule Deer stands out as a frequently spotted resident. With ears that strikingly resemble those of a mule, it’s easy to see where these creatures get their unique name. Males, commonly referred to as “Bucks”, boast antlers that undergo a fascinating cycle: each winter, they shed these majestic crowns only to regrow them come spring.

mule deer, usa, mariposa

While many Mule Deer in the Yosemite Valley exhibit a calm demeanor around humans, it’s essential to remember their wild nature. They are innately skittish beings, and a too-close encounter, especially in pursuit of that perfect photograph, might spook them. Unexpected reactions, like a sudden kick, can occur when they feel threatened. It’s always wise to admire their beauty from a respectful distance, ensuring their comfort and your safety.

Black Bears

The majestic bears of Yosemite play a pivotal role in shaping the park’s rich ecosystem. Every bear in Yosemite is a black bear. These creatures, unlike their grizzly counterparts, are not known to be aggressive or to consider humans as food. In fact, they’re naturally wary of us.

black bear, animal, black

Historically, these bears were fed human food—a tactic used to entertain tourists and redirect bears away from frequented areas. However, times have changed, and the current bear management strategy revolves around allowing bears to thrive in their wild essence. Interaction between humans and bears is minimized. Visitors are advised to maintain a safe distance and ensure their food is securely stored. This approach has successfully preserved the bears’ intrinsic apprehension towards humans.

Rattlesnakes

line, snakehead, rattle

The Northern Pacific rattlesnake makes its home in various parts of the park. These reptiles, recognized by their distinctive rattling tails, often inhabit the lower elevations of Yosemite, particularly in the chaparral-covered, rocky areas and open woodlands. They are most active in warmer months, from late spring to early fall, and are known to bask in the sun during cooler mornings and evenings.

If you encounter a rattlesnake, it’s essential to give it plenty of space. These creatures are generally not aggressive and will only strike when threatened or provoked. However, if you do get bitten, it’s vital to take immediate action. Remain calm, as an increased heart rate can spread the venom faster through your body. Do not try to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet. Instead, keep the bitten limb immobilized at or just below heart level, and seek medical attention immediately. While rattlesnake bites can be extremely painful and require prompt treatment, fatalities are rare, especially with swift medical intervention.

In the event of a wildlife encounter, such as coming across a bear on the trail, follow these steps:

  1. Make plenty of noise by yelling.
  2. If in a group, stand together to appear more formidable.
  3. However, avoid surrounding the wildlife and always give the animal space to retreat.

By respecting the park’s wildlife and practicing responsible behavior, you’ll contribute to the preservation of Yosemite’s natural beauty and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all.

Alternative Hikes in Yosemite

Yosemite falls

If securing a Half Dome permit proves unsuccessful, there’s no need for despair! Yosemite National Park offers an abundance of alternative hikes that provide equally stunning views and experiences. From towering waterfalls to serene meadows and panoramic vistas, there’s no shortage of breathtaking trails to explore in this remarkable park.

  1. Yosemite Falls Trail:
    • Distance: 7.2 miles round trip to the top.
    • Highlights: Experience the tallest waterfall in North America up close, with panoramic views of Yosemite Valley.
  2. Mist Trail to Nevada Fall:
    • Distance: 7 miles round trip.
    • Highlights: Walk beside two massive waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada, while enjoying the misty atmosphere and unique rock formations.
  3. Glacier Point:
    • Distance: 4.8 miles round trip from Glacier Point Road.
    • Highlights: Offers perhaps the most iconic viewpoint of Half Dome and an expansive view of Yosemite Valley.
  4. Cathedral Lakes:
    • Distance: 7 miles round trip.
    • Highlights: Tranquil alpine lakes surrounded by stunning granite peaks, including the Cathedral Peak.
  5. Clouds Rest:
    • Distance: 14.5 miles round trip.
    • Highlights: Arguably one of the best panoramic views in Yosemite, with an aerial vista of the entire Yosemite Valley and a unique angle on Half Dome.
  6. Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Loop:
    • Distance: 5.1 miles round trip.
    • Highlights: Offers views of El Capitan and Yosemite Valley, with an added thrill of fissures that plunge straight down to the valley.
  7. Four Mile Trail:
    • Distance: 9.6 miles round trip.
    • Highlights: Winds up from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point, offering a gradual reveal of the park’s most famous landmarks.

Summary

With proper planning, preparation, and determination, conquering Half Dome is an achievable and unforgettable experience. From navigating the permit process and selecting the best time to hike, to training and equipping yourself with essential gear, every step of the journey is filled with excitement and anticipation. Whether you’re gazing at the awe-inspiring views from the summit or marveling at the majestic waterfalls along the trail, hiking Half Dome is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will leave you with memories to cherish for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top