Half Dome Trail
Half Dome is a legendary part of Yosemite National Park and a goal for many hikers that make a trip to Yosemite. However, while it is stunning, it is also a challenging hike. The Half Dome Hike requires a hard-to-secure permit, is a long day with a lot of distance and elevation, and finally, you have to deal with the famous cables!
To get to the start of the Half Dome Trail Hike, head to the Happy Isles Trailhead.
Little Yosemite Valley
|When to do|
June to October
Out and back
Half Dome Trail
Half Dome Trail Description
Hiking Half Dome is THE trip you want to do in Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as showing up, lacing up your hiking boots and setting out for a long day.
To begin with, you need to get a permit to hike Half Dome. You can get the permit from the Yosemite National Park Service but be warned it’s quite competitive. Permits for Half Dome are distributed through a pre-season lottery and then daily lotteries during the hiking season.
Once you have a permit for Half Dome, you’ll have to start mentally preparing for this monster of a day hike, as you can expect to be out on the trail for 10-14 hours. This means you have to be prepared with enough food and water, the right gear for the hike, and make sure the weather is appropriate. For example, afternoon lightning can be common! And you do not want to be at the summit of Half Dome if there is a thunderstorm.
If this all sounds like too much, many people choose to do this as an overnight backpack, staying at a nearby backcountry campground to spread the distance and elevation over two days.
The route to get to the base of Half Dome is spectacular, and as an added bonus follows the famous John Muir Trail (JMT) for part of the route.
Starting in the Yosemite Valley at the Happy Isles Trailhead, you will follow the same trail as that for Mist Trail, going up along the Merced River, past Vernal Falls as you hike. This part of the route to Half Dome is busy with day hikers, however, as you come up along Nevada Fall, you come to a Junction. It makes sense to go right back and check-out Nevada Fall as it’s quite spectacular, however, if you are in a rush, go right and contour around Liberty Cap, which is above you on your left.
Follow the trail as you continue on the JMT heading North-Northeast on a clear trail. This trail initially goes away from the Merced River and then returns with the Merced River on your right, beyond the trees.
Soon, you’ll come to a signed junction, where you take the left-hand trail, and follow it until you come to a clearing, where there is a crossing path. Here, you can turn left if you are camping at the Little Yosemite Valley backcountry campground, however, if you’re going to Half Dome, go right, and follow the trails as it rises through the forest, occasionally coming back near Sunrise Creek.
As you go through the forest you will come to a junction with the path on the right taking you to Cloud’s Rest, another great hike. Instead, continue forward, following the Half Dome trail, which is still in the forest.
Eventually, the Half Dome trail starts to curve to your left, heading west (roughly). As you climb the forest starts to thin, and soon you’re granted a fine view of the surrounding peaks. Soon, you approach a short switchback to take you to the base of Sub dome, which has a direct ascent and steps built into the ascent. For many, getting to Sub Dome is far enough.
From Sub Dome, look ahead and see the cables that head up Half Dome. This is the most daunting part of the hike up Half Dome. Many hikers choose to bring a harness and treat this last cable section up Half Dome like a Via Ferrata, using the harness and carabiners to stay safe during the ascent, and we recommend anybody who does Half Dome to have a harness and be aware of how to use it on this section.
As you head up the cables, your speed is dictated by the person in front, as well as making space for those descending. If you don’t like heights, you probably shouldn’t be climbing Half Dome, but definitely don’t look down!
Before you know it you’ve passed the cables and you can continue up to a slight saddle, where you go right to the true summit of Half Dome. The views from Half Dome are spectacular, and take in the entire Yosemite Valley.
Return the way you came, taking extreme caution going down the cables. While it’s easy to think of the ascent as the hardest part, the descent on the cables carries the same risk, so take your time and go slow and be safe.
Half Dome is one of the most iconic mountains in the entire United States. Rising to 8845ft above sea level, it grants stunning views of Yosemite Valley. It is known for the sheer face on one side. The best views of Half Dome are from Yosemite Valley, particularly Glacier Point. Getting to the top is a bucket-list adventure for many on their trip to Yosemite National Park.
Vernal and Nevada Falls
The trail up to Half Dome takes you along the Mist Trail, including going by Vernal and Nevada Falls, two stunning waterfalls on the Merced River. Nevada Fall is the bigger of the two, almost twice the height of Vernal Fall.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a permit for Half Dome?
Yes a permit is required, and can either be secured in the preseason or daily through the NPS website.
How difficult is Half Dome?
It’s both a big day with a lot of distance and elevation, and it’s technically challenging on the Cables portion. This is an expert level hike.
Bring gloves for the cables, they will save your hands.
While many people do the cables without protective gear, we couldn’t imagine doing so, and recommend having a Via Ferrata Kit. While these are common in Europe, they aren’t so common in North America, and will include a harness, helmet and a Lanyard, specifically designed for a route like Half Dome.
While there is grip during dry conditions, Half Dome gets very slippery when wet, and the NPS notes that most accidents are a result of wet conditions. Avoid completing the cable section when the forecast predicts rain—or it just rained.
Bring a headlamp on this hike, as if your day goes long, you may need it on your return!
Do not attempt Half Dome if the cables are not set up for the season. The cables typically are installed at the end of May and taken down in early October.
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