The Half Dome Hike in Yosemite: Your Complete Guide

Looking for the ultimate Yosemite day hike? Half Dome is one for your hiking bucket list and is easily one of the most famous in Yosemite National Park. It is not for beginners; you’ll need good fitness and technical ability. However, if you are an experienced hiker, setting your eyes on reaching the top of Half Dome is a worthy challenge.

Ready to hike up to Half Dome? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Half Dome hike. From what to expect along the way to a breakdown of the best times for hiking Half Dome, we’ve got you covered.

What is Half Dome?

Half dome hike details

First off, what is Half Dome? Half Dome is a massive granite rock formation located in the east of Yosemite Valley. The dome gets its name from its characteristic shape: a smooth curve on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The rock is, quite literally, a half dome.

Half Dome is an impressive 8,800 feet (2682 meters) above sea level that rises 4,800 feet (1463 meters) above Yosemite Valley. The rock formation is essentially an exposed magma chamber, which became visible due to the uplift and the erosion of rock above and around it. The curved side was shaped by exfoliation – a form of weathering. The flat, vertical side of the rock was also weathered into its current shape, with glaciation helping to further achieve the shape we see today.

Half dome hike details

Half Dome doesn’t just get its fame from its looks, though; the Half Dome hike is renowned as one of the most challenging hikes in the US. You can put hiking Half Dome right up there with Angel’s Landing in Zion NP, and all the trails that promise an adrenaline rush. Half Dome wasn’t first climbed until 1875, when George Anderson tackled the rock, drilling holes into the granite to add an early version of the current cable route. Nowadays, Half Dome is most popular with day hikers on a round trip. However, there are routes and detours suitable for multi-day hikers as well.

Half Dome is a unique natural attraction and day hike in Yosemite National Park. It is also easily one of the best places to visit in the US if you love outdoor activities. Now that you are more familiar with it let’s dive straight into the rest of our guide.

What to know before you hike Half Dome

Half dome hike details

One of the most important things we have learned after tackling many challenging trails is that preparation is critical. You don’t want to arrive to find the trail closed, or that you must apply for a Half Dome permit. This section will cover the essentials – the things you should absolutely know before hiking the Half Dome trail.

Yosemite National Park has strict regulations.

Forget simply deciding to climb Half Dome at the last minute; just entering Yosemite National Park can require a good level of planning. The national park has frequent regulations and restrictions, and you can expect park rangers to enforce some of these with fines.

In peak hours, you may need a reservation to enter or drive Yosemite National Park, which you’ll need to arrange before arrival. Other restrictions might just require a detour or two. For example, some roads are strictly closed for maintenance, like Glacier Point Road being closed throughout 2022. You can check the official Yosemite National Park website for road closures or other important messages.

Half Dome hike is only open in certain months

Half Dome hike is not an all-year-round trail. The Half Dome cables are typically taken down on Columbus Day in October and put back up on Memorial Day in May. If you visit after Columbus Day or before Memorial Day, don’t expect to climb Half Dome. Without the cable route intact, it is impossible.

Getting a Half Dome permit

If you didn’t know, Half Dome has a strict permit system. Rather than applying to receive a Half Dome permit, you enter a lottery system to be awarded permits. You can enter the pre-season lottery or try your luck with a daily lottery. The daily lottery runs two days in advance, so you’ll have two days warning if you get the okay to hike Half Dome. There is a cap of 300 hikers per day – we’ll cross our fingers for you.

Hikers who want to camp also need wilderness permits. You can stop overnight at Little Yosemite Valley Campground to add to your exciting experience with wilderness permit reservations.

There are different trail options

There isn’t just one route that you can take to tackle Half Dome. While there is only one final section (the Half Dome cables), you have different trail options to choose how to get there. After Vernal Falls Bridge, the path branches into two, and you can pick the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail to follow.

Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail are the most popular main route options. However, if you want an extra challenging hike, you can complete the Half Dome Trail via Glacier Point or Tenaya Lake. These routes are less trodden and more demanding in terms of stamina – just make sure you’ve applied for your wilderness permit so that you can camp.

So, which trail should you choose? We’ll take a look at that below.

Which trail to choose to hike Half Dome

Half dome hike details

Choosing a trail not only impacts your hiking experience but can also define it. You’ll pick between different views, attractions, and whether you complete Half Dome as a single-day round trip or a multi-day adventure. Let’s take a look at your options, leaving you to pick the best route for you to hike Half Dome.

The Muir Trail and Mist Trail are the two trails you can choose between on the main hike. The John Muir Trail is the most popular route and is 17 miles long. It adds 1.5 miles to the trail but passes incredible viewpoints of Nevada Falls and a unique angle of Half Dome. It is also much less steep than the Mist Trail – so you can pick between an extra 1.5 miles of easier terrain or a steep, shorter route.

Half dome hike details

The Mist Trail is 14 miles in length and involves ascending and descending a set of wet, slippery stairs. You’ll have fantastic views of Vernal Falls as you climb the steps right beside them, getting so close that you are covered in waterfall spray. Still, if the idea of steep, slippery stairs is a no-go for you, we recommend choosing the Muir Trail.

Finally, you could also pick to hike Half Dome from Glacier Point. The 20-mile trail is much less trodden because of its demanding length and the physical fitness it requires. But if you want a challenge, it combines experiencing Half Dome with the beautiful viewpoint at Glacier Point.

If you want more adventure…

Half dome hike details

So, those are the primary trail options that you’ll get. But what if you want more adventure? You can also tackle the Half Dome hike via these different routes, turning the Half Dome hike into a multi-day experience.

Tenaya Lake is a beautiful alpine lake formed by glacial action and located northeast of Half Dome. You can join hiking Tenaya Lake and Half Dome into one route of 23 miles, which is best tackled over multiple days.

Of course, you can also add an overnight stay in Little Yosemite Valley Campground to the John Muir Trail or Mist Trail. While any overnight stay will require wilderness permits, it is definitely worth the extra effort. And this way, you get the same classic hike and a camping experience.

How to get to Half Dome trailhead

Half dome hike details

To hike the two most popular trails (the John Muir Trail and Mist Trail), you’ll start at Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking on the Happy Isle Loop Road. It is then a short 0.5-mile hike from ‘Happy Isles’ Trailhead to Half Dome Trailhead – where your walk begins.

The easiest way to reach the trailhead is to drive, and if you are wondering where to park, don’t worry as the trailhead parking lot has lots of spaces. The roads to Yosemite National Park are well-connected to nearby cities. For instance, driving to the trailhead from San Francisco takes just under four hours.

Another option is to drive to Yosemite National Park and then use the shuttle service. The national park has a regular bus service that connects all the attractions and trailheads. In summer, the East Yosemite Valley service has buses every eight to twelve minutes, and runs between 7 am and 10 pm.

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Finally, you could take a guided tour of Half Dome. These tours typically include transfers, like this one here.

What to expect When hiking Half Dome

Half dome hike details

What to expect when hiking Half Dome is a big question. We’ll cover what to expect when hiking Half Dome in general, then focus on what to expect hiking Half Dome via the Muir trail. Ready? Let’s get into it.

First off, expect to be hiking for upwards of nine hours regardless of which trail you choose – this is a reality that sounds pretty challenging when you say it out loud. You’ll be walking from sunrise and returning in the late evening if you choose a Half Dome day hike. Half Dome is by no means an easy hike, and you should expect to be pushed to the limits of your physical and mental capacity. There are extremely steep and slippery parts of the trail and exposed sections where you’ll have no protection from the sun. By nature, the Half Dome hike is challenging.

Half dome hike details

However, you can also expect Half Dome to be one of the most rewarding hikes in the US. Along the trail, you’ll find stunning waterfalls and serene viewpoints and face many challenges that instill a strong sense of achievement. Since you have to get lucky to bag Half Dome permits, there’s a great atmosphere amongst those hiking Half Dome Trail. After all, a hike to Half Dome is a privilege. The supportive atmosphere is what many people claim to be one of the best things on a walk to Half Dome.

It’s said that around 20-30% of hikers actually turn back when they reach the cable route, which is by far the scariest bit of the hike. By the time you reach the cable route, though, there’s usually a steadily moving queue forming. You can count on a few words of encouragement or reassurance from other hikers. Whether you continue slowly to tackle the last 400 feet or decide to turn around, the positive atmosphere gives a strong sense of “we are all in this together”.

Half dome hike details

In terms of facilities, the only flush toilets available are at Vernal Falls Footbridge. You will find composting toilets near Emerald Pool, Nevada Falls, and Little Yosemite Valley. Just remember to bring your own toilet paper. At Vernal Falls Footbridge you can fill up your water, so plan a refill stop there on your way up and down.

So, what can you expect from hiking the Muir Trail? Well, the route itself is straightforward to navigate. Starting from the parking lot by the ‘Happy Isles’ Trailhead, it is a leisurely stroll along the Happy Isle Loop Road for about a half mile. You’ll cross the Merced River over the Happy Isles Bridge, then take a right at the fork to join the Muir Trail.

Half dome hike details

Looping past Sierra Point, you cross the Merced River for a second time over Vernal Falls Bridge, then join the uphill switchbacks as the trail winds to climb out of the valley floor. From here, you’ll pass Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and Little Yosemite Valley, finally reaching the Half Dome trailhead. Before you tackle the metal cables, you’ll hike to the Sub Dome summit first – which has stunning panoramas over Yosemite.

Half dome hike details

You’ll then complete the Half Dome cables, which is a 400-foot section of a climb on a 45–55-degree angle. There are wooden supports set at every 15 feet or so, allowing you a perch to rest on, and two metal cables running either side of the track for you to support and balance yourself. A via feratta harness is optional, although more and more people are bringing climbing equipment following recent accidents. After completing the famed (and feared) cable route, you’ll reach the top of Half Dome.

The John Muir Trail has a total elevation gain of 1,582 meters and is a challenging route. On average, it takes ten hours to complete the return hike. However, we recommend allowing twelve hours just in case. It is nice to be able to stop at attractions like Nevada Falls along the way, and there is plenty to admire before you reach Half Dome.

What are the best things to see and do on the Half Dome hike?

Half dome hike details

As we’ve said above, there are plenty of things to see and do on your way to summit Half Dome. Most of the natural attractions on the way double up as prominent points for navigation, so you’ll naturally get to sightsee as you navigate your way to the summit. This section will cover the best things to see and do along the way.

Nevada Fall

The Merced River makes the Half Dome hike a fascinating trail, as it has many waterfalls and dramatic river scenes to admire along the way. Nevada Fall is an impressive waterfall that plunges off its granite cliff face and down into the valley below. Hikers get a view of the cascade on the hike to Half Dome, then cross the river just upstream of the falls.

Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall is another dramatic waterfall courtesy of the Merced River. The waterfall drops 317 feet off a granite cliff face and is located just before Nevada Fall. You can get close to Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail, climbing up over 600 rough-cut granite steps and getting covered by the waterfall spray.

Sub Dome

In a rush to get to the top of Half Dome, many people don’t realize how beautiful Sub Dome will be. Sub Dome is a great taster of the final climb. You can enjoy spectacular views over the surrounding granite domes and woodland below.

Little Yosemite Valley

You pass through Little Yosemite Valley on a sandy trail, cutting through woodland and wilderness. Little Yosemite Valley is a beautiful landscape, and you may spot black bears, deer, coyotes, and even bobcats if you’ve got a sharp eye.

Liberty Cap

Liberty Cap is a massive granite dome, not unlike Half Dome. You’ll pass the dome just after you pass Nevada Fall. However, you will also be able to admire Liberty Cap from the summit of Sub Dome and Half Dome. Keep your eyes peeled as it is an impressive natural landmark.

Half dome hike details

Olmsted Point

Olmsted Point might not be exactly on your route, but you can always add it on as a detour. The scenic lookout offers views over Half Dome and Tanaya Canyon. It is a good add-on if you are tackling Half Dome on a multi-day hike since you won’t be pushing yourself for a single-day roundtrip. If you don’t have time to hike to Olmsted Point, drive back on Tioga Road so you can pull in and visit instead. It is an excellent lookout to appreciate the climb you’ve just completed.

Clouds Rest

Clouds Rest is another worthy add-on. Be warned that the mountain is a strenuous hike. Still, it is worth considering if you are tackling Half Dome over multiple days and have an excellent fitness level. The views from the summit are stunning, and it is a great hike to get a different perspective of Half Dome. Most people combine hiking up Clouds Rest and Half Dome over three to four days.

Glacier Point

As we covered earlier, some people may wish to start their Half Dome hike at Glacier Point rather than Happy Isles. While this route is a lot longer, it is stunning, and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful panoramas. If hiking 20 miles of difficult terrain in a day doesn’t put you off, Glacier Point is one of the best things to see on a Half Dome hike. You’ll also find Washburn Point and Glacier Point Trailside Museum along Glacier Point Road, the road you drive to access the trailhead.

Please note that road improvements have closed Glacier Point road for all of 2022 and you can expect delays during 2023 until the road maintenance is finished.

What to bring on the Half Dome hike

Half dome hike details

As we have said, preparation is vital. There are many hikes in the US that you can show up to in casual, everyday clothes and running shoes and have a fantastic time. However, knowing that the Half Dome hike requires reliable clothes and gear is essential. At the very least, you’ll want to leave your worn-out runners at home, and at the most, you may even want to bring climbing equipment like a harness. This section will cover all the best things to bring on a Half Dome hike.

To start with, you’ll need to decide if you are planning a backpacking trip or a strenuous day hike. If you plan a multi-day backpacking trip, you’ll need to pack more food and water supplies, plus all of your camping gear. Little Yosemite Valley Campground allows you to leave your tent and non-valuables at the campsite while you hike the final stretch of the Half Dome trail.

This is good news as you won’t have to tackle the Half Dome cables with a tent in your backpack. With this in mind, though, you should limit the valuables you bring so that you can safely leave things in your tent. You will also need a bear box to store food safely while you are away.

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You should always carry plenty of water, toilet paper, sunscreen, bear spray, and a Half Dome Trail map since the phone signal can be sketchy. Half Dome hikers tackling the round trip in a day may require less food and water, but it is wise to carry a little more than you think you’ll need. A few sugary snacks can be great for giving you that needed boost along the trickiest parts of the trail.

Half dome hike details

You may want to bring a basic first aid kit and a Via Ferrata climbing harness. A first aid kit never goes amiss, and as long as it isn’t too bulky to fit in your backpack, it can be helpful in minor accidents. The Via Ferrata climbing harness will be handy if you want to strap yourself in for extra security on the Half Dome cables. The Half Dome cables aren’t designed to be tackled as a Via Ferrata route. In fact, the poles can occasionally come loose – so climbing strapped to the cables isn’t risk-free. However, it does provide some extra security and peace of mind. You may wish to take the extra precaution if you have a fear of heights or if it is really crowded.

Last but not least, what clothes should you bring and wear? Sturdy footwear with good grip goes without saying. The slick rock on the Half Domes cables section is polished and slippery, so if you add footwear with a bad grip into the mix, it is a disaster waiting to happen. The stairway section by Vernal Fall also requires good grip since it gets slippery with waterfall spray. Similarly, descending the sandy area near Little Yosemite Valley requires good ankle support when navigating your way down the path feeling tired and weak.

Half dome hike details

A peaked hat is another firm recommendation. Much of the trail is exposed to the elements, especially on the final climb up the Half Dome cables. The last thing you want is to be battling heatstroke and sunburn when you are already on the most challenging section of the climb. You’ll also appreciate a thick pair of gloves with a good grip for the Half Dome cables section.

As the rock is slippery in this section, you’ll heavily rely on upper body strength to support yourself by holding the metal cables. Gloves will help prevent blisters and make the task much easier for you. Also, when you are finished, think about giving your gloves to another climber. That way you don’t have to carry them down or leave them there.

Finally, you’ll need all the standard hiking basics. Make sure to bring layers (including a waterproof, windproof coat) and comfortable, well-fitting clothes.

Best time to hike to Half Dome

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The fact that the Half Dome cables are only available from Memorial Day to Columbus Day already narrows down the best time to hike Half Dome. If you want to tackle the hike, you will have to get a Half Dome permit to allow you to visit between May and October.

Typically, September is the quietest time to climb Half Dome. Day hikers should set off as early as possible to maximize their daylight hours since you get fewer daylight hours in September than in the height of summer. You can always book accommodation in Curry Village, just a fifteen-minute walk from the ‘Happy Isles’ trailhead. It is a great nearby place to stay, so you can start your hike nice and early.

Half dome hike details

In September, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, and the temperatures should be cooler, making climbing more enjoyable. You should find that campsites have more space too, and who knows, maybe you’ll get luckier in the permit lottery if there are fewer entries.

If you are keen on climbing the stairs with as few people as possible then plan to arrive around 8 am to the cables. If you get there between 11 am and 12 pm you can guarantee it will be packed and you might have to wait in line just to do the final section.

Important Note: You’ll want to avoid hiking Half Dome if there are storms or heavy rain forecasted. Weather conditions can turn the trail extremely dangerous. If a storm appears nearby, the best thing you can do is turn around or take shelter in a building like a toilet block if possible.

Half Dome permits might be exciting to win, but it is never worth continuing on a high-risk trail when you can just re-enter the lottery. Heavy rain can make the trail perfectly inaccessible, so the hiking season for Half Dome coincides with the driest months.

How difficult is the Half Dome hike?

Half dome hike details

In short, the Half Dome hike is difficult. The mileage and elevation gain are both substantial, and the challenging sections have real risks. More than twenty people have died tackling the Half Dome trail, and over forty people have died on the routes used to access the final section. The risks are real, and you need to be active when prioritizing your safety. Successful Half Dome hikers are brave but definitely not stupid.

The trail lengths vary from 14.2 miles to 23 miles, so you’ll need to choose the trail that best suits you and your fitness skills. In theory, you could tackle the Half Dome hike without training. Still, you’d need to be otherwise fit and healthy with a good baseline level of fitness. You’ll be more successful if you do some training leading up to the hike.

Plus, hiking while you are exhausted raises the likelihood of slipping and having an accident, so you’ll be able to hike stronger and safer if your fitness levels are higher.

If you are unsure whether you are physically fit enough to complete a round trip in a single day, just apply for a wilderness permit. This way, you can camp at Little Yosemite Valley Campground and break up the distance over two days.

To Conclude

Half dome hike details

Half Dome hike is easily one of the US’s most popular hiking trails – holding a number one spot on many people’s bucket lists. It may be challenging, but it is the perfect example of how ‘nothing good in life comes easy. The enormous grey dome is a much-loved and respected landmark in Yosemite and is well worth tackling if you can.

Just remember, there is no shame in getting to the cables and turning around. If you don’t feel confident then don’t put yourself or others in danger. The views up to that point are more than enough reason to tackle this hike.

Feeling inspired? You may want to check out some of our other favorite hikes in California or the United States as a whole. Of course, there are also many different things to do in Yosemite National Park. You will probably want to dedicate a large chunk of time to explore the surrounding area once you’ve completed Half Dome. A trip to any destination in the national park will be memorable, and we hope you have an inspiring and successful trip. Also read: Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

— Update: 20-03-2023 — found an additional article HALF DOME (via the Mist Trail) from the website for the keyword half dome hike details.

Hiking Guide Photos 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Half dome hike detailsWhat is the most iconic and recognizable rock formation in Yosemite National Park? Half Dome! What peak serves as a beacon and can be seen from all over Yosemite National Park? Half Dome!! What is the most famous and strenuous day hike in Yosemite that includes the intimidating cables near the summit? Half Dome!!! What hike in Yosemite is so overwhelmingly popular that in 2011 the National Park Service had to implement a permit and quota system to eliminate the dangerous crowding and gridlock along the route? HALF DOME!!! For the fit hiker who is up for the physical and logistical challenges, this is an amazing and worthy adventure.

WARNING: While Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park, it should not be taken for granted. This is a long day hike with a strenuous amount of elevation gain, followed by two exposed sections on bare granite at high elevation. This is not a good choice for casual tourists who are not in good hiking shape.

Rating:Very strenuous hike with exposured sections near summit
Access:Happy Isles Trailhead (Shuttle Stop 16 along the Yosemite Valley shuttle system)
Time Required:8-12 hours
Length:16.4 miles round trip up Mist Trail to Half Dome and back down John Muir Trail
Elevation Change:4800-ft elevation gain (2000′ to top of Nevada Fall, 2800′ more to summit of Half Dome)
Happy Isles Trailhead: 4000′
Top of Nevada Fall: 6000′
Summit of Half Dome: 8839′
Seasons:Late spring to early fall (typically late May to mid October when the cables are up, dependent on weather) for the summit of Half Dome. Lower portions of the Mist Trail are open year-round.
Permit Required?YES. Access above the Subdome is limited to 300 people a day when the cables are up.

Half Dome Permits–Important:

Due to the epic popularity of this hike, NPS has implemented a permit system, allowing only 300 people a day to the summit of Half Dome when the cables are up. Permits are available in a preseason lottery and a last-minute daily lottery. See the NPS Half Dome Permits page for more information. While your chances of securing a permit on any given day might be only 5-20%, know that when you do this hike you will not have to experience a chaotic gridlock-like crowd at the final cables section.

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Important Tips to Survive Half Dome:

  • Start as early as you can, even before dawn, to maximize the amount of time and daylight for you to summit Half Dome and make it back down safely.
  • Bring a gallon of water with you, especially during the summer months. The upper sections of this hike are hot and dry. Also bring protection from the sun (hat, sunblock, etc.).
  • While the lower portions of the Mist Trail are beautiful, don’t waste your time on them; your goal today is to get to the summit of Half Dome! Come back another day to leisurely soak up the wonderful Mist Trail scenery around Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.Half dome hike details
  • Remember to bring your permit, whether printed or in electronic form. It would be tragic to hike all the way up to the Subdome only to be denied by the ranger who guards the final section of this hike.
  • If you use hiking poles, bring them! They are extremely helpful for the unrelenting ascent of the trail. You will only stash them for the final cables section.
  • While the hike starts at 4000 feet, the summit of Half Dome is at 8839 feet. If you are not used to high elevations, you may be short of breath near the summit. Go easy and take frequent little breaks if necessary.
  • Bring gloves for the cables; your hands will thank you.
  • While not required, if you are terrified of the cables and want to bring extra protection, a climbing harness with slings and carabiners can be used to clip yourself into the cables as you make your way up or down. Know how to use your gear before your hike.
  • Do not ascend Half Dome if there is a threat of a thunderstorm. Half Dome often gets struck by lightning and the last place you want to be during a storm is on a high exposed peak holding onto a giant metal cable.
Half dome hike detailsMap: Half Dome (via the Mist Trail)
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.

Detailed Description:

The Happy Isles Trailhead is located in the southeastern corner of Yosemite Valley, roughly a mile east of Curry Village (Half Dome Village). Yosemite Valley shuttle stop 16 provides easy access. If you are driving, a hikers parking lot is located just east of Curry Village (Half Dome Village), but like all parking lots in Yosemite Valley, the spots get taken up very early in the day.

From the Happy Isles Trailhead, follow the paved trail south as it begins its ascent up the narrowing gorge that surrounds the Merced River. At .9 miles is the first hikers’ bridge; on the far side is a water fountain and bathrooms. Continuing up the gorge now on the right (south) side, the trail gets more strenuous with many granite steps making their way up the steep slopes in front of Vernal Fall. Half dome hike details During spring runoff, this part of the trail is thrilling as spray from the powerful fall makes everything wet and slippery; there is a reason they call it the Mist Trail! (While you will typically remain dry during the low-flow late summer and autumn months, be prepared to get wet during spring and early summer.) Just past the spray zone, the steps get even steeper as the ingenious trail heads into an alcove before making its final ascent to the top of Vernal Fall.

Above Vernal Fall, the trail continues along the banks of the river as the majestic Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick peaks can now be seen in the distance. A second hiker’s bridge crosses back over to the left (north) side of the river as the trail wanders up through a lovely forested section. Then with Nevada Fall in view, the trail makes its final big push up several switchbacks that ascend the boulderfield under Liberty Cap. Just as you think your legs can’t do it any more, the trail will top out. You are now roughly 2000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, but you still have 2800 feet more of elevation gain to get to the top of Half Dome!

At the trail junction, turn left and head northeast towards Little Yosemite Valley. After a brief section of uphill just under Liberty Cap, the trail begins a leisurely descent into the lovely forested valley. Enjoy this section of trail as it is the only level hiking you will experience all day. At the trail junctions, follow the signs that point to Half Dome. (The backpackers’ campground at Little Yosemite Valley is popular for those doing Half Dome as a two-day hike.)

After roughly a mile in Little Yosemite Valley, it’s time to work hard again as the trail heads north and zigzags its way up the forested slopes, ascending roughly 1600 feet in two miles to reach the top of the ridgeline. (Along the way, you will pass one last junction with the trail that continues up to Clouds Rest.) Half dome hike details This section may seem unrelenting, but keep a slow and steady pace and allow for plenty of short breaks if you are out of breath from the elevation. Once you are heading east on the ridgeline, the forest will thin out a bit and you will see great teaser views down into Tenaya Canyon to the right (north). Soon enough, you will see your final destination straight ahead: Half Dome with the round “Subdome” in front of it.

The Subdome is the rounded shoulder formation of bare granite to the east of Half Dome proper, and as you approach it, it will look intimidating and improbable, but once you’re on it, it will seem quite reasonable. (A ranger is usually stationed at the base to check permits.) The ingenious trail is akin to a giant staircase, zigzagging its way up the cracks and features of the steep and exposed formation. This section is strenuous but it relents soon enough and then you will be facing the final obstacle: the cable route up the bare east ridge of Half Dome! Stow your hiking poles and put on your gloves for the most thrilling and terrifying section of trail in Yosemite.

Half dome hike detailsThe cable route is basically two parallel steel cables held up by vertical poles that function as handrails. Wooden blanks at the base of each set of poles provide footing and rest areas for people going up and down. As you make your way up the cables, you will use quite a bit of arm strength to pull yourself up as you move your feet to the safety of the next wooden plank. Because the granite has been polished from so many years of hikers, it can be slippery. Follow the lead of the hikers in front of you and move to the right side to allow people descending to pass. As you make your way up, the angle does get steeper and more intimidating, but eventually it relents and you will be standing on the summit!

Once on the summit of Half Dome, be sure to walk north to the actual high point to see the views from “the visor” (a spot where pieces of granite curl over like a breaking wave) down into Yosemite Valley, north to beautiful Tenaya Canyon, and you can also hike southwest to the second highpoint to get views south to Little Yosemite Valley and southwest to Glacier Point.

After you have had your fill, it’s time to descend the cables which for many people can be more intimidating than the ascent. While most people head straight down holding both cables, some find it better to go sideways holding just the right cable. Do what works for you and be patient as there is often somebody going very slow having a panic attack. Half dome hike details Once off the cables, it’s time to celebrate your survival and retrace your steps back down to Yosemite Valley!

While the hike back down is quicker and less strenuous, it’s also harder on the knees, especially with tired legs. And when you’re back near Nevada Fall, you have the choice between taking the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail. While the John Muir Trail is slightly longer, it gives you great views above Nevada Fall, it’s the drier route, and its more gradual descent may make your knees happier. Back at the Happy Isles Trailhead, it’s time to celebrate the fact that you survived on of Yosemite’s most awesome hikes!!!

Joe’s Spin:

Wow. Yes, this is a classic Yosemite hike. It’s overly popular and it makes every “Top 10 Hikes That Will Make You Feel Like a Badass” list, but it really lives up to its hype. It’s a hike that really sticks in your memory as a great experience, especially now that the permit system has gotten the crowds under control.

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