Yosemite Half Dome

Iconic Yosemite Half Dome a Beastly but Rewarding Hike


Half Dome at a distance

Yosemite Half Dome is probably the most famous and recognizable landmark among the many at Yosemite National Park; it dominates most of the Valley views. Located at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rises to an elevation of 8,842 ft. (2650 m)

There are a number of spectacular viewpoints of Half Dome such as Tunnel View, Cook’s Meadow, Sentinel Bridge and Olmsted Point, but the best and breathtaking views are from Washburn Point and Glacier Point on Glacier Point Road. (Picture below taken from Glacier Point) 


Half Dome view from Glacier Point


Half Dome Cliff

Half Dome ledge – Diving Board

Located on the shoulder of Yosemite Half Dome is a well-known ledge called the “Diving Board” where Ansel Adams crawled onto with his field camera and photographed one of his famous works called the “Monolith: The Face of Half Dome (1926)”.

Over 600 people per day make the climb to Half Dome’s summit during peak season. The scenery of surrounding mountain peaks atop this granite dome is dazzling – just don’t look down.


Climbing to the Summit of Yosemite Half Dome

The climb to the top of Yosemite Half Dome begins at the Happy Isle trailhead – Shuttle Stop Number 16. There are two trails leading to Half Dome. The Mist Trail is shorter (by 0.6 miles) and steep vs. the John Muir Trail, which is longer and not as steep. The Mist Trail will place you near the base of two prominent waterfalls – Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.


Half Dome – Steel cable hand rails

Beginning at the Valley floor, the 16-mile roundtrip can take 8 – 12 hours to complete, which involves a demanding elevation gain. During the last 200 yards up the back end of the dome, there are steel cable handrails in place to facilitate the climb to the summit. Do some soul searching before you commit to the climb; turning back is not an option once you’ve reached the halfway point.

The vast majority make the entire climb to and from the summit in a single day. Another option is to camp overnight at Little Yosemite Valley (permit required) and save the last 200 yard climb to the summit for the next day – refreshed and rested.


Atop Half Dome – a breathless view

Atop Half Dome is a large flat area with awe-inspiring panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the Yosemite high country – the rewards for a tough climb. 


Half Dome close up


Distance: 16 miles (roundtrip)

Rating: Very strenuous

Starting Elevation: 4,040 ft.

Ending Elevation: 8,842 ft.

Elevation Gain: 4,802 ft.

Shuttle Stop: 16

Trailhead: Happy Isles 

Essential Info for Yosemite Half Dome Hikers

Have no doubts, the climb to the summit of Yosemite Half Dome is strenuous and can be dangerous. Precautions should be taken to make the hike safe and enjoyable.

  • Beginning in 2010, permits to hike to the TOP of Yosemite Half Dome are now required on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays when the cables are up. According to the U.S. National Park Service, this is an interim measure to increase safety along the cables while park officials develop a long-term plan to manage use on Half Dome Trail. A maximum of 400 permits will be issued each of these days (300 available to day-use hikers). Permits are available from about four weeks to one week in advance ONLY through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) at www.recreation.gov or (877) 444-6777.Permits are not available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis, and you can expect demand to be high, so plan accordingly. A service fee of $1.50 will be charged. Please keep in mind that there is no guarantee the cables will be up on any given date, especially during May and October, when conditions may be more hazardous. If you are unable to hike Yosemite Half Dome for any reason on the day for which you have a permit, the park will not be able to provide a permit for a different date.
  • Be sure to train for this climb, especially your legs by using a Stairmaster or treadmill.
  • Get an early start. The trail is popular and it gets very crowded. To avoid the crowds, it is recommended you plan your climb on days other than Saturdays and holiday weekends.
  • Check for sunrise and sunset times. Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp with a good set of batteries; they will come in handy if you have to climb in the dark.
  • Check the weather forecast. Thunderstorms are not uncommon midyear, plan to start the climb by sunrise or earlier, and start back down by early afternoon. If thunderclouds are visible, reschedule the climb for another day.
  • If you are affected by altitude sickness, acclimatize yourself to higher elevations over a span of two to three days by gradually gaining elevation until you reach 10,000 ft.
  • Altitude sickness symptoms are severe headache and/or nausea. The quickest way to relieve altitude sickness is to descend immediately.
  • Shorts and T-shirts are good for hiking. A light jacket will come in handy for the cool mornings, along the Mist Trail and the wind atop the summit.
  • There’s nothing like a good pair of broken-in hiking boots with good ankle support to help prevent ankle injuries and blisters. Good footwear can make a tremendous difference in the enjoyment of the climb.
  • Bring a hat and sun glasses. During the latter part of June through July and August Yosemite can get pretty hot. Sunscreen would be a good idea as well.
  • Up until the back end of the dome, use hiking poles to save the knees; the trail is very rough.
  • Eat a high carbohydrate dinner (low fat and low protein) the night before and a hearty breakfast on the day of the hike. Also bring some snack foods like bread, fruits, and low fat energy bars to maintain your energy level.
  • Avoid dehydration; bring lots of water. It has been recommended to bring at least 4 liters of water per person. Also bring a water filter because there are plenty of locations to refill along the way.
  • Bring gloves to climb the cable handrails so you don’t slip and fall and to avoid blisters.
  • If possible, plan appropriately your bathroom stops prior to the climb. There are bathroom pits at Vernal Falls Bridge, Vernal Falls, Mist Trail/John Muir Trail intersection, and Little Yosemite Valley.
  • Pack a first aid kit mainly for handling minor sprains, cuts and scratches.

If you are planning a climb to Yosemite Half Dome early in the year (May or earlier) or later in the year (October or later), visit http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm#CP_JUMP_124755 for trail conditions and Half Dome cable handrail updates. For additional information, contact Yosemite National Park at (209) 372-0200.

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