Half Dome is the most famous Yosemite icon and climbing to it top is probably the most rewording hike in Yosemite National Park and one of the best hike in the US.
Rising 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley (8,800-foot above sea level), surrounded from all direction by deep canyons and valleys, Half Dome top provides amazing 360-degree view of Yosemite Park landscape.
If you are hiking this trail in one day, starting from Yosemite Valley than this is a 16-20-miles out and back hike (hike length depend on the exact rout you are taking).
During your hike you will ascend 4,800-6,200 feet of elevation.
The one-day hike is considered to be a strenuous hike that probably should not be attempted by inexperienced or unprepared hikers.
When Half Dome cables are up, special permits are required to hike Half Dome, you can obtain them through a lottery system (see permit section below).
This hike was something I wanted to do for years, but because I “hate” permit lottery it did not happen.
Although being in good shape and doing many long and challenging hikes I suffered from shoulder issue that prevent me to climb the cable section, now when I’m OK with my arm I can attempt the hike.
One day early June 2023 I saw that the cables are still down, and you do not need a permit + not a lot of snow left on subdome, it was a window of opportunity to climb Half Dome and I decided to go.
I took day off from work, a day before I drove from San Francisco Bay area to Yosemite arriving at the park at 11pm. I spend few hours’ sleeping in my car, wake up at 3:30 am, drove to the parking lot and start to hike at 4.
After the 12 hours hike, I drove 4.5 hours back home, overall, this was 28 hours door to door.
I hiked many one-day and long backpacking hikes in Yosemite, climbing Half Dome is at the top of my list.
The official hike starts at Yosemite Valley where Mist Trail start, just near the Happy Isles Shuttle stop (shuttle stop #16) and the bridge crossing the Merced River.
If you are not using the shuttle (start your hike early in the morning) you will probably want to park your car at Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking (additional 0.6 mile, one way, to your hike) or at the large parking lot near Curry Village (additional 1 mile, one way, to your hike).
Most people hike Half Dome during the summer months, when the weather is warm and sunny, and you have long days.
Offseason bring additional challenges related to safety, weather, and trail conditions (rain / snow / lightning storms).
My recommendation is to try and hike this trail early or late in the season where you have more chance to get permit or off-season when the cable are down. When the cable our down it can be late spring (when snow is cleared, and the temperatures are not too cold) or late fall before the rain and snow.
Pro summer visit:
· Long daylight for the hike.
· Warm temperatures.
· Less clouds during most of the day so visibility is probably good.
· Cables and wooden rails are in place, no need to use “complex” safety anchors knot when climbing (Even when cables are up, I recommend having harness and some protection in place).
· If any help needed there are Park Rangers nearby.
Con summer visit:
· During late summer there are afternoon thunderstorms; you do not want to be at the top of Half Dome when there are lightnings.
· Summer wildfires can cover the air with smoke and limit visibility.
· 300 people climbing the cable section in few hours window can lead to a long line of people waiting on the cables and slow climb, everything will take more time.
· Cowed on the dome.
Additional Yosemite National Park blogs:
- Yosemite National Park – How to plan your One-Day visit
- Yosemite National Park - Bear Pictures
- Yosemite NP – Winter (Snow) Visit Planning
- Yosemite NP – Hiking Mist trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall
- Yosemite NP – 4 Miles Trail to Glacier Point
- Yosemite NP – Hike to Half Dome Diving Board
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Road
- Yosemite NP – Cloud Rest Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass North Dome Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass May Lake Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tenaya Lake
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tuolumne Meadows
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Lembert Dome Hike
- Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy Visit Planning
- Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Laurel Lake Day Hike
- Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Wapama Falls Day Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tuolumne Sequoia Grove
- Yosemite NP – Wawona Pioneer Yosemite History Center
- Yosemite NP – Mariposa Sequoia Grove
- Yosemite NP – Inspiration Point Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tunnel View to Dewey Point Hike
- Yosemite Valley - Pictures from my Oct. 2022 visit
- Yosemite NP – Snow, Pictures from my Dec. 2, 2022 visit
Due note 1: Most hikers will need 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back. I took a long rest at the top of Half Dome and use the longer route bypassing mist trail and Vernal Falls through JMT and Clark Point. This was a total of 20.5 miles and 6,200 ft of ascending and descending, car-to-car it took me 12 hours.
From Curry Village to subdome and start ascending the cables it took me 5 hours of constant walking uphill.
Due note 2: It's smart to start walking around sunrise or even earlier. I started hiking at 4 am to make sure I will be at the top of Half Dome early morning because there was weather forecast of clouds, rain, and thunderstorms at around 11am.
Due note 3: Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike and bring a head flashlight in case you will need to hike back down after dark.
Due note 4: The trail is well marked, in good conditions, and easy to follow but you should come prepared and have a map with you.
Due note 5: Some cell phones have coverage from Half Dome and from some locations on the trail. Do not count on that, download in advance your map, carry a paper map. As always with me, I highly recommend having satellite communication and emergency device.
Due note 6: Pack light: this hike involved with a lot of climbing, every pound in your backpack do matter. Take with you what you need and only what you need. This is a day hike, you can filter water on your way, no need to take too much food, take clothing layers and safety equipment.
Due note 7: Black bears are part of Yosemite's Wilderness, but they rarely attack people. Always keep your food within arm's reach; never leave it unattended. If you see a bear, act immediately to scare it away: make as much noise as possible by yelling and disengage slowly.
Be careful of rattle snakes.
Due note 8: Little Yosemite Valley is the mid-hike location where hikers can split the hike into two days and camp here for the night. You must have a separate wilderness permit to camp here overnight.
This hike was in my bucket list for many years, I finally made it.
Doing this 20.5-mile-long hike with overall 6,200 ft elevation climbing was demanding but it was worth it.
The view from the top of Half Dome is amazing, you feel like you are on top of the world, in the middle of Yosemite where the entire park is all around you.
You can see the high Sierra mountains, Cloud Rest, Glacier Point, El Capitan, and the valley below you.
The weather at the morning hours was good with clear visibility. As weather forecast predict, at some point cloud start to progress from the west and cover the valley below with a thick clod layer that bloc all visibility, I than decided to start my long hike down.
I hiked this trail off session where the cable were still down, I did not need a permit and I had all the safety equipment and know-how climbing the cables, so I felt safe.
You must visit Yosemite National Park website and check latest conditions about this hike and other park conditions like road closer, weather, water level, fire, and smoke.
You need to check if at your plan hiking day, the Half Dome cable descend to the top of the dome need a permit or not.
When the cable are down, this call off season, you can hike from subdome up to Half Dome using the cables that are on the rock, see my safety and how to climb sections below.
Look at this link on Half Dome as a Day Hike:
This is a link to my Half Dome Alltrails hike: