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Half Dome Hike Guide

How To Hike Half Dome – The Complete Guide

In This Guide
  • How to Get a Half Dome Permit
  • Planning and Training For the Hike
  • How to Conquer the Cables
  • Gear Recommendations & Tips
  • Half Dome Hike Maps
  • Video & Turn by Turn Hike Directions
Total Distance17 miles (27.4 km)
Hike Time9-12 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Very Hard
Total Ascent (?)5,700 feet (1737m)
Highest Elevation8,846 feet (2696m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200

The hike up to Half Dome, towering over the Yosemite Valley at 8846 feet, is one of the great bucket list hikes. You’ll pass iconic waterfalls, hike through majestic sequoias, and then pull yourself up steel cables to stand at the summit. There’s a lot to know before you start; this isn’t just a hike where you show up at the trailhead and go. There’s a decent amount of anxiety about the cables section of the hike for a lot of folks. In this guide, I will cover everything you need to know in a simple and step-by-step way. I’ll help you prepare, conquer your fears, bag the summit, and have a great time in the process.

Quick What To Expect

How To Get a Half Dome Hike Permit

Half Dome Permit Sign
Half Dome permits are tough to nab but, there are things you can do to increase your chances. And maybe you don’t even need one. Keep reading…

Before you even think about hiking Half Dome, you need to get a permit. There are a few ways to nab one:

  1. Win the pre-season permit lottery.
  2. Win the daily permit lottery 2 days before your hike.
  3. Hike to the Sub Dome and use another hiker’s empty permit slot.
  4. Add Half Dome onto a (overnight backpacking) wilderness permit.

Before the permit system, up to 1200 hikers a day would scale Half Dome. Today 300 daily permits are allocated.

Pre-Season Permit Lottery

Half Dome Permit Rejected
Here’s what it looks like when you lose the pre-season lottery. Don’t despair, there are other options…

Most hikers will want to plan their hike in advance, and the best move here is to apply for the pre-season permit lottery, which you do online at Recreation.gov. Since you’ll probably want to book accommodation at Yosemite in conjunction with your permit, it can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation. I recommend booking your accommodation first, especially if you want to stay in the park. I’ve found that accommodation is much harder to get than a permit. If you don’t win the pre-season permit lottery, there are other ways to secure a permit to hike Half Dome once you arrive. And there are many other great non-permit hikes to experience at Yosemite as well.

How hard is it to win a permit?

You can only book a permit online at Recreation.gov – you can’t walk up to the Visitor’s Center and get a day hike permit.

Daily Permit Lottery

Succesful Lottery Permit 2
My chances of nabbing a daily permit on a weekday have usually been better than the pre-season lottery.

The Parks Service also releases about 50 permits in a daily lottery. Here’s how it works.

Permit Jumping

Ranger Checks Permits Half Dome
No permit? No problem! This is where you wait (at the Sub Dome checkpoint) if you’re trying to jump onto someone else’s empty permit slot.

If you haven’t gotten a permit, you still have a chance. You are allowed to hike all the way to the Sub Dome, about 0.5 mile before the summit, without a permit. Generally the ranger will be sitting there, checking people’s permits. Simply go up to the ranger and ask him if there are any empty permit slots open. Often times people will have a group permit with some no-shows. If there are slots open, you can go. If there are no slots open, hang out close to the ranger and ask folks that are arriving if they have any open slots.

I’ve used this method successfully. You might have to wait for a while if you get here early. The big rush of hikers generally arrives between 9am-noon, so waiting until then will get you the most traffic.

Half Dome With a Wilderness Permit

No Half Dome Camping
You can’t camp on or around Half Dome, but you can camp reasonably close to it with a Wilderness Permit. When you apply for a Wilderness Permit you can request a Half Dome add-on, which doesn’t come from the same permit pool as the day hikes do.

Another option is applying for a wilderness permit, camping, and adding Half Dome to your reservation. These Half Dome slots are awarded if there is space available on a first-applied for, first-awarded basis. Planning a camping trip to Half Dome is not something I’m going to cover in this guide, but if you do want to give it a try. a popular option is to camp in the Little Yosemite Valley.

Half Dome Wilderness Permt Add=on
You are able to add a Half Dome permit onto your (overnight camping) wilderness permit as part of the online process.

Using Your Permit

Hikers Waiting For Permit
A ranger will check your permit and ID, usually at the base of the Sub Dome.

Your permit is good from 12:00 AM on the date it was issued for, so you can leave as early as you want. Having a permit also allows you to park at the hiker trailhead parking lot. You don’t need to display anything on your car.

When you get to the Sub Dome area, a ranger (or two) will be there checking permit confirmation emails. The best move is to print it out, but rangers will also allow you to show the email on your phone (no service here though). You’ll also need an ID (like a driver’s license) that matches the name on the permit. Only the group leader (the name on the permit) needs an ID. When you apply for your permit can specify an alternate permit holder as well.

No Permit Hiking

Half Dome Permit Stop Sign
If you get caught on Half Dome without a permit, you’ll get a $250 fine. Some websites mention much higher fine numbers, but $250 is the actual ticket amount.

Generally there is no ranger on duty during the night, and you could ascend the cables then. I once saw someone who did this get busted in the morning on the way down, so be prepared to pay a fine if you try it (not recommended).

And you don’t need a permit when the cables are down. But again, this isn’t something for someone without experience to try. People die when the cables are down. If you need to read this guide, you should not be climbing with the cables down.

Alternatives For When You Can’t Get a Permit

Hike Mirror Lake Trail Yosemite 9
If you can’t get a permit there are a ton of other great hikes that don’t need any permit. Here’s North Dome, which is similar to Half Dome, but only requires a fraction of the effort, has no challenging cables section, and doesn’t require a permit.

If you can’t get a permit, there are some other great hikes in Yosemite that are similar to Half Dome, but don’t require any permit.

Did you know that the North Face’s logo graphic is Half Dome?

How to Train For Half Dome

Search And Rescue At Half Dome Yosemite National Park
Most rescues from the Half Dome hike (like the one pictured here) occur when hikers push themselves past their limits and then make poor choices or have an accident. Doing some basic training will go a long way toward ensuring your hike is a fun adventure instead of an all-day slog. Photo Yosemite NP

The National Parks Service describes Half Dome as the most strenuous day hike in Yosemite, and probably the toughest (recommended) day hike in any National Park. So while you can certainly just show up and give the hike a go, you’ll enjoy it more if your fitness level is up to snuff.  Training doesn’t have to be complicated and a lot will depend on the trails you have available where you live.

Gear You Need For Half Dome

Gloves Gripping Cables
Simple and cheap gloves will make all the difference when you are climbing the cables.

This is a proper backcountry hike and I recommend proper hiking gear. If you don’t have hiking gear, go with fitness clothes and comfortable, grippy footwear. At a minimum you should bring:

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2020.

My September 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Specific Gear For the Cables

The cables section presents a unique challenge that you don’t get on most hikes. You’ll climb up a steep 45-degree granite slope, using a steel cable to keep you steady and occasionally pull on. Here’s what I recommend:

Gear Notes

Half Dome Glove Pile
It’s cool to give your gloves to another hiker when you’re done, but it’s not cool to leave them in a pile at the base of the cables. These will either end up blown into the wilderness or used by a rodent to nest in. Photo Thorsten Neuhaus

The Half Dome Cables

Half Dome Cables View
This is what you see one you crest the Sub Dome: the iconic cables section of Half Dome. It’s 400 vertical feet of climbing up slick granite, at a 45-degree angle. People usually love it or hate it.

I just climbed the cables for the first time and I was blown away by how freaking insane the whole thing is. I mean, you slip, you die (probably). I can’t believe it’s even a thing open to the public since it’s so dangerous. I’m terrified of heights and it was a mental challenge for me, for sure. I can’t imagine what it’s like in wet or bad conditions. Glad I did it though! Reddit Hike Report

Another report from the same day:

The cables weren’t as daunting as I expected. The cables need to be respected for the danger they are, no doubt. But I didnt find that part to be difficult. Reddit Hike Report

The majority of people who reach the cables at Half Dome ascend it without a problem. I’ve seen almost every type of person ascend the cables: 70-year-olds, a 12-year-old (not recommended), people wearing cheap tennis shoes, and those obviously not prepared. I’ve also seen experienced hikers reach the base of cables and say “I’ll pass.” Fear and anxiety are personal and relative, and it’s hard to say how you will process the experience until you get there. In this section I’ll explain exactly what the cables are like, and then give you some insider tips on making the experience as safe as possible.

What the Cables Are

Half Dome Cables Closeup
We fear the unknown, so let’s take all the mystery out of what the cables are and are not. Here’s the basic layout: cables running through a set of poles, with a wood 2×4 resting between them.

When “the cables are up,” which is generally from the Friday before Memorial Day through the Tuesday after Columbus Day,.it means the poles and boards are in. The cables are actually there all year. A disproportionate amount of deaths occur here during the off season when “the cables are down”. If you need to read this guide, doing the cables when they’re down is not something for you.

The cables were initially installed by the Sierra Club in 1919 and have been replaced by the CCC in the years since. Today the cables would never go up; Half Dome is protected under the Wilderness Act that forbids alternations of the landscape by man.

Traffic On the Cables

Half Dome Cables Crowded
Timing is everything. It’s much more fun to tackle the cables without the crowds. Photo Daniel Schwen

The Parks Service did a study on Half Dome traffic when they were deciding on what type of permitting system to implement, and it’s full of traffic info, if that’s your thing.

The Scary Parts of the Cables

Half Dome Cables Looking Down
Some people think going down is scarier than going up. For me, it’s all the same.

Here are the factors that cause the most anxiety about the cables.

Tips To Tackle the Cables

Traffic On Half Dome Cables
The difference between this view and one that’s wide open could be as easy as leaving an hour earlier.

Descending the Cables

There are two schools of thought when you go down, climb down forward or backward. I find that I’m able to control my descent and balance my weight better when going down backward, so I do that on the steeper sections. On the less steep sections I just carefully walk forward. Whichever way you do it, make sure you are going as slow and as controlled as you are when you ascended. You’ll find some people getting impatient when there are crowds and going on the outside of the cables. Not smart.

Don’t forget your gloves on the way down. The cables can get hot and sweaty hands slip easily on the cables.

It’s Okay To Turn Around

Hikers Considering The Half Dome Cables 2
When you ascend the Sub Dome and see the cables for the first time, it’s definitely awe-inspiring. Some hikers take a look and call it a day here, and that’s a smart move.

Just making it to the base of the cables is an achievement. If you don’t feel comfortable going up them, don’t do it. I’d say about 10-20% of hikers that I’ve seen reach the base end up not going up the cables. And while plenty of people get to the summit, fear is personal and relative. This should be an experience that is fun, not terrifying.

The Cables When It Rains

Hikers In Half Dome Rain 2
If the sky looks like this you should probably be off the cables already. Photo Yosemite NP

The common thread when it comes to deaths on the cables is rain. When the granite gets wet, it gets slick. And the 45-degree slope becomes impossible to grip onto. Add to that lightning, which can easily strike the exposed high point of Half Dome. Even a charge in the air can energize and electrify the metal cables.

If there is rain in the forecast, hike it up to the Sub Dome and then check on conditions with the ranger. If you are on the cables or summit and clouds start building or drizzle starts, get down immediately. If it starts raining hard and there is no lightning, it might make sense to stay put on the summit and call for help or use your InReach. If you see thunderstorms or lightning, get down immediately. If there is already lightning striking around you, the park recommends hunkering down at a low point on the summit.

Although storms can pop up at anytime, they generally happen in the afternoon. Plan on getting up and down before noon to play it safe.

Half Dome Lightening Warning
A sign at the base of the cables warns hikers not to ascend if there are thunderstorms.

Death on the Cables

Statistically the amount of people who die on the cables given the number of people who do it is miniscule. In the 100 years that the cables have been up, nine hikers have died on the cables. Most of those deaths occurred when the cables were down or conditions were wet. You might get scared, but the odds are in your favor to make it out alive. Be smart and safe and you’ll be okay.

Where the Most Problems Occur

Danger Sign At Yosemite
At Yosemite, slippery granite and strong currents are much bigger problems than people falling off the cables.

According to Yosemite National Park, here’s where most problems occur for Half Dome hikers and where you should be vigilant.

Training and doing your homework will go a long way to ensuring you have a magical time instead of a miserable one.

Do You Need a Climbing Harness for Half Dome Cables?

Cris Hazzard Climbing Harness Half Dome
If you do decide to use a harness, keep it in your backpack until you reach the base of the cables, then put it on.

Most hikers ascend the cables without any special gear other than gloves, but for those with acute fear of heights, a climbing harness can be helpful. And before I dive in here, let me preface this by stating that there’s some strong opinions for and against using a harness. I’ve done the cables with and without a harness, and the guidelines here are based on my experience, as well as ranger input.

First off, you don’t want to just tie a rope with a carabiner or two between your pack or belt and the cables. The attachment points are not made to withstand the force of a fall. For instance, the typical backpack strap adjuster (a ladder lock) breaks at around 53lbs. I’m guessing a belt strap on hiking pants is much less than that. There is also no give in the system, creating a very high impact force when stopping (similar to hitting the ground).

Instead, what you need is something called a “via ferrata” system, which is a climbing harness with two shock-absorbing cords and a spring attached to it. The idea is that you are always clipped into the cables as you climb. If you fall, the shock-absorbing lanyard attached to the climbing harness will absorb the force of the fall and stop you.

Via Ferrata Longe Specifique 1
The bungees and spring in a good via ferrata system absorb the impact force and help stop you safely if you fall. Photo Petzl

The Via Ferrata System

Via Ferrata Harness 1
You can really use any proper climbing harness, but Petzl includes this one in their va ferrata kit, so it’s the one most folks use. You slip your legs into the leg loops and then tighten the loops and hip belt so that it’s snug on your body.

If you have a pack with a hip belt, you make have to adjust the straps so that it sits higher than the climbing harness. Otherwise the two belts rub against each other. Try them out at home first.

Via Ferrata Harness 2
In the front middle section of the harness is a loop that you attach the via ferrata lanyard to.
Via Ferrata Harness 3
The via ferrata lanyard has a loop to attach with, a compartment with a spring, and two bungee lanyards with carabiners on the end.

Here’s how you attach the lanyard to the harness (from Petzl, a maker of the system). You loop the lanyard through the harness; there is no carabiner or attachment piece.

The third, short carabiner you see is not necessary for the Half Dome cables. It’s called a resting point attachment and is something you would clip in if you were close to the cable and not moving.

Setting Up Via Ferrata 1

Setting Up Via Ferrata 2

Setting Up Via Ferrata 3

And here’s a great a video that shows you how to clip in and use your via ferrata system.

You can purchase the via ferrata gear as a kit, which usually comes with a helmet. You don’t need a helmet, so just buy the harness and lanyard by themselves and save a few bucks. Unfortunately you can’t rent a via ferrata kit in the Yosemite Valley.

Bought this for the cable route on Yosemite’s Half Dome hike for my teenage daughter. She ended up not needing it to go up. But on the way down she said the Via Ferrata was indispensable. It’s 45-degree grade and the granite slope has been worked smooth over the years. So her hiking boots were just sliding her downhill. The Via Ferrata gave her a lot of peace of mind. This combined with gloves and the Petzl harness was the perfect setup for Half Dome. Via Ferrata Harness Review

Disadvantages of a Via Ferrata

Double Cable Clip Half Dome
Using the via ferrata adds another layer of “stuff to do” when climbing the cables and might not be the right move. One tip: push the carabiners up in front of your hand instead of dragging them behind you. They will be easier to grab and clip forward over the pole.

So the via ferrata sounds like a great system, right? Well, there are some major disadvantages that you should consider.

Via Ferrata Recommendations

Screen Shot 2020 09 08 At 05.43.17
Maybe a single clip is the best move if the cables are empty and you still want some security. Just make sure you keep one hand on the cable while you clip forward with the other one. Here I am doing a single clip on the descent.

Here’s my recommendation on whether you need a harness or not.

How many people use a harness? Not many. I’d guess about 5%, but it’s variable. I climbed the cables a month after a hiker fell to their death (in 2019) and about half the people had a via ferrata. I’ve also had people tell me they wish they had a harness after seeing mine.

ESSENTIAL for the Half Dome cables. If you want to clip yourself In, which I recommend you do, this is the only way to do it right. Attaching climbing rope to carabiners is only going to give you a false sense of security. I am extremely pleased with my purchase, it helped give me the confidence to climb Half Dome! Even if you trust your own skills, anything can happen on the cables. A pole could get pulled out of the rock (I saw it happen). A water bottle or phone could fall and someone inadvertently reaches for it, etc… the peace of mind this gear offers is worth its weight in gold. Amazon Via Ferrata Review

And again, the majority of people just do fine with gloves and good shoes. It’s all based on your comfort level. But if you are in doubt, carrying a via ferrata up to the start of the cables is a smart move, given all the planning, expense, and luck that probably went into your Yosemite visit and Half Dome permit.

Via Ferrata Double Lanyard Prices   Lightweight Harness Prices

If you get a harness, practice at home with it before you go. An easy move is to tie a rope along a stairway banister. Don’t unpack your via ferrata kit for the first time at the base of the cables.

A Personal Cables Story

There was one time that I did not make it up the cables. I was about a 150 feet up, and it was very crowded. A hiker about 5 people up from me had a panic attack and suddenly started to head back down quickly. They slipped and knocked down some other hikers, which had a chain effect, and I lost my balance, but remained upright. It definitely shook me up and I ended up turning around and calling it a day.

I bought a via ferrata and used it on my next trip up the cables. The via ferrata wasn’t perfect, but it helped when I got stuck in crowds. Now I wear the via ferrata, but only use it when I’m going slow in a crowd. Otherwise I wear it with the lanyards clipped into the harness, and just go up as normal. If I need to use it, it’s there.

Where Does the Half Dome Hike Start?

Yosemite Shuttle Bus
The Half Dome hike starts from the Happy Isles shuttle stop. There is parking and accommodation within walking distance.

If you’ve looked at other guides or even the Yosemite NP website, you may have noticed different distances for the Half Dome hike. There are multiple routes to Half Dome, and some guides start the hike mileage from the Mist Trail Trailhead, which is a good ways away from any parking or transportation.

This guide starts from the Happy Isles Shuttle Stop, which is the closest that you can get with a vehicle. It’s the traditional starting point for this most popular route to the top.  However the shuttle bus only starts running at 7am, so if you want to leave early, you should

If you are driving and parking, use this trailhead address:
Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking, Happy Isle Loop Rd, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Most people start between 5am-9am. I recommend 430am-5am to beat the crowds and potential afternoon thunderstorms.

Half Dome Hike Trail Maps

As you may imagine, there are multiple ways to hike to Half Dome. This guide covers the most popular day hike route from Happy Isles in the Yosemite Valley. If this is your first time doing the Half Dome day hike, this is your best move.

Half Dome Hike Overview=map
The purple line shows your route to Half Dome from Happy Isles. The red line on the bottom is the optional but highly recommended return route to avoid the slippery Mist Trail steps.

The route to Half Dome covered here (from the Happy Isles shuttle stop) is about 17 miles round trip, and comes back down on the John Muir Trail (JMT) instead of descending the Mist Trail. This is the preferred way to come back; it’s a little bit longer than taking the Mist Trail, but more gradual and easier on the knees. Descending the wet, steep steps of the Mist Trail after hiking 14 miles is not fun.

Chunking the Hike

Let’s start with the distance. The easy way to finsih a 17 mile day is by breaking it down into chunks and tackling them one by one. Just focus on each section. At the end of each, take a break, sip some water, maybe refuel, and move on.

Half Dome Chunks
There are five logical chunks or segments of the hike that make it easier to tackle mentally.
SegmentColorDistanceClimbNotes
Mist TrailGreen32500The first three miles are the steepest. You’ll pass Vernal and Nevada Fall as you tackle the steepest sections before the dome.
Little Yosemite ValleyOrange1200Catch your breath on this largely flat section along the Merced River.
The ClimbBlue2.51800A long but steady and gradual climb up the back of Half Dome
Sub Dome White0.5400Permits only past this point. You’ll make your way up steep rock steps to the base of the cables.
The CablesYellow0.3400Make your way up the steep slopes on the cables section to the summit.

Interactive Map

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

Your best move to navigate this hike is to take a paper map, compass, and a GPS device. Load the GPX track from this hike onto your GPS to ensure that you’re on the trail. I’m a big fan of GPS watches; I just glance down at it to cross-check my position and use paper when I want a deeper dive. The GPS watch that I’m using now is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (price: REI or Amazon). It’s pricey but has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of other wellness, fitness, and smart-watch applications. For a more affordable option, check out the value-packed Garmin Instinct  (price: REI or Amazon), a similar watch without some of the features. There are also great smartphone GPS apps like GaiaGPS. If you end up getting GaiaGPS premium, I’ve arranged for a 20-40% discount for my readers.

Elevation Profile

Half Dome Elevation Profile
As you would imagine, it’s mostly uphill to the summit. You do get a breather in Little Yosemite Valley and before the sub dome.

Half Dome Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Section 1: Mist Trail

The first part of the hike might be the toughest, but you will probably have the most energy at the start, so it’s usually not a big deal. Just make sure to pace yourself and know that you have a long day ahead.

Half Dome Hike Directions 2
From the Happy Isles shuttle stop, head down the loop road. The bathrooms here that are probably the nicest on the hike.
Half Dome Hike Directions 3
Go across the Merced River bridge. You’re making the right turn at the end of the bridge.
Half Dome Hike Directions 4
After the bridge make the right turn.
Half Dome Hike Directions 5
And hike up the path along the Merced. When you get to this split, bear left.
Half Dome Hike Directions 6
Soon you’ll see the famous “mileage marker” sign which is the official start of the John Muir Trail (JMT).
Half Dome Hike Directions 7
The trail has some steep uphills and it climbs above the Merced.
Half Dome Hike Directions 8
And soon you’ll reach the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Cross over and make the left on the other side to hike up along the river.

The bathrooms here offer the last flushing toilets, but there are primitive toilets further along. This is also the last place to fill up on water that you don’t have to filter (from the outside sink).

Half Dome Hike Directions 9
As you cross over the bridge, you’ll get a glimpse of Vernal Fall upriver.

Fall or Falls? If a waterfall drops unimpeded it is a FALL. If it cascades, it is FALLS.

Half Dome Hike Directions 10
Continue up along the side of the Merced. The path you are on now was built by George Anderson in the late 1800s. He’s also the first (gringo) to climb Half Dome (in 1875).
Half Dome Hike Directions 11
When you get to the junction with the JMT, stay left to continue up the Mist Trail. When you come back, you’ll pop out at this intersection after descending on the JMT.
Half Dome Hike Directions 12
From here on out you’ll have the classic Yosemite Trail signs giving you the distance to Half Dome, which is generally accurate. This gate is closed in winter when water from Vernal Fall freezes on the steps, creating a slippery and dangerous situation.
Half Dome Hike Directions 13
Soon the trail angles upward and turns into granite rocks and steps.
Half Dome Hike Directions 14
And then you’ll come around a bend and see Vernal Fall. At this point the mist will probably hit you. Expect to get wet.

If it’s chilly and you have a light rain shell, it’s good to wear on this section. Otherwise you’ll dry off as you climb later.

Half Dome Hike Directions 15
The trail winds away from the fall for a short stretch.
Half Dome Hike Directions 16
And then you hike along the cliff, which is fenced in.
Half Dome Hike Directions 17
Here’s what the section looks like as you hike on it.
Half Dome Hike Directions 18
After that you’ll pop out above Vernal Fall, 317 feet of perfect waterfall. Check out the falls and then continue on the trail by going right along the fence, continuing upstream.
Half Dome Hike Directions 19
Go straight along the Merced, passing the famous Emerald Pools to your left.
Half Dome Hike Directions 20
When you reach these signs turn right and start hiking up the granite.
Half Dome Hike Directions 21
As you hike you’ll see a junction to the right heading up to Clark Point and the JMT. Stay left.
Half Dome Hike Directions 22
Cross over the Silver Apron Bridge.
Half Dome Hike Directions 23
And follow the trail as it heads uphill through the forest.
Half Dome Hike Directions 24
When you come out to this flat clearing, make the hard left just before it. The flat ground ahead was home to a hotel called the Alpine House from 1870 until 1900. Today nothing is left.
Half Dome Hike Directions 25
As you climb you’ll get your best views of Nevada Fall.
Half Dome Hike Directions 26
One last set of beautifully constructed switchbacks.
Half Dome Hike Directions 27
And at the top, make the left to head to Half Dome. That’s the end of the Mist Trail!

Section 2: Little Yosemite Valley

This is a good section to catch your breath before you start climbing again. After your tough ascent on the Mist Trail, this section will feel like a cakewalk.

Half Dome Hike Directions 28
At the intersection there is a bathroom. Go straight past the bathroom and do a little bit of uphill.
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After a short stretch up granite rocks, you’ll emerge at the Little Yosemite Valley. Keep left at the junction to head toward Half Dome. If you want to (filter and) refill your water, the shores of the Merced here are your best bet.
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Enjoy the flat but sandy trail through the valley, once an active area for Native Americans. You’ll be able to see Half Dome off to your left as you hike.
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Avoid all the trails off the right, which are use trails into the camping area, and continue straight. The last composting toilets are in the campground here, so if you have to go, this is the time. There’s also a small ranger station here if you need help.

Section 3: The Climb

The next section, which climbs about 1800 feet, is tough on some folks. For the most part you’re in the forest, and you’ll conquer the climb by hiking up many switchbacks. My advice is to settle into a rhythm, enjoy the forest, and forget about how far you have to go.

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At the end of the Little Yosemite Valley the trail enters the forest and starts to head uphill.
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The forest is beautiful and home to lots of animals. If you hear crashing through the leaves, chances are it’s a squirrel. This section of the hike is also a favorite for mule deer.
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As you make your way up, you’ll catch glimpses of Half Dome to your left.
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When you reach the junction of the JMT, bear to the left on the Half Dome Trail.
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The junction is well marked with the classic Yosemite trail signs. Two miles to the summit.
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When you crest the ridge, the climb mellows out and you’ll get views to the North and East.
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Some more climbing up the granite.
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Then a flat section with views of Half Dome as you approach Sub Dome. This is the end of  the “the climb” section. Almost there.

Section 4: Sub Dome

Usually the ranger will be at the base of Sub Dome checking permits. Sometimes they’ll be somewhere else, in which case just keep hiking and show your permit later. You can hike all the way up to this point without a permit, and if you want to permit jump, this is where you wait and ask other hikers if they have an empty slot.

Don’t forget to stow your ID deep in your pack after showing it to the ranger. It’s easy to drop it in your pocket and then lose it on the cables.

From here on out you’ll be above the tree line.  Some folks have a problem with this section and think it’s harder than the cables, but I don’t agree. It’s steep and narrow, but doesn’t require any climbing or scrambling. Take your time, allow others to pass in safe spots, and you’ll be fine.

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After the permit checkpoint, head up to the left to hike up Sub Dome.
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The lower slopes of Sub Dome are steep but mellow.
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Much of this section is steep granite steps.
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And at some points you’ll wind back and forth on a trail or flat granite.
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Toward the top the steps end and you just walk straight up and over the bare granite toward Half Dome.

Section 5: The Cables and Summit

Here we are, at the section of the hike that all the training, permits, and sweat have lead up to. It’s common to take a break at the base of the cables, eat, drink, get your gear prepped, and then go for it. Or maybe not. It’s up to you. I can say that the first time you get to the base of the cables, it is awe-inspiring (aka “holy sh@t!”). Because you are looking at the cables head-on, it looks like it climbs straight up. But when you actually get closer to the cables, you’ll see the slope is steep yet doable.

Do a weather check here. If you see building clouds, hear thunder, or “smell” rain, don’t risk it. Remember that lightning can travel 10 miles and it strikes Half Dome every month of the year.

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Here you are, the base of the cables. There are a good amount of granite rocks to sit on as you prepare.

When Josiah Whitney (who Mt Whitney is named after) looked at this view in 1870, he said “Half Dome is perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points of Yosemite which has never been, and never will be, trodden upon.”  Little did he know that about 150 years later there would be a permit lottery…

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Here we go. Luckily the first few sections on the cables aren’t that steep so you can ease in.
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There are some steeper sections in the middle. Just remember to take it pole by pole.
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For me it doesn’t help to look down; I just focus on my feet and hands. If you do look down from the middle, this is what it looks like.
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Similarly, looking out to the side can cause anxiety, but the views are good. Save the gazing for the summit.
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Almost to the top. The climb angle mellows out a this point and the boards are gone.
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That’s it, the end of the cables, you did it!
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Head up the granite face to the summit and “visor” area.
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Enjoy the spectacular views in all directions. Here’s the Yosemite Valley.
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And don’t forget your photo on the piece of granite called “the visor.”

That’s it, you bagged Half Dome! After enjoying the summit, head back down the cables.

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Take your time on the descent and try forward and backward up top. Then go with whatever method feels best for you.

Once you get back to the Sub Dome, hike back down the climb and through the Little Yosemite Valley, back to the junction of the Mist Trail.

JMT Return Route

You can certainly descend the way you came up on the Mist Trail, but I’ve found that taking the JMT is much nicer. The Mist Trail is shorter but steeper and often wet from the mist. After hiking 14 miles or so, it can be hard to muster the focus to safely descend the hundreds of steps and steep sections. Take the JMT, enjoy the spectacular views, and play it safe.

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When you get back to the toilets at the end of the Mist Trail, make the left to head to Nevada Fall instead of going back down the Mist Trail.
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The trail goes through some trees.
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And then emerges at the fall area. Cross over the bridge.
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The view down Nevada Fall from the bridge is epic.
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Go straight and bear right at the other side of the bridge.
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Soon you’ll leave the crowds behind as the trail heads into the forest.
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At the junction with the Pohono Trail (back to the left), go straight.
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Next you’ll descend along a section of the trail called the Ice Wall or Rock Cut, which was blasted out of the mountainside. There’s often water dripping here which can be nice and cool after hiking all day. The views back to the right are spectacular.
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When you get to this junction, head back to the left to continue down the JMT.
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The descent is lazy and involves dozens of switchbacks. Enjoy the downhill after all the climbing you did earlier.
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When you get to this junction toward the bottom, go straight. Mules only to the left.
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And soon you’ll pop back out on the bottom of the Mist Trail, at the junction you passed many hours before. Make the left to continue back to the start.
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From here on out it’s easy, just cross the Vernal Fall Footbridge and go back to Happy Isles. Your biggest challenge at this point will be avoiding the crowds.
Cris Hazzard With Half Dome Beer
Don’t forget to treat yourself to a Half Dome beer or other celebratory beverage after the hike. There’s a small general store at Curry Village where hikers usually decompress after the hike.

What’s next on your hiking bucket list? Mt Whitney?

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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