A heart healthy lifestyle is more than just the food you put in your mouth. It’s about physical activity, meaningful time spent with friends and family, and stress relief – which can be found in the beauty of nature and appreciation for the world around you. A weekend trip to hike Half Dome in Yosemite is the perfect combination of physical endurance, mental fortitude and stress relief.
The 15-mile hike to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a serious endurance day hike that, over the course of around 12 hours, takes you 4,800 feet above Yosemite Valley. The out-and-back hike can be completed in one day, but you’ll want to spend a weekend (more if you can) in Yosemite to make the most of your trip. Plan to hike Half Dome between late May and mid-October when the cables are up to get the full experience.
In addition to timing, there are several important considerations when planning your trip. Here are 11 must-do tips for planning and executing your trip to hike Half Dome in Yosemite:
1. Apply for a Permit
A permit is required for day hikers to hike Half Dome when the cables are up. Every year, permits are available by lottery from March 1-31. In order to protect wildlife and reduce crowding, only 255 hikers are allowed beyond the base of the sub dome to the top of Half Dome each day. Apply for a permit via Recreation.gov. There is a $10 non-refundable processing fee per application. Depending on the size of your group, on each lottery application, you can apply for a max of six permits (six people) for up to seven different dates (which can be prioritized in order of preference). If your group is only four people, you only need to apply for four permits, two people = two permits, and so on.
When filling out an application, you need to name a trip leader and an alternate. One of these individuals must be present when you show this permit to the ranger at the base of the sub dome. You will only receive a permit (i.e., win the lottery) if the number of permits requested is available on at least one of the requested dates. Once you receive your permit, you will be charged $10/person (funds which are used to support the park), which is fully refundable if you cancel your permit.
Note that day permits are also available, but extremely limited as the number distributed (generally around 50) is dependent on under-use dates and cancellations. If you are planning a last minute trip or your travel schedule is flexible, you can apply for a permit via the daily lottery two days prior to your desired hiking date.
Hint: Each member of your group can submit an application as the group leader, so have each member of your group apply for the dates you want to hike to increase your chances of winning the lottery. These charts highlight the days of the week and months of the year that are most popular in order to help you select dates wisely for the best chance at winning a permit.
2. Make Lodging Accommodations Early
While you wait to win the permit lottery, make lodging accommodations for the dates that correspond to your application. Booking multiple reservations can feel complicated, but reservations in Yosemite fill up quickly. Once the lottery results are in, be sure to cancel unneeded reservations (they’re fully refundable).
Yosemite has many options for accommodations ranging from campsites to a four-star hotel. One good option near the trailhead is Half Dome Village. The one-room tent cabins (wooden frames wrapped and covered with canvas with a wooden floor raised above the ground and a locking door) are all you need for a weekend trip. Both heated and unheated tent cabins are available, so reserve accordingly depending on the time of year. Accommodations are basic and include a bed, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels and an outdoor bear safe (to store anything with an odor – toiletries, food, etc. – that might draw the attention of black bears – relax, you’ll be safely locked away in your tent cabin). Shared bathrooms, showers and water spigots are located throughout the campground and are easily accessible.
Hint: While the tent cabins do have electric lighting, they don’t have electrical outlets, so be sure to bring one of these socket adapters and an extension cord for all of your charging needs. Outdoor lighting around the campground at night is also limited, so you’ll need a flashlight or headlamp to navigate the bathrooms in the dark.
3. Pack Your Bags Properly
While you won’t be needing a tent and sleeping bag, there are quite a few essentials you’ll need to take on your trip.
In your backpack (for day of hike):
|Headlamp or flashlight (and extra batteries)||Toilet paper||First aid kit|
|Ponchos (in case of rain or mist from Vernal Falls)||Zip tight bags (to pack out toilet paper)||Extra socks (to change into when you reach the top to avoid blisters on the way down)|
|Hydration pack ||Gloves (to help on the cables)||Trash bags|
|Water filter||Trail map||Utility knife/survival bracelet|
|Bug spray||Camping Wipes ||Jacket|
|Sun screen||Hand sanitizer||Hat|
*A few of our favorite nutrient-dense, non-perishable backpack snacks include: beef jerky, dry roasted edamame, trail mix, oatmeal on-the-go, chia squeeze, green bean chips, fava bean snacks, chicken meat bar, electrolyte chews, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fresh fruit
Other essentials for your trip:
|Socket adapter||Hiking shoes/boots|
|Extension cord||Shower sandals|
Hint: Half Dome Village has a convenient store (Half Dome Grocery and Gifts) on the campgrounds that sells nearly everything you’ll need for this trip in case you forget something. The store also sells a large selection of groceries (fresh produce, non-perishable snacks, cold drinks and more) so no need to pack a cooler or bring all of your meals for a weekend trip. With Half Dome Grocery and Gifts and a few restaurants (Pizza Patio, Coffee Corner, Mother Curry’s Kitchen, Meadow Grill and the Half Dome Village Bar) conveniently located just steps away from your tent cabin, you won’t go hungry.
4. See Sites on the Way
No matter where you’re coming from, you’ll want to arrive in Yosemite the day before you hike Half Dome to get the lay of the land and acclimate to the elevation (Yosemite Valley is about 4,000 feet above sea level). Check in at Half Dome Village is at 4pm, so plan accordingly. As you drive into Yosemite National Park, stop at Tunnel View – the view that photographer Ansel Adams made famous. Park your car and get out (no hiking required) at this scenic viewpoint to take in the breathtaking view of the park – including El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls.
Head to Half Dome Village for check in, unpack in your tent cabin and set out for a short late afternoon hike to Yosemite Falls. Hop back in the car and drive 10-minutes to the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. A one-mile round-trip easy hike will take you right up to the base of Yosemite Falls – the highest waterfall in the park, dropping over 2,000 feet from the top.
Hint: After hiking Yosemite Falls, stop at the Base Camp Eatery (food court in Yosemite Lodge – closes at 6pm) for a quick and easy dinner, before heading back to camp and calling it an early night.
5. Prep the Night Before
Your hike to Half Dome should start well before sunrise – meaning you’ll be out of bed by 3:30am and on the trail by 4:00am. Don’t rely on your half-asleep brain to pack your lifeline in the morning. Fill your hydration pack, pack your backpack and lay out your clothes the night before.
Hint: Bring a printed copy of your packing list – check and double check that you have it all. Put your headlamp or flashlight at the top of bag – you’ll need it to navigate the bathrooms and to find the trailhead in the morning.
6. Hit the Trail Before Sunrise
Get on the trail early to beat the crowds and the heat. You won’t be the only ones with flashlights on the trail well before sunrise. The trailhead is about one mile from the Half Dome Village campground. If you leave camp by 4:00am, you can expect to reach the summit by 8:00-9:00am – well ahead of crowds on the cables (which start to form around 10:00am). Starting early also allows you to get back to camp at a descent hour (3:00-4:00pm), well before sunset.
Hint: Make friends with the other early birds on the trail – you’ll be seeing a lot of each other along the way.
7. Get Hiking
The trailhead is about one mile from the Half Dome Village campground. The hike kicks off with a steep stair climb up the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls (good morning quads). Next up is another climb to the top of Nevada Falls followed by a mile of fairly flat hiking until you reach Little Yosemite Campground. As the sun comes up (and the mosquitos wake up) you’ll want to apply sunscreen and bug spray.
After several more miles of rolling terrain through forest, you’ll arrive at the sub dome – a set of steep switchbacks carved like steps in the rock that will have you huffing and puffing. It is at the base of the sub dome where you will likely see the park ranger checking permits – if it’s early, you might only catch him/her on the way down. Once you reach the top of the sub dome, fuel up and put on your gloves – time to hit the cables.
Hint: There are restrooms located at a few places along the trail: just across the river from the trailhead (has plumbing), at the bridge below Vernal Fall (has plumbing); near Emerald Pool above Vernal Falls (outhouse without plumbing); above Nevada Falls (outhouse without plumbing); and at Little Yosemite Village campground (a short detour from the trail).
8. Tackle the Cables Carefully
The cables are two steel cables strung between poles that have been drilled into the granite and allow you to climb the last 400 feet (which is at a 45-55-degree angle) to the summit without climbing equipment. You will however need gloves. Gloves help you grip the steel cable as you make your way to the top.
Between the cables, there are wooden panels drilled into the ground about 10 feet apart to rest and help you maintain your balance along the way. Secure everything in your pack – you’ll want both hand free to hold on to the cables at all times. Hikers will be coming down while you make your way up – making the space between the cables (only about 3 feet wide) crowded at times. Depending on how crowded the cables are with other hikers, this part of the hike could take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour.
Hint: Bring your own gloves (we recommend these). Don’t rely on the pile of used, discarded gloves that collects at the base of the cables.
9. Relish in the Victory
When you finally reach the top, relish in the victory. Snap plenty of photos, relax and eat lunch (even if it’s only 9:00am, it will feel like lunchtime), wipe the grime from your face, put on fresh socks (to avoid blisters on the way down) and spend time walking around to take in the view from every angle. From the valley floor, the top of Half Dome looks deceptively small, but when you reach the top, you’ll find that it’s actually the size of several football fields – with plenty of space for hikers to explore and rest.
Hint: Have someone snap your photo on the “diving board” tip of Half Dome (actually one of two spots on Half Dome that carries the name) – a view that captures just how vast and expansive your hiking feat really is. Be extremely careful and never take selfies near the edge! Tragically, fatal falls from photo-ops near high ledges are becoming more common. Remain vigilant while capturing the moment.
10. Head Back to Camp
On your way back to camp you have two options: to retrace your steps on the Mist Trail stairs (which can be wet and challenging to descend when you’re tired), or save your knees by taking the slightly longer (1.5 miles longer) route back via the John Muir Trail with gradual switchbacks.
Hint: On your descent (and perhaps your ascent), use a water filter to refill your hydration pack. We recommend this one. Most guidebooks say that the Merced river (only a few miles into the hike) is your last chance to find reliable water. However, there is also a small spring that runs most of the year. Look for Little Spring on your way up – after the John Muir Trail split, be on alert after a hard switchback to the left (when hiking up). Near a fallen tree, the spring is only a few steps off of the trail on the left. Fill your water bladder back to the top – it’s always better to have more water than not enough, especially as the temperature rises into the afternoon.
11. Have a Post-Hike Celebration Plan
When you finally reach the Half Dome Village campgrounds in the late afternoon, you’ll want to do three things – shower, rest and celebrate.
Hint: Make plans to celebrate with an early dinner of pizza and beer at the Pizza Patio. You’ve earned it.