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7 Half Dome Hiking Tips

Jul 2017

Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park (and the world) and for good reason! The views from the top are hard to describe but we’ll just throw out the first adjectives that come to mind so you have an idea: magnificent, mind-blowing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, majestic…  Still feels like we didn’t do it justice but you get the idea! If it’s not already, it should be on your must-hike bucketlist.  If your list is anything like ours it’s never ending and you’re not sure where exactly to start. If you are planning an epic hike this summer, there are some things you need to know about hiking Half Dome so you can check it off your list!

The view at the top of Half Dome. Photo by: Matt Cairns

1. You need a permit

Unless you plan on a multi-pitch climb or Alex Honnolding it, you’ll need a permit to summit Half Dome. The Cable Route requires each hiker has a permit that is awarded through a lottery system that takes place at the end of March. In addition, 50 or so daily permits are awarded two day in advance throughout the summer by lottery as well.  

Visit for more information on the Half Dome Lottery.


2. You can hike Half Dome in a day

Many people hike Half Dome in one day, but it is not recommended without proper training. The first thing to consider, is getting a permit for the hike. There are 225 day hiking permits available each day and they are granted by lottery. You have a few different trail options if you are conquering this iconic granite beast in a day, but no matter which trail you choose a day hike on Half Dome is going to require a minimum of 14 miles and 4,800 feet of elevation gain. Check out the chart at the bottom of the page for ideas where to start.   

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
The summit of Half Dome


3. Escape the crowds, go backpacking!  

If you plan on summiting Half Dome while on a backpacking trip (which we highly recommend), you will need a Wilderness permit to do so. To apply for a wilderness permit in advance, it’s $5 for the application, $5 per person, and $8 for the Half Dome permit request. In addition to the permits that are granted up to 24 weeks in advance, there are also some available at 11am the day before your hike on a first-come,first-served basis. Make sure you include Half Dome on your Wilderness Permit Reservation Form if you are applying in advance!

Visit to learn more about wilderness permits.


4. Best time of year to hike Half Dome

There is really no bad time to summit Half Dome during the cable route season when permits are available! The cables go up the Friday before Memorial Day and are removed the day after Columbus Day for the winter. This can vary someway each year depending on weather conditions. For the best odds when entering the Half Dome Permit Lottery, apply for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Your odds are three times lower on weekends.


5. Tips for conquering the cables

Heading down Half Dome’s cables

The best tip we can give you is to only hike Half Dome when the cables are up. The cable section is difficult enough with the help of the cables, an extra challenge really isn’t necessary or worth it. Aside from that here are a few pro tips:

  • Use gloves, they will definitely come in handy (pun intended)
  • Wear hiking shoes/boots with a good grip (not regular tennis shoes or trail runners)
  • Secure all loose items in your pockets and backpack
  • Use the“facilitrees” before starting up the cables, there’s no bathroom at the top. Please practice Leave No Trace.


6. Aim for an early summit and turnaround time

The summit of Half Dome lives 8,800 feet above sea level. This puts the summit above tree level so If you see storm clouds approaching, quickly and carefully get back below treeline. Lightening strikes can be a serious threat during a storm. Even if you do avoid getting struck by lightning, rain makes the cable section even more dangerous and slippery. Always check the weather before your hike!


7. Trailheads to start your Half Dome Hike at

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite
Hiking the trail to summit Half Dome

You have a few different routes you can take to reach Half Dome but the chart below will help you choose one. This chart only lists trailheads that can be used for either a multi-day or a single day hike. Although the mileage is doable in just one day, we recommend using The Happy Isles trailhead for all Half Dome Day hikes. All other options offer 19+ miles in one day. Though this can be done it sure isn’t the most pleasant way to spend a day.  

Routes to Get to Half Dome

  • Happy Isles (via Mist Trail)
    • 14.2 miles / 22.85 km round trip
  • Happy Isles (via John Muir Trail) 
    • 16.5 miles / 26.6 km
  • Glacier Point
    • 20 miles / 32 km
  • Tenaya Lake
    • 23 miles / 37 km
  • Sunrise Lakes
    • 19-22 miles / 30-35km
  • Mono Meadow
    • 21-23 miles / 34-37 km
  • Cathedral Lakes
    • 20+miles / 32+ km

Some mileages aren’t exact and are based on where you end your hike.

Want the pros to handle all the details and do the worrying for you? That’s what we’re here for! Join us on one of our guided Yosemite Half Dome Backpacking Trip and let us take care of everything for from the walking that is.

A woman summits Half Dome while hiking the cables
One of many scenic viewpoints while hiking to Half Dome