Location: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 23 miles
Type: Day, Overnight or Multi-Night Hike
Rating: Very Difficult
Permits for Half Dome can be tricky to come by. There is a very particular science to the process and it’s best to be prepared with several dates as back-ups. Obtaining permits for the Half Dome hike is a lottery process, with a lottery taking place twice per year. Please see Permits for more information on how to obtain a permit to hike Half Dome.
An alternative (but risky) option, is to hike to the base of the Dome where you will encounter a ranger. Often times, people will cancel their permit reservations, making extra “spots” open for those without a permit.
For example, if you and a friend are hiking without permits, and two people cancel their permit reservations for the day, then the ranger will allow you two to fill those permit reservations. Please note that it is NOT guaranteed that there will be available permits.
Water, water, and MORE water. Seriously, we each brought a gallon of water with us (about 3-4 water bottles each). This was by far the bulk of the weight. Also, you can never have enough sunscreen. It’s important to apply it frequently. As for food, we brought Cliff bars, power gels, cashew nuts and bananas. In our day packs we also carried tissues, a roll of toilet paper, and chapstick. The night before our hike, we ate a good amount of carbs and drank water throughout the day. Due to the change in weather from night to day, I brought a jacket and layered two shirts that were easy to take off as the day progressed.
The Night Before
We drove up on a Friday evening (about a 3.5 hour drive from Sacramento) and spent half a night at Curry Village.
There are several lodging options for the Half Dome hike. My dad and I stayed at Curry Village (now called Half Dome Village) in the tent-cabins, which provided easy access to the Half Dome trailhead. Along with showers, food, parking and a general store, Curry Village has excellent scenery and is abundant with tourists from around the world.
Morning of the Hike
My dad and I started the hike at 4:00 a.m., bright and early. Since it was summertime, we wanted to get a head start to beat the crowds. We started via the Mist Trail route which took us to Vernal Fall and up to Nevada Fall. This part of the trail is very steep and slippery at some points. The uphill climb is very challenging, but once we made it to the top of Nevada Fall, I felt so relieved, and the view was incredible! As a sidenote, the last “man-made” bathrooms are at the top of Nevada Falls. If you have to pee in the woods later on, that’s totally acceptable, too.
Afternoon of the Hike
Once we hiked past the top of Nevada Falls, the terrain flattened out and offered us a bit of a break before we hit the switchbacks that led us up to the Half Dome cables. It took about two-three hours to get to the switchbacks. At the base of the switchbacks, we came across a ranger who checked our permits. The switchbacks were pretty tiring, especially after the hours of hiking leading up to that stretch of the trail. Once we were at the top of the switchbacks, we could see the cables that led to the top of the Dome. I psyched myself out when I saw how steep the cables were, but after my dad explained how it worked, I mustered up some courage and took to the cables. After what seemed like forever going up the cables, we finally made it to the top!
I can’t properly describe how amazing the views were at the top of Half Dome. We were greeted by well-fed squirrels and a couple other hikers. We hung out at the summit for about an hour and started to climb back down to the base of the dome. Going down the cables was much less scary (until I looked down, I don’t suggest doing that).
Evening of the Hike
On the way back down the mountain, we decided to take the alternative to the Mist Trail, which was the Muir Trail. Although a bit longer, this alternative is a lot safer than trying to scale down the slippery Mist Trail. By the time we got back to our car, we were ready to head home. I’ll never forget how challenging (and exciting) this hike was. I hope to do it again sometime in the near future.
Here’s a basic map that shows the different trails to take.