Those with a fear of heights need not apply for one of the coveted permits to summit Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome, topping out at 8,836 feet with grand and uninhibited views across Yosemite Valley. This popular 16-mile round-trip hike lives up to the hype with its 4,800 feet of elevation gain through a combination of steep trails past waterfalls and forests, exposed sections of granite slab, and a cable-assisted climb to top things off. From the start of the trailhead parking lot in Yosemite Valley, follow the road through Happy Isles Nature Center to the start of the Mist Trail, which climbs up a series of steep and slick rock steps. After passing through the thick mist of Vernal Falls, you’ll emerge at the top a little soaked and 1,000 feet higher.
The climb continues, moderately, and then steeply up another series of switchback staircases before reaching the junction with the John Muir Trail. Enjoy the only flat portion of the trail before passing the halfway point 4 miles in at Little Yosemite Valley. Glimpses of Half Dome start to emerge as you climb up a dirt trail lined with ponderosa pines.
The toughest part of the hike is the last stretch, when you’ll gain almost 900 feet up the east side of Half Dome. The trail transitions to exposed rock steps followed by granite slab as the views behind you start to open up: the distant snowcapped peaks of Cathedral Range and the towering granite mounds of Mount Starr King, Buñuel Point, Clouds Rest, and Mount Watkins in the foreground. The final 500 feet has cables to assist you up to the large and level summit.
From the diving board, a popular photo spot featuring an overhanging rock ledge, views of the valley below are simply awesome. Tip: This hike can also be broken up into two days by staying overnight at Little Yosemite Valley Campground, located 4 miles from the start of the trail. Wilderness permits are required. For the cables on Half Dome, gloves are recommended!
Permits: Permits are required to hike to the top of Half Dome seven days a week when the cables are up, in 2016 that’s from May 27 to October 10. The 225 daily preseason lottery permits have already been issued, but approximately 50 permits will be released by daily lottery throughout the season. The daily lottery applications are accepted two days prior between midnight and 1:00 p.m. Applications are available at Recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. Seventy-five daily Half Dome permits will also be available to overnight users with the appropriate wilderness permit through early reservations (50 per day) or day-before walk-ups (25 per day). Directions: The trail starts at the trailhead parking lot located by Lower Pines Campground adjacent to Curry Village. To shorten the route, take the free shuttle service (during service hours, beginning at 7:00 a.m.) to the Nature Center at Happy Isles. No dogs!