Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
14.20 mi (22.85 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and is one of the most popular, and most photographed peaks in the entirety of Yosemite National Park. Hiking to the top of such an iconic peak is a special experience. However, it is no easy feat to get there.  

There are a few different trails that lead to the top of Half Dome, including the John Muir Trail, but the Mist Trail is the shortest route to the summit. The hike has a distance of approximately 14.2 miles and a total elevation gain of about 4,800 feet. The average duration of the hike is typically 10 to 12 hours, but it could easily take longer due to the strenuous nature of the hike. Because it takes so long, it would be wise to start hiking at sunrise (or very shortly after). Even with an early start, it is always smart to bring flashlights and head lamps just in case. In addition, the national park recommends a minimum of four liters of water for this hike. Hydration is crucial for any hike, especially one of this caliber.

The first portion of the trail leads to Vernal Falls. From the start, the trail is very steep. The trail continues to get steeper as it follows a large set of stairs that enter the close vicinity of the falls. The stairs by Vernal Falls provide for a very unique hiking experience; you will feel the refreshing sprays of the waterfall, and you may end up being drenched during periods of heavy water flow. Be very careful on this section of the trail. The stairs are slippery and steep. There is little room for error due to a steep dropoff that leads straight into the roaring river below. Keep in mind that the only water refill station on the long hike is on the footbridge right before the stairs to Vernal Falls.

The stairs continue and gradually turn into switchbacks that travel up the left side of Nevada Falls. The top of Nevada Falls has a restroom and is a great area to take a break, have a snack and fuel your body for the latter portion of the hike.  

The trail temporarily flattens out as it follows along the Merced River. Take advantage of the flat ground because once the uphill starts again, it does not stop until you reach the summit of Half Dome. This section of the trail is filled with an old-growth forest, giant sequoias and wildflowers.  

After traveling uphill for a couple of more miles, you will reach the base of the Sub-Dome, a smaller peak right before Half Dome. The Sub-Dome is very steep and strenuous. A series of paved switchbacks take you about three-quarters of the way up the peak. The last quarter of the hike up the Sub-Dome requires you to scramble up granite. The top of the Sub-Dome has beautiful views and provides you with the first up-close glance of the cables that lead to the top of Half Dome.  

The famous Half Dome cables lead hikers 400 feet up the side of the granite face. It is, by far, the steepest and most dangerous part of the trail; you will be hiking up a wall of rock that is 46 degrees steep at some parts. Before attempting the hike, there are a few items that are necessary in order to ascend the cables to the summit:

  1. Proper Footwear: The granite faces of Half Dome and Sub-Dome are slippery. In fact, when the granite is wet due to rain, the cable route is almost unclimbable. Keep an eye on the weather when hiking. Doing the cables in the midst of a storm is unsafe. In order to avoid slipping, shoes with good traction are necessary.
  2. Gloves: The cables themselves are composed of rough materials, and climbing them requires a tight grip. Without gloves, it is possible that the severe friction from the cables will cause your hands to blister and bleed. The best gloves to use are industrial nitrile gloves, which can be picked up at various hardware stores.
  3. Patience: Climbing the cables is difficult and crowded with people going up and down. It is important to be patient and cooperative in order to make it safe for yourself and everybody else on the route. Communication with your fellow hikers only makes things easier.
  4. Permit: In order to climb the cables and the Sub-Dome, you must attain a permit from the National Park Service. There is always a Park Ranger standing at the bottom of the Sub-Dome checking hikers' permits. Because of the popularity of the hike, these permits are very difficult to attain. The permits typically become available in March, so do your best to book them as soon as possible. Also, keep in mind that the cables leading to Half Dome don't get put into place until the Friday before Memorial Day and are taken down after Columbus Day.
  5. Harness and Carabiners (optional): The majority of people who make their way up the cables do so without a harness. However, the majority of people wish they had one once they start climbing. Climbing the cables without a harness is certainly doable, but it never hurts to add an extra element of safety to a dangerous endeavor.

The planning, preparation and strenuousness required on the hike to Half Dome provides every hiker with the reward of possibly the most stunning panoramic view in Yosemite National Park. At the summit, soak in the beauty of the awe-inspiring valley, and fuel yourself for the long, downhill trek back to the trailhead.  

The proximity to waterfalls, the slippery stairs, the roaring rivers and the steep ascent on the cables all combine to make this hike difficult and dangerous. Be sure to respect the beauty and power of the nature you experience on this hike.

For additional information and tips, check out what the National Parks System has to say about the hike.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Pros

Beautiful views. Up-close sights of waterfalls. Shortest route to Half Dome.

Cons

Permit required. Crowded.

Trailhead Elevation

4,042.00 ft (1,232.00 m)

Net Elevation Gain

4,800.00 ft (1,463.04 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Rock climbing
Waterfalls
Bird watching
Wildlife
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Shelters
Geologically significant

Location

Field Guide

Comments

06/26/2017
Half Dome really did make me see a lot of things differently. I think its different for everyone and you wouldn't know until you tried it. I will let the pictures describe my view, but there is so much more.
08/18/2017
Be sure to check out our recommendations for climbing Half Dome after the cables have been taken down, which can be found here:
http://www.outdoorproject.com/blog-news/climbing-half-dome-shoulder-season
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