Half Dome Day Hike
Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was "perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot," George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today's cable route.
Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted. Indeed, park rangers assist hundreds of people on the Half Dome trail every summer. Most of these emergencies could have been prevented... read on to learn how.
Much of the hike to Half Dome is an adventure into Wilderness, and, while there is nothing you can do to guarantee your safety, below you will find some tips to reduce your risk and have a safer, more enjoyable hike.
The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you're out of shape or unprepared. You will be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) most of your way to the top of Half Dome. Most would say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you'll see outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and--from the shoulder and summit--panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back; some take longer. If you plan on hiking during the day, it's smart to leave around sunrise (or earlier) and then have a non-negotiable turn-around time. For instance, if you haven't reached the top of Half Dome by 3:30 pm, you will turn around. Check for sunrise and sunset times before you hike. Regardless, each person should carry a flashlight or headlamp with good batteries (hikers commonly struggle down the trail after dark because they don't have a flashlight). Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass and know how to use them.
Half Dome Cables
The most famous--or infamous--part of the hike is the ascent up the cables. The two metal cables allow hikers to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.
The Half Dome cables usually go back up the Friday before Memorial Day (conditions permitting) and come down the day after Columbus Day.
Tips while using the cables:
Do not attempt the ascent if:
At any other location, you are required to bury any solid human waste at least six inches (15 cm) deep and at least 100 feet (30 m) from water or trails. Pack out toilet paper.
The summit is typically 15°F (8°C) to 20°F (11°C) cooler than Yosemite Valley and windy conditions are common. Be prepared for cool temperatures and rain showers.
Even if you plan properly and bring the correct equipment, you might still encounter problems. Some cell phones have coverage from Half Dome and from some locations on the trail. Little Yosemite Valley Ranger Station is staffed during summer. You can find the ranger station on the north side of the valley, near where the Half Dome Trail begins to climb out of the valley. Park rangers frequently patrol the trail, so the ranger station is not always staffed. You may need to send some members of your group to Yosemite Valley to get assistance.
Black bears frequent Yosemite's Wilderness and are adept at grabbing backpacks from hikers and campers--during both day and night. Always keep your food within arm's reach (or on your back); never leave it unattended. If you see a bear, act immediately to scare it away: make as much noise as possible by yelling. If there is more than one person, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the bear.
Squirrels, Steller's jays, chipmunks, and other animals also live along the trail; never feed them or allow them to get your food. Do not leave your pack unattended (e.g., at the base of the cables or while you take a swim or nap). Keep wildlife wild: respect them from a distance.
Improper food storage and feeding of wildlife may result in a fine (up to $5,000).
Trailhead and Parking Information
Most people begin the hike from Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16), which is about a half-mile from the trailhead parking lot or about 3/4 of a mile from Curry Village (parking available).
Shuttle service doesn't begin until 7 am, so if you're arriving prior to then, you can walk on the road (closed to all but authorized vehicles) from either parking area to the trailhead.
The nearest campgrounds are Upper, Lower, and North Pines Campgrounds, but reservations are very difficult to get in summer. Camp 4 walk-in campground is also busy. The nearest campgrounds outside Yosemite Valley that may have some first-come, first-served space are Bridalveil Creek and Tamarack Flat Campgrounds.
More information about:
Still have questions? Call a wilderness ranger at 209/372-0826 (Monday-Friday, 9 am to noon and 1 pm to 4:30 pm).
Don't forget your camera and have a safe, enjoyable hike!
Did You Know?
In 1984, 83 miles of the Tuolumne River were added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System by Congress with an amendment to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This included 54 miles of the river within Yosemite National Park.