Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a bucket list adventure to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring 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, and in the process created the predecessor for today’s cable route.
The 14 to 16 miles round-trip adventure gains 4,800 feet, making the Cables only part of the difficult experience. If you’re planning to hike Half Dome, you should be in good physical condition. However, the reward is worth the effort! Along the way, you’ll encounter outstanding views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and—from the subdome and summit—panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.
It takes most people 10 to 12 hours to hike to Half Dome and back. If you plan on hiking during the day, it’s smart to leave before or at sunrise. Check sunrise and sunset times before you embark on your hike, and always bring a flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries for each person. Although the trail is well marked, you should be prepared with a good topographic map and compass, and knowledge of how to use them.
Half Dome Permits for Day Hikers
Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days per week when the cables are up (as called for in the Half Dome Stewardship Plan in order to protect wilderness character, reduce crowding, protect natural and cultural resources, and improve safety). The cables are normally up the Friday before the last Monday in May (Memorial Day) and the last day to use the cables is the day after the second Monday in October. These dates are conditional based on annual snow pack and weather conditions
300 hikers are allowed (about 225 day hikers and 75 backpackers) each day on the Half Dome Trail beyond the base of the sub dome.
Permits for day hikers are distributed by lottery via Recreation.gov. One preseason lottery having an application period in March and and daily lotteries during the hiking season. Backpackers—including those who plan to spend the night in Little Yosemite Valley—should apply for Half Dome permits with their wilderness permit rather than using the process described below.
Half Dome permits for day hikers do not include any camping, lodging, or overnight accommodations of any kind. Rangers patrol this region of the park checking Half Dome permit holders. Bring a photo ID and the email confirmation indicating that the permit has been paid.
Permits for Backpackers (including Camping in Little Yosemite Valley)
Backpackers should apply for Half Dome permits with their wilderness permit. Popular destinations as Yosemite Valley or hikers coming in from the East via May Lake still need permits to climb.
Backpackers beginning a wilderness trip outside Yosemite should apply for Half Dome day hiker permits as day hikers. It is popular side trip for PCT or JMT hikers to try and bag Half Dome on their journey.
During the preseason lottery, 225 permits are available for each day in the Hiking season of Yosemite. The application period for this lottery is from March 1 through March 31 (eastern time). Applicants will receive an email with lottery results in mid-April or can get results online or by calling Recreation.gov.
On each preseason lottery application, an applicant can apply for up to six permits (six people) and for specific range of dates. Applications will only be successful if the number of permits requested is available on at least one of the requested dates. Permits will be automatically awarded to the highest priority date, as entered by the applicant.
All applicants must specify the name of the permit holder and may specify the valid email address of an alternate permit holder. Applicants may be a permit holder or alternate only once on only one application during the preseason lottery. (That is, a person’s name may appear on only one application, as either a permit holder or alternate). People applying multiple times as permit holder/alternate permit holder will have all their lottery applications canceled. Permits are only valid if the permit holder and/or alternate specified on the permits is part of the group using the permits. The permit holder or alternate must be present with the entire group at the base of the subdome, where rangers will check for permits. The names of the permit holder and alternate may not be changed once the application is submitted. Permits are not transferable.
Alternate permit holders must have or create a Recreation.gov account within the specified amount of time noted on the application. Alternates must accept this role within the specified amount of time or they will not be considered a valid member of the group.
Daily Lottery Permits
Additional Half Dome permits are available each day by lottery during the hiking season. The daily lotteries have an application period two days prior to the hiking date with a notification late that night. (Example – to hike on Saturday, you would apply on Thursday and receive an email notification of results late on Thursday evening. Results are also available online, or by phone the next morning.) The application period is from midnight to 4 pm Pacific time.
Daily lottery applications only allow a permit holder (no alternate).
Improve your chances
There is no magical formula. It’s as simple as lottery. You apply and you wish everything is right. Although there is no guarantee that success is possible, there are ways in which you can increase your chances of achieving them. Apply on the weekends instead of weekdays. You have more chances of being selected on Tuesdays rather than Saturdays. Maybe the job schedules make you hard, but take it out of someone that has done it. Taking a day off during vacation would be worthwhile. November – November. Plan to travel from September to October. The following months are more likely than July and August.
If you have flexibility on which days to hike Half Dome, in general, your chances of success are higher on weekdays (especially beginning at the end of August). For the entire 2018 season, average success rate on weekdays was 47%, but only 24% on weekends.
How to Apply for a Permit
To apply for a permit, visit Recreation.gov or call 877/444-6777 (call center is open from 7 am-9 pm Pacific time; online requests can be made any time during a lottery period).
Two separate fees are collected. The first fee, which is charged at the time you submit an application, is $10. This non-refundable fee, which is per application, is charged by Recreation.gov for processing your permit application.
The second fee is $10 per person and is charged only when you receive a permit. The $10 fee is fully refundable if you cancel your permit by 11:59 pm Pacific time the day before your hiking date or if the cables are not up on the date for which your permit is valid.
Do you need a permit for Half Dome cables?
Permits must be effected for the climbing of the Half Dome or Sub Dome Cable. Ascending the subdome cable with no permits is a violation of 36 CFR 1.6 involving an unlawful activity and is subject to a maximum fine of $5,000 and 6 months imprisonment.
What happens if you hike Half Dome without a permit?
When you hike Half Dome without permission you face fines and/or a six-month jail term.
How many Half Dome permits a day?
A maximum of 250 hiking enthusiasts per day are allowed on the Half Dome Trail.
Camping and Lodging
A Half Dome permit does not include any camping before, during, or after your hike.
If you want to camp in Little Yosemite Valley or elsewhere on the way to Half Dome, you should apply for a wilderness permit that includes Half Dome.
If you want to camp or stay in a hotel before or after your hike, you should make a camping or lodging reservation as soon as possible. Reservations int he Park are often book full six month’s out.