Half Dome is one of the many stunning geological features at Yosemite National Park. The dome is a granite formation that sits above the picturesque Yosemite Valley. Yosemite made my list of Top 12 Places I’ve Been That I Recommend For You. A number of years ago I challenged myself to complete a day hike to the top of the dome.
- Hike distance: 15.2 miles (24.5 km) round trip
- Hike duration: About 10 hours (for me)
- Elevation gain: 4,800 feet ( 1,600 meters)
- Top of dome Elevation: 8,842 feet (2,695 meters)
- Trails: Nature Center at Happy Isles to Mist Trail to John Muir Trail to Half Dome Trail
- No climbing skills required. The final very steep section has cables and wooden planks for hikers.
- Distance from base of dome to top of dome: 400 ft vertical
- Feeling when getting to the top of the dome: Euphoric and exhausted
If you love nature and hiking, are fit enough, and are not afraid of heights, I highly recommend a hike to the top of Half Dome when visiting Yosemite. The best time of year for this hike is late spring when the snow is melted because the hike will give you close-up views of high-flowing Vernal and Nevada Falls.
This hike absolutely requires adequate preparation including fitness, water and food, and a permit (see the note about permits at the end of the post). The hike is extremely steep but requires no technical skills. Well broken-in boots are a must.
Hiking to the Top of Half Dome
- All photographs were taken by me (or of me), but the quality is not that great because I brought the cheapest, lightest camera I had in case I dropped it.
- I did not take many pictures until I got to the dome because I was focused on keeping a strong pace.
My thoughts through the hike:
From the trailhead to the bottom of Vernal Falls: Too many tourists and I am trying to keep a pace. Excuse me; excuse me.
To the top of Vernal Falls: The trail is a steep granite stairway of about 600 steps next to the roaring falls. The mist feels great and the crowd thins quickly. What a view.
To above Nevada Falls: Next section is 1.5 miles of steep switchbacks then to the top of Nevada Falls while veering away from the falls. I feel great and I could hear the thunder of the Nevada falls.
Past Little Yosemite Valley: I followed the Merced River passing what is called Little Yosemite Valley at 6100 ft above sea level and 3.8 miles into the hike. I was starting to get tired.
To the ridge line: The next leg of the hike goes away from the river still climbing steeply over a dry rocky trail for about 4 miles. The flora was thinning and so were the number of other hikers. I was really getting tired and honestly this section of the trail felt endless.
Along the ridge line to the base of the dome: Finally I got to a section where the trail turned left going to the back of half dome and the ascent moderated. I felt a mix between exhausted and relieved because I knew from the topographic map that I completed the hardest uphill section.
Approaching the cables, the trail became steep again but my motivation of seeing the dome re-energized me.
Finally, I approached the chains and thought, hmmmm way steeper than it looks in the pictures. I rested and focused, then headed up the side of the dome.
Wow what a view.
The camaraderie among the hikers was wonderfully positive. After some lunch (peanut butter sandwich, banana, and warm water) and hanging out for about 45 minutes, I faced my biggest fear of the hike – going back down the cables.
I joined a few people gathered around the top of the cables, none of us climbers, and discussed the merits of going down facing the rock or facing outward. We concluded outward and descended with plenty of room between each other and waiting for the few hikers still going up to the top.
When I got to the bottom of the chains, I felt inner peace, both for what I had personally accomplished and for having a special experience with our amazing planet. Sure it sounds dramatic and that’s OK because standing atop Half Dome was.
How did I feel after the steep 7 miles down? My toes hurt.
Yosemite now requires a permit to use the cable section to the top of the dome to protect wilderness character, reduce crowding, protect natural and cultural resources, and improve safety. A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed each day on the Half Dome Trail beyond the base of the sub-dome. The permits are given out in an annual lottery so if you think you want to do this hike, you need to plan ahead.
It is well worth it.