Half Dome, one of the most iconic features of Yosemite National Park, is a granite outcrop with a sheer rock face on one side and a rounded slope on the other, giving it its “half dome” appearance. The dome rises about 5,000 feet above the valley floor, and 8,800 feet above sea level. The hike to Half Dome plus the climb up the dome and back out is 16 to 18 miles round-trip, depending on which trailhead you choose — it’s one of the most advanced hikes in the park. Yosemite Park suggests it is only for the very fit hiker, and requires Half Dome permits for those bold adventurers.

Despite the difficulty and length of the trail and climb, Half Dome draws a large number of hikers, climbers, and campers each yeah. The park implemented a lottery system in 2010 that limits the number of hikers who can scale half dome. This helps to both protect the wildlife and preserve a more solitary and safer wilderness experience for those who are lucky enough to gain access.

How to get a Half Dome Permit

Half Dome permits required

If you’re planning to hike or backpack up Half Dome during your visit to Yosemite Park, you’ll want to plan ahead of time. Your first option is to enter an online application in the preseason lottery to secure Half Dome permits, open throughout the month of March.

225 permits a day are awarded to day hikers, while only 50 permits a day are awarded to backpackers. Because the hike to Half Dome is so long, and the climbing of the dome is weather-dependent, many choose to make this a multi-day adventure rather than a day hike. So make sure you’re applying for the right permit.

If you’d like to go with friends or family, you can apply for up to 6 Half Dome permits. Once lottery winners are selected, they have about two weeks to purchase them.

If you are unsuccessful in the preseason lottery, your next option is entering the first-come, first-serve daily lotteries at the park. About 50 Half Dome permits per day are awarded to day hikers, who must apply two days before their desired hike date. Twenty-five backpacking permits are awarded each day, and backpackers must apply one day before their desired hike date.

Apply Here

Hiking the Cable Route of Half Dome

Half dome permits needed here

There are two starting points that provide access to half dome; Yosemite Valley Trailhead and Glacier Point. Yosemite Valley Trailhead is by far the more popular option.

The hike takes most people 10-12 hours. Hikers who are doing it all in one day should begin at sunrise or earlier. Pack a headlamp and flashlight for the dark hours, and check on sunrise and sunset times before the day of your hike.

The last 400 feet require hikers to climb with the aid of cables. You’ll want to have gloves for a more comfortable grip on the cables, and remember to take your time and be extra cautious on this portion of the hike.

“If you have an intense fear of heights, the cables will present a great challenge for you,” explains a Yosemite park ranger.

Scaling the dome portion of the Half Dome hike is a unique but potentially dangerous experience. If you’re unsure about whether the Half Dome hike is for you, this video from Yosemite National Park provides thorough information that will help you decide:

Read More

Additional Information on Half Dome Permit + Fees

  • A wilderness permit is required, in addition to Half Dome permits, if you’ll be backpacking in and spending the night along the way.
  • If you’re planning to hike Half Dome while backpacking, you can apply for Half Dome permits at the same time as applying for your wilderness permit. The application fee for Half Dome is $10.
  • Day hikers who wish to hike Half Dome must enter a lottery between March 1 and 31 (eastern time).
  • To better your chances of landing a permit, check out this graph that shows the most popular days. Applying for a permit on a Monday will give you a much better shot than aiming for Saturday.
  • Entrants will be notified of their lottery status in mid-March.
  • Successful lottery winners will pay $10 per person to purchase permits.
  • Attempting to access the Half Dome cable route without a permit will result in a $5000 fine.

Camping Near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

There are several options for camping near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Little Yosemite Valley Campground is a popular option for backpackers who wish to cut down on mileage for the day they reach Half Dome. But camping here also means you’ll be carrying your overnight supplies for all but the last stretch of the hike, so it’s not necessarily the easier option. It will, however, allow you to reach half dome before the bigger crowds.

Little Yosemite Valley is the most popular region of Yosemite National Park, due to it’s proximity to the half dome hike. You’ll need a wilderness permit to access Little Yosemite Valley and spend the night at Little Yosemite Valley Campground.

If you don’t wish to backpack in for the night, camping anywhere in Yosemite Valley will get you close enough to the trailhead of half dome to reach it the morning of. You’ll have to wake up nice and early, but that’s part of the “fun”!

Here are several additional options for camping on your way to Half Dome:

Half Dome Village Backpacker’s Campground

Half Dome permits needed to camp

Image from The Dyrt camper Anna C.

The Half Dome Village Backpacker’s Campground contains cabins and canvas tent cabins. A backcountry permit is required, but there are no reservations required.

“If you’re willing to wage the risk of not knowing how to get there or if you’ll even have a spot when you get there, you’ll be rewarded with one of the only remaining patches of solitude in Yosemite Valley.” — The Dyrt camper Anna C.

Camp Here

North Pines Campground

Half Dome permits not required here

Image from The Dyrt camper Chad F.

The North Pines campground requires a reservation.

“It is hard to get a camping spot in Yosemite but well worth it if you do. I got up early many a morning to try and get a day here or there for our summer trips out west. You can always try the daily lottery in the village office which we did one day.” Christy C.

Camp Here

Upper Pines

no Half Dome permits necessary

With easy access to Yosemite Falls, this is typically the most crowded campground at Yosemite National Park. But some say it’s worth it.

“Yosemite Falls access and rafting on the Merced are the two big draws to this campground. This is one of the most popular parks in the world, so expect lots of people. It’s hard to make a reservation; so you’ll have to work pretty hard to get a spot. Go to www.recreation.gov and search for Upper Pines for more info. The campground is well-equipped and close to lots of great Yosemite attractions, and there is bus service throughout the park so you can visit the museum and the largest tree, etc.” — The Dyrt camper Warren K.

Camp Here

We wish you luck and happy trails along your journey to Half Dome. Remember to Leave no Trace and #CampResonsibly! 

Elizabeth Bornstein

Elizabeth Bornstein

Elizabeth is a librarian & travel blogger. When she's not armchair adventuring in books she can be found exploring the Alaskan outdoors.