- 14 - 16.3 miles
- 10-12 hours
- Cables are typically up from late May to early-October
The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you're out of shape or otherwise of a mind to avoid a steep climb. You will be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) much of the way to the top of Half Dome, though those most who've made it say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you'll enjoy 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.
Please be warned that this trail can be particularly congested on Saturdays and holiday weekends, which means that most visitors arriving at the cables during these periods will experience slow access to the summit, extended exposure to potentially uncomfortable conditions, and an increased likelihood of irresponsible behavior ("trail rage") due to frustration with conditions. We strongly recommend planning your Half Dome visit for days other than Saturdays or holiday weekends.
Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike up 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.
Another easy way to make your hike enjoyable is to have well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. Some of the most common injuries Half Dome hikers suffer are blisters and twisted ankles; good footwear is the best way to prevent these problems.
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.
DO NOT BEGIN THIS ASCENT IF: 1) the cables are down, 2) there is any chance of rain (moisture makes the granite too slick for safety), or 3) there is any chance of lightning.
Follow the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail to Nevada Fall. Continue on the trail, following the signs to Half Dome. The last 900 feet (275 m) of trail is a very steep climb up the east side of Half Dome. Cables assist hikers on the final 400 feet (122 m). They consist of two steel cables, about 3 feet apart and suspended at arm's height from pipes set in the rock. The top of Half Dome is a fairly large and level open surface. Camping is not permitted on top of Half Dome.
3 routes available: 14 miles/22.4 km round-trip (Mist Trail)
16.3 miles/26.1 km round-trip (John Muir Trail)
15.2 miles/24.3 km (Mist Trail up and John Muir Trail down, or vice versa)