A quick guide for hiking half dome: tips, camping advice, food and more!
A few months ago my family, some friends and I had the opportunity to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It was something we had always wanted to do, and when our names were picked out of the lottery we decided to go for it! The hike was one of the most beautiful and challenging things I’ve done and I wanted to share some tips and advice. The whole process can be a bit confusing, but it’s so worth it for this view!
To hike up the half dome cables you must have permits acquired through a lottery system. The process itself wasn’t too difficult, you just have to be diligent about signing up when the lottery begins. Go to recreation.gov to start the process. The lottery opens up on March 1st for the season and you are able to select up to six different dates for as many as six permits. I signed up for several dates that worked for us during the summer. Keep in mind that they will charge you a $4.50 reservation fee just to apply for the permits. Then, you wait. If you don’t hear back from recreation.gov for a while don’t worry! They finally sent me an email almost 6 weeks later on April 12 telling me to check my account. Turns out they gave us our first choice! We marked our calendars, May 31st was our date.
These two gals tried to pack themselves in the back of the car before we left, unfortunately no furry friends were allowed on this trip. Boo.
The only issue we ran into was finding a camping spot as the sites fill up fast for the entire park. We ended up with two separate sites (one for each night) a week before our trip through random cancellations I found while checking the site every day. We stayed at Upper Pines campground which ended up being the closest one to the trail head! We arrived at the campground the afternoon before our hike to get settled and relax before the big day!
Since we had two separate sites we had to pack up everything before we left for the hike in the morning, load it into the car, drive over to the trail head, unpack all food items into bear boxes, hike and then set up camp again afterwards. This sounds horrible but we were able to pull it off with everybody’s help. Because of this we woke up around 4 am to pack everything up and get started with our hike!
We headed over to the trail head around 6 AM to meet up with my parents. A 6 AM hike might sound like a nightmare to many of you but the crisp morning air, sun-rising on the surrounding cliffs and overflowing waterfalls was worth any bit of tiredness.
The first 4 miles of the hike are very much uphill. Ok practically all uphill. The whole hike is about 4,800 feet of elevation change
yikes and I’d say most of that is done in the first 4 miles up to Nevada Falls. There is only 1 water station on the whole hike and it was within the first mile along with a restroom, so make sure to fill up there! The next part of the trail is the Mist Trail, which holds true to its name. We got soaked. We soon dried off as the sun began to peek through the trees. The trail up to Nevada falls is mostly switchbacks of stone steps and it’s fairly shaded which was great. Also despite the drought, there is SO MUCH water in Yosemite right now, more than I’ve ever seen before. The rivers and waterfalls are insanely flowing. We took many nutrition and hydration breaks on the way up. We also re-applied sunscreen like crazy because who wants to be sunburned, extremely sore and tired at the same time? Not us.
Once you reach Nevada Falls you’ve covered most of the elevation change. The remaining hike up to the top is mostly flat with some switchbacks.
We got up to sub dome around 11 am and waited for the rest of our group to catch up to us before heading up the cables. Surprisingly, ascending sub-dome was harder than going up the actual cables. I was a little freaked out about the cables when I fist saw them…they look like they’re going straight up vertical. But once you get up to them you see that it’s really not that bad. As long as you have gloves and good hiking shoes on you’ll be fine. The only issue is that it can sometimes get a little backed up on the cables and you have to stand and wait for people to come down.
Once we got up to the top every steep step was worth it. The view is the most amazing view I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding, its incredible. The top of Half Dome is about 3 acres, so there is plenty of space to find your own little area and relax. We hung out for a while at the top. Ate some sandwiches, took silly pictures, played in the patch of snow, then decided to make our way back down.
Ezekiel bread almond butter and banana sandwiches with honey and cinnamon.
The park ranger checking permits actually didn’t check ours until we got back down to the base of sub-dome, which was a little sneaky of them… it seemed as if they were trying to catch people who didn’t actually have permits. My parents didn’t have permits to hike up to the top so they stopped at the top of sub-dome and waited for us but apparently you need those permits for both sub-dome and the Half Dome cables, which we didn’t know. The park ranger was kind to not give us a ticket or fine but it would’ve been nice to know that before. Anywho, we showed her our permits and then began our trek back down the mountain. The way back was mostly downhill and shaded BUT we all ran out of water so we struggled a bit. Thankfully my boyfriend brought his Lifestraw and my dad had a filtering system so we stopped near the river before Nevada falls to hydrate. They don’t recommend doing this but we were desperate. Also we got eaten alive by mosquitoes in the process.
After our water break we soon hit the last 4 miles of stairs. This was the hardest part for most of us, the pounding on my knees and legs was killer. The trail is an out and back, so we hiked back on the mist trail and all appreciated the misty-ness of it after the long hike (Especially since the campground doesn’t have showers). We finished the hike around 5:30 PM and headed back to the campsite. I was wearing my Garmin watch the whole time and it clocked about 20 miles by the end of the hike, depending on where you start and how many detours you take. It’s definitely a long day but so worth it.
Fortunately we had prepped a double batch of this turkey chili along with some cornbread muffins the day before so there wasn’t much cooking to be done. We set up a campfire but sat around it in silence as we were all so exhausted from the hike. We ended up all crashing around 8 o’clock that night and waking up around 8am the next morning a little sore but very rested. Some of us had to work later that day so we packed up camp and headed back home.
Here’s a quick Half Dome overview:
Start: Early (we started at 6 am and returned around 5:30 PM)
Gloves: Bring gloves for the cables! We used these basic gloves from Ace Hardware and I don’t know what we would’ve done without them. Probably burned our hands off. These things were seriously life savers.
Water: Bring lots of water, like more water than you think you would ever drink. I can’t emphasize this enough (We all had camelbacks and ran out right as we got down from the dome). If you can’t carry enough water I suggest bringing a lifestraw, that you can use to somewhat-safely drink water out of the river on the way back down.
Money: It costs $30 to get into the park (per vehicle) about $9 a person for the permits (including fee) and $26 per campsite per night.
If any of you are even the slightest bit interested in hiking Half Dome I recommend you just go for it. The view is actually one of a kind… there really is no other place in the park to get a view like it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed out or too busy with your life, getting out in nature is one of the best ways to recharge and reframe your thinking. I often times lose sight of the bigger picture in life and get bogged down by day-to-day things. Hiking is of the things that reminds me of the beauty of God’s creation. In a time where we’re experiencing a lot of chaos and heaviness, it’s so comforting to experience the greatness of Gods glory in this way. He has the power to move mountains and glaciers, to create wondrous things in this world and we get to put our faith in THAT God. We get to place our hope in a God who will give us peace in a hopeless world and to live our lives in a way that always points to him. I am so so thankful for that.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
If any of you have any questions about the hike feel free to comment below!