The Thrilling Hike to the Top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

The hike is 14 miles round trip and gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that 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, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.



Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted. See what it’s like to hike Yosemite’s famous Half Dome:

The 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike to Half Dome is not for you if you’re out of shape or unprepared. You will be gaining elevation (for a total of 4,800 feet) most of your way to the top of Half Dome. Most would say the reward is worth the effort. Along the way, you’ll see 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.

Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to hike to 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.



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. Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.

Most people begin the hike from Happy Isles, which is about a half-mile from the trailhead parking lot or about 3/4 of a mile from Half Dome Village.

The nearest campgrounds are Upper, Lower, and North Pines Campgrounds, but reservations are very difficult to get in summer. Camp 4 walk-in campground is also busy. The nearest campgrounds outside Yosemite Valley that may have some first-come, first-served space are Bridalveil Creek and Tamarack Flat Campgrounds.

It is an arduous hike but the payoff is worth the work:

The journey has been long getting here. We walk the paths of our foremothers and forefathers, taking the work they did and growing it within ourselves to new points of potential awareness. We are capable of new levels of emancipation. Future generations will be even more ready to shift patterns that hold them back from transformation; we can see the future evolutions of consciousness already unfolding if we know where to look. Shrugging off the ill-fitting, restrictive garments of compliance, we stand naked before her, this mother of life. We have nothing to hide, and there is less now holding us back. We are more than ready for this new journey, it has already begun. This new aeon, new world, new time we are creating is happening now. There is no more waiting. It is built, created, envisioned, and birthed by us. Photo cred: @rossspruiell

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