Yosemite's Half Dome is an iconic emblem of the park. Its granite rock, vertical face is North America's sheerest cliff at only seven degrees from straight up. It's not new, but at 87 million years old, it's the youngest plutonic rock (rock formed under the earth's surface) in Yosemite Valley.
Half Dome's peak elevation is 8,842 feet at the top, 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.
Viewing Half Dome
If you're not a hiker, you'll only see Half Dome from a distance, but it's a prominent part of the Yosemite landscape.
These are the best places to get a look at Half Dome (and maybe snap a photo or two):
- Cook's Meadow: The meadow in the middle of the Valley provides a lot of nice views of Half Dome and it's hardly ever out of sight.
- Mirror Lake: In the spring, when the lake is full of water it lives up to its name, with Half Dome reflected in its mirror-like surface. The lake is a short hike from shuttle stop #17
- Tunnel View: From the vista point on Wawona Road just before you reach the tunnel, you can see Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall all in the same panoramic view.
- Sentinel Bridge: From the bridge over the Merced River near Yosemite Village, you can see the dome framed between trees and reflected in the river's surface. It's especially nice in late afternoon.
- Glacier Point: At Glacier Point, you'll see Half Dome more from the same elevation instead of looking up at it from the Valley floor. This is the best place to see the distinctive profile of Half Dome.
- Olmstead Point: This view from Tioga Road (CA Hwy 120) shows the backside of Half Dome and with binoculars or a telephoto lens, you can see hikers making their way up.
Climbing Half Dome
Hikers ascend the "back" side of Half Dome, the rounded side, not up the sheer rock wall.
The 17-mile round trip hike to Half Dome from the Yosemite Valley takes 10 to 12 hours, and its 4,800-foot elevation gain is only for the fittest of hikers, who climb the final 400 feet over the top of Half Dome on a staircase with cable supports that act as handrails.
As many as a thousand hikers a day once packed onto the trail to climb Half Dome's back side on summer weekends, creating unpleasant crowding and dangerous conditions. In 2010, the park started requiring all hikers to get a permit in advance, limiting the Half Dome Trail to 300 day-hikers and 100 backpackers per day. Permits are required every day of the week and no same-day permits are issued. Find out how to sign up for one at the Yosemite website.
Wear proper hiking shoes and take the hike seriously. On this big, slippery piece of granite, even a simple mistake could be your last. Don't take our word for it. Read an exhausted hiker's trip report to get a good idea of what the hike is like.
Most hikers start their Half Dome trek from the Happy Isles shuttle stop, which is about a half mile from the trailhead. You can also park at Half Dome Village, which is about 3/4 mile away. If you're planning on camping nearby before or after your Half Dome hike, Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines Campgrounds are closest, but all are popular and you need to plan ahead.
The park service takes down the cables and closes the Half Dome Trail in the off-season, usually by the second week in October. The cables go up again - weather permitting - around the last weekend of May. Visit their website for lots of good information - and a list of things you need to take with you.