Yosemite National Park
I have been visiting Yosemite National Park every year since I was a young girl. I have stared at Half Dome wondering what it would be like to be up on top and see the view of the valley. My dream became a reality this past weekend, but it was no easy task. Planning any visit to Yosemite takes a lot of work and strategy, especially when hiking Half Dome.
**Cables are typically up from late May until early October each year, permits are required for using the cables during these months.
Applying for Permits: There are a few ways to obtain permits for hiking Half Dome.
- Preseason Lottery (225 permits per day): Application needs to be submitted between March 1 and March 31. Applicants will be updated on their permit status by mid-April.
- Daily Lottery (50 permits per day): These permits are based on cancellation of the preseason lottery permits. Numbers may vary from day to day. Lottery begins 2 days prior to hiking day. (To hike on a Friday, you would apply on Wednesday. You would be updated on Wednesday night of your permit status)
- Wilderness Permits for Backpackers (50 permits by reservation and 25 available the day before the hike – first come, first serve) If you are interested in backpacking, this is the perfect loophole to get on half dome without entering a lottery. Reservations are available 24 weeks before your hiking day. To have the best chance at a wilderness permit, fax your application in. Faxes are looked at before phone calls are accepted for reservations. More information about how to make reservations can be found here.
Trailheads: When applying for permits you will need to specify entry and exit trailhead. These trailheads can be used for day hiker permits but the list below is specific to backpacking permits
- Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley: This is the most popular and most difficult trailed to get permits for. 3.8 miles each way on Mist Trail , 4.7 miles each way on John Muir Trail. Happy Isles trailhead to Half Dome cables distance is 7 miles each way on Mist trail and 8.2 miles each way on John Muir trail.
- Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley: 5.2 miles each way to backpackers camp. The distance from the trailhead to Half Dome cables is 9.2 miles each way.
- Cathedral Lakes to Little Yosemite Valley: 16.2 mile each way to backpackers camp. The hike from Cathedral lakes trailhead to Half Dome cables is 16.7 miles each way.
- Sunrise Lakes to Half Dome: 13 miles each way from trailhead to Half Dome cables. You would be able to access the Little Yosemite Valley backpackers camp via the John Muir trail but I am unsure of the distance between Sunrise and the backpackers camp.
Getting there: The closest airports from Yosemite are Fresno(1.5 hours), Merced (2 hours), San Francisco (4 hours), Oakland (4 hours) and Reno/Tahoe (5 hours). Renting a car is you best option for full access to the park but another option is to take a YART from Sonora, Mammoth, Merced or Fresno.
My Journey to Half Dome: Now that you have all of the basic information for planning a visit and getting to the park, I will go ahead and detail my trip for those of you interested in Backpacking from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley and hiking to Half Dome.
Day 1: Arrive at Bridgeport Inn at 10:30pm at night. Stay the night there as it is the least expensive option on the way from Lake Tahoe to Lee Vining. We stayed in one of the Cowboy rooms in the historical inn. These rooms are meant for 2 guests but we were able to fit 3 in the bed no problem (and secretly) The Inn also has a bar and restaurant where you can grab drinks or a meal for cheap!
Day 2: We woke up around 7am and made the 2 hour drive to the entrance of Yosemite at Tioga pass. The entrance fee to the park is $30.00. If you plan to visit any other National Parks, keep your receipt and use it as a credit towards the National Parks Annual Pass – only $80!!! (Check out Crater Lake National Park and Grand Canyon National Park). We arrived to the Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Center and were immediately denied our request for Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley permits, the only option that was available was to enter at Cathedral Lakes and exit at Happy Isles, even though this journey was much longer than our original plan we decided to get the permits and figure out what to do after. Make sure to mention that you want Half Dome permits as well as they are included with the wilderness permits. You are required to carry an approved bear canister like this one that I recommend.
If you are hiking from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail, you will park in the trailhead/wilderness parking lot located half a mile from the trailhead. Most likely there will be signs saying “PARKING LOT FULL” which is most often not the case. Drive past the signs and take a look for yourself. You can begin your hike on the Mist Trail until you arrive at Vernal Falls and then you can chose to take the shorter, steeper Mist trail or the longer, more gradual John Muir trail. The John Muir Trail is about a mile longer, but you will avoid hundreds of more than a foot high stairs.
Little Yosemite Valley has 2 communal fire rings, compost bathrooms and several bear lockers located throughout the campsite. There is a creek on the border furthest from the bathrooms which is perfect for filtering water. After arriving to the campsite and setting up camp, we rested and prepared for an early start to Half Dome the next morning.
Day 3: We awoke around 6:30am and were on our way by 7am. The 3 mile hike is relatively easy until you reach the small hill before the cables. I considered this to be the most physical part of the hike. You will be hiking up rock stairs for anywhere from 20 minutes – 1 hour depending on how fast you are willing to hike. After what seems like endless stairs, you will walk atop the flat surface of the subdome and will see the cables straight ahead of you.
We were the first to arrive to the cables on that day, but the second to ascend them. Once we saw a couple scurry up those cables with no issue, we knew that we could do it. Be sure to bring a pair of gardening gloves like these. There is a communal pile at the base of the cables, but when it is busy they are claimed very quickly. Take your time on the cables, I thought they were MUCH easier than they looked but that may be just my opinion.
When we reached the summit of Half Dome there were maybe 2 or 3 other people up there. This is the best way to experience Half Dome! After spending about 3 hours on the summit, there were hundreds of people around and attempting to ascend and descend half dome at the same time. It took us more than twice as long to get down the cables as it did for us to go up them. After we hiked down the 3 miles to our base camp, we feasted, packed up and were on our way backpacking to the valley floor.
**If I were to do this trip again I would turn it into 3 days in Yosemite – 1 day to backpack to LVY, 1 day to hike to and from Half Dome and a 3rd day to backpack down to the valley floor.