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Trailspotting Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's world-class hike. Equal parts challenging and breathtaking, this is the one trail you'll never forget.

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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 15.5 miles
Duration: Full day

Overview:  It's difficult to approach Yosemite's Half Dome without a sense of trepidation.

Perhaps it's the 15½ mile hike and 4,800ft elevation... more »

Tips:  Timing Tips:
• The cable route to the summit is open between May and October. Check the NPS website (link included) for exact dates,... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Car Parking

Assuming that you're arriving at the trailhead by car, you'll want to park it in the lot opposite the Upper Pines Campground located half a mile from Happy Trails which marks the start of our hike.

The round trip distance to the Half Dome summit is 15 miles from this location.

2. Happy Trails trailhead

Welcome to the official start of the Half Dome trail. Here is where bus riders and car users meet up and kick off the hike for real.

Pass by the concessions stand and the bus stop, cross the bridge over the Merced River and pick up the trail to the right, following alongside the river.

The paved route from Happy Trails handles not just the Half... More

The smooth paved trail ends at a footbridge across the Merced River. From here you get great views of Vernal Fall, and the nearby water station keeps hikers sated from spring thru fall.

Cross the bridge and continue following the river upstream, towards a closer look of Vernal Fall.

4. Mist Trail /John Muir Trail Junction

Keep to the left at this junction and continue to follow river along the Mist Trail. The steps may be steep, but its the most picturesque and most direct route up the mountain.

Vernal Fall's 317ft drop makes for a dramatic waterfall, and what's more our Mist Trail route brings us up close and personal to it, providing for some incredible vantage points. Although "up-close" can be putting it mildly in spring when the Merced River is flowing at full strength and the Mist Trail more than lives up to its name.

Once you've ... More

6. Mist Trail / Panorama Trail Junction

Continue onwards and upwards, with Liberty Cap on your left. Your legs might be getting sore from all the climbing, so you'll be pleased to know that after this hill the trail levels out for a mile of easy hiking.

7. Nevada Fall

The mist trail provides for some great views of Nevada Fall, but if you really want to experience this 600ft monster at close quarters then you'll enjoy the views from the top.

Reach the top of Nevada Fall on a short detour down the Panorama trail. When the river is calm this is also a great place to soak your feet in the Merced.

8. Little Yosemite Valley Camp & Restrooms

Just off-trail towards the Little Yosemite Valley campground you'll find a timber building suitable for answering those calls of nature.

9. Half Dome/Clouds Rest Junction

Keep left and continue up the Half Dome Trail, avoiding the branch off towards Clouds Rest.

The trail continues a steady climb through forests of pine. Find your pace and try and stick with it - soon you'll be looking over the whole of Yosemite valley, with the home-stretch in sight.

10. Sub Dome

Leg burning steep-stepped switchbacks snake most of the way up Sub-Dome before eventually giving way to an inelegant scramble over smooth, cracked granite slopes.

Almost there now .. after this there's only the cables to go and you'll be victorious!

11. The Cables

The final ascent of Half Dome looks crazy, almost vertical when you first approach it. Don't worry though, it only ever gets as steep as 45 degrees and only for a short time.

This final section of the trail is made possible by the cable and post system drilled into the granite face.

Yes, the cabled section has claimed lives in the past, but... More

Congratulations, you made it! Pat yourself on the back and take some spectacular photos before heading back down.