People travel from all over the world to enjoy Yosemite National Park and the beautiful California wilderness. While there are plenty of ways to explore it, by far the most incredible experience is hiking Half Dome in Yosemite! The 16 mile long Half Dome trail will put you a mere 9,000 feet above sea level, making it easily the best hike in Yosemite National Park. Here are some tips for the Half Dome hike and why it’s such a can’t miss spectacular climb in Yosemite.
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5 Tips for the Half Dome Hike
It takes about 15 minutes just to get from the parking lot to the start of the trail, so don’t count that as part of your 16 miles! The first stretch is a paved, steady uphill path for about a half-hour that will take you to the water station. This is the one and only chance to refill your water bottles on this entire hike so plan accordingly.
- Start as early as possible! Park at the Happy Isles parking lot before 7AM to start your journey hiking Half Dome in Yosemite.
- Pick a campsite as close to the valley as you can.
- Wear proper shoes, sunscreen, and bug repellant.
- Pack a ton of water and snacks for the Half Dome Trail.
- Watch the incredible sunset from Glacier Point the night before to get an idea of what you’re about to hike!
Which Half Dome Trail Do You Take?
From here, you will have two ways to ascend up to Half Dome. We’d recommend The Mist Trail going up, and taking the John Muir Trail back down. The John Muir is a bit longer (1.5 hours), but features almost exclusively switchbacks, which will be much better on the knees for your descent!
If you follow our Yosemite tips above then your first stop will be a great one in Vernal Falls! Sitting at a massive 317 feet, this beautiful waterfall flows magically through the Merced River. Although it might be tempting be smart and restrain yourself from climbing over the railings for a closer picture as we saw other hikers doing.
About 3 miles and 5,034,323 rocks later, you will come to the amazing Nevada Falls. Nevada is a mind-boggling 594 feet, which makes it almost double the size of Vernal! This is the point when most day hikers will turn around, but don’t worry… You only have a couple of miles left to Half Dome!
Once you get past the waterfalls you will hit a bathroom which marks the midway point of your ascent. This is also the junction of the John Muir and Mist trails. Use your breaks wisely, eat, and hydrate as much as possible. The best hike in Yosemite National Park only gets harder from here!
The next mile plus is a moderate incline that leads to a refreshingly flat straightaway. Trust us, this is a necessary break for what’s about to come on the Half Dome hike. After about an hour or so you will be greeted by a park ranger, also signifying that you’re almost there! Then after a steep but manageable 15-20 minute climb you will finally have your first look at Half Dome Rock.
Arriving at Half Dome Rock
At first glimpse, you may want to pack your things and turn back the way you came. I know we did! Yet, you’ve come too far to go back now. The only thing that separates you from glory is 400 feet of pure granite rock.
Perhaps even scarier than the almost completely vertical incline is the fact that you have to do it with several other people in front and behind you. Make sure to pause and let the people coming down pass, as the descent down is even more treacherous!
Finishing the Half Dome Hike
In addition to everything we’ve told you, the steel cables and shaky plywood boards only add to the terrifying experience. It’s only right that hiking Half Dome in Yosemite ends with a harrowing cable climb! However, once you make it to the top it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your lifetime.
Looking over the miles of beautiful California landscape from the top of Half Dome Trail is a surreal feeling like none other. Take your time and let it all soak in because you’ve still got another 8 miles of the Half Dome hike down!
Have any questions about hiking Half Dome or want to share your own travel tips? Let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
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