Yosemite has always been one of my favorite places to go camping. I grew up going camping with my whole extended family there in the summers. It's full of nature's beautiful scenery, warm weather, and outdoor activities. I love hiking and so last year, I decided to take on Yosemite's Half Dome. The hike itself is 16.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 4,800 ft. It took us about 12 hours in total.
Half Dome has become such a popular destination for hikers around the world over the past few decades, so in 2012 they began limiting the trail to a maximum of 300 hikers per day. I'll explain how to plan your Half Dome trip below:
1. GET A PERMIT
You have to get a permit through a lottery system here. There is a preseason lottery (which I suggest because that way you can plan your system in advance) and daily lotteries during the season. The preseason lottery, though, is around March each year, so if you're looking to hike Half Dome this year, you can check out the daily lotteries. Each permit is good for a group of 6 people, so Joe and I secured one and invited four of our outdoorsy friends to join us!
2. RESERVE LODGING
Most people who are outdoorsy enough to hike Half Dome typically prefer to go all-in and camp, but if camping isn't for you, there are also a few hotels around. The best camp sites to stay at are actually in Yosemite Valley. If you do want to get one of these popular camp sites, you need to be online as soon as they become available. It's such a popular place to stay that they literally fill up within seconds of becoming available online.
If you're backpacking and would like to get a head start on the trail, you can hike about a mile in and camp at Little Yosemite Valley Campground, but need a wilderness permit for that. However, they book up really quickly. If you're not a camper, check out The Majestic Hotel (formerly The Ahwahnee), which is an upscale 4-star hotel that's really a historic landmark with some amazing architecture.
If you're not able to get a reservation in Yosemite Valley, you can also find little inns and lodges in a nearby town called El Portal, which is about a 15-20 minute drive from the trailhead. There's another campground, where we stayed, called Yosemite Pines. It's about a 30 minute drive from the trailhead and a pretty nice campground with a lot of amenities.
3. PREP FOR THE HIKE
As I mentioned above, the hike is 16.5 miles + walking about a mile round trip to/from the parking lot, so it's a long day. Just like a marathon or any sort of race, it's never good to put that many miles on your body and joints without tapering up to it during training. I have bad knees, so Joe and I prepared with various hikes around the bay area. During the Half Dome hike, endurance is crucial because you'll be hiking steep in both the uphill and downhill directions for 10-14 hours! Here are some of our favorites:
-Los Vaqueros Watershed hike in Contra Costa Water District - East Bay (9 mile loop)
-Redwood Regional Park in Oakland (7.9 mile loop)
-Various trails in the Marin Headlands
-Panoramic Hill in Berkeley (6.7 mile loop)
If you don't hike often already, you can also check out this beginner mountaineering training schedule to get you started.
4. GET ALL YOUR GEAR TOGETHER
Below is the checklist we made. This seems like a long list, but if you don't have the gear already, I guarantee you can borrow most from family and friends. Alternatively, if you live in San Francisco, you can actually rent a lot of this stuff from Sports Basement.
Cards Against Humanity :)
Wine opener :)
For the hike:
Backpack (preferably a CamelBak for extra water storage)
Gloves (for the cables - you can just get worker gloves at Ace Hardware)
Multi-Tool or Knife
Flash Light or Head Lamp
Jambox or Speakers
GoPro & Accessories
Layered Clothing (it's cold in the morning and very hot during the day)
Hiking Socks & Liner Socks
Ace Bandage (if you have bad joints like me)
Sunglasses or Hat
Here's a list of questions I got from friends and family after we finished the hike:
Was it as scary as it looks? The cables were a pretty shocking once I realized how steep they were in person. It's not necessarily a strength thing that freaked me out - I thought I'd be strong enough to do the cables, but more of a steepness/heights shock factor.
What are the best trails to take? There are a few routes to take, which can cause the hike to range from 15-18 miles long. The fastest route is to take the Mist Trail, but it's much more steep. We took the Mist Trail on the way up and the John Muir Trail on the way back down. Even though the John Muir Trail was about 1.5 miles longer, it was much more gradual and better for my bad knees.
How much do the hiking permits cost? It's $4.50 to enter the lottery, and if you get a permit, it's an additional $8/person.
Where can I get water along the way? 1) BYO 2) The Vernal Falls water fountain (refill your bottles here!!) 3) The Merced River (if you use a filtration system)
Do you absolutely need a permit to do the hike? No, you just need to present your permit to get to the cables of the actual "half dome" rock face. Since each permit allows 6 people, we saw many single or pairs of hikers who hiked all the way up and waited around until they found a group who had less than 6 to tack onto. This seemed to work.
If you have more questions, please share them below and I'm happy to answer them as best as I can!