Not only is Half Dome a hard hike, but it is also one of the hardest hikes to get a permit for. Because of its extreme popularity and the potential crowd factor if unregulated, permits to ascend the cables are a must. I know, it seems like such a hassle just to be able to hike. But with this hike being on almost every hiker’s bucket list, Half Dome permits just make sense (not only for safety reasons but also so that when you do get the chance to hike it, your overall experience is more enjoyable).
So what are the Half Dome permit requirements exactly–what do you need to know? In this post, I’ll break down the permit application types and provide you with everything you need to know about the application process to ensure that you’re ready to apply with confidence.
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HALF DOME LOGISTICS
Half Dome Total Distance: 14-16 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 4,800 ft (1463 m)
Duration: 10 to 14 hours
When To Go: Usually late May to early October. The cables are up (conditions permitting) from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
Permits: You must have a permit to climb the subdome and the Half Dome cables.
Permit Preseason Lottery Application Dates: March 1-31
HOW TO GET HALF DOME PERMITS
A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed beyond the base of Sub Dome each day, broken down into two categories: 225 day hikers / 75 backpackers. Permits are required 24/7 to ascend the subdome or Half Dome cables. Ascending the subdome or Half Dome cables without a permit is a violation of the law and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Let’s not chance that.
Now to be clear, you can actually do a good amount of the Half Dome hike without a permit. You just cannot ascent the subdome or Half Dome portion. Missed your chance to secure a permit? Check out the pro tips below for a potential workaround.
There are three different ways to get a permit:
1. Preseason Lottery (Recommended Method)
The application period for the preseason lottery runs from March 1-31. Each application allows for up to seven choices of desired hike dates. Once submitted, just sit back and relax. Applicants will receive an email with results in mid-April. This is the best choice if you need to plan far ahead for your trip.
2. Daily Lottery (Backup Method)
If you were not able to secure permits during the preseason lottery but you were planning on visiting Yosemite anyway, this is your second chance. This lottery runs daily through the hiking season. There are approximately 50 permits available each day, and I say “approximately”, because these permits are based on the estimated rate of under-use and canceled of permits. The application time is between midnight and 1:00 PM PST two days prior to your hiking date, and the winners are notified by email or text that evening.
Confusing? Totally. Here’s an actual example: Say you want to hike Half Dome on Saturday. What you would do is apply for the daily lottery on Thursday and wait for an email of results late on Thursday night. Results are also available online or by phone the next morning.
3. Backpacker’s Permits (Rugged Hiker Method)
While most people do Half Dome as a day hike, you can also apply for Half Dome permits while you are making a wilderness permit reservation online. If the permits are available and it fits within your itinerary, you will receive a reservation that includes Half Dome permits and it will be valid for all dates your wilderness permit is valid. 50 Half Dome permits are available per day by reservation. Cost: $10 per person.
Backpacker’s first-come, first-served permits: 25 additional Half Dome permits are available daily, first-come, first-served, at wilderness centers in Yosemite National Park. Cost: $10 per person. Learn more about the process to obtain wilderness permits with Half Dome here.
Apply for Half Dome Permits at Recreation.gov here.
The Half Dome Permit Application Process
- Preseason lottery dates: March 1-31
- Permit lottery winners are notified April 10
- Application fee: $10 (per application, not per person)
- Permit costs: $10 per person. This only needs to be paid if you won the lottery. This is refundable if canceled more than two days before the permit date.
- Once you are notified by email, you then have to two weeks (April 24) to pay the permit fee.
- The maximum group size per permit is 6 people.
- An applicant may only submit one application. IMPORTANT: If a person’s name appears on more than one application, as either a permit holder or alternate, they will be disqualified for multiple applications. Make sure everyone’s name only appears once in the system, even if you have other members of your group apply for permits as well.
- You can choose up to 7 desired dates on each application.
- The group leader or alternate MUST be present with photo ID on the day of the hike.
- Once you print your permit, it can’t be canceled.
- If your dates are flexible, check out the lottery permit success rates here to determine which dates will result in the best chances of winning.
- When you’re ready, apply online here or call 877-444-6777.
Hiking Without A Permit
Permits are required 24/7 to ascend the subdome or Half Dome cables. Ascending the subdome or Half Dome cables without a permit is a violation of the law and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Let’s not chance that. You may very well encounter rangers at the subdome.
If you missed your opportunity to get permits, you can still do a good majority of the hike along with other hikers who have permits—you’ll just have to stop and turn back around once you hit the base of subdome.
Last resort tip: Upon seeing the cables leading up to Half Dome, a handful of hikers will have second thoughts due to fear of heights or pure exhaustion by that point. If you really want to ascend Half Dome, try your luck by asking if you’re able to join other hiking groups. Ask and see if they have an opening in their group; either a few of their members could have dropped out, or they might have reserved the permit for more people than they actually have in their group.
I’ve never personally tried this, but when I did Half Dome a few years back, I witnessed a bunch of hikers waiting for the rest of their group right before the cables (my guess is due to fear of heights). My best friend also went on a separate Half Dome day trip and noted that she had to turn around after attempting the cables due to her arms giving out from holding the cables. So there are instances where not all members of a hiking group make it to the top! There’s your chance!
What are my chances of winning the Half Dome Permit lottery?
Depending on the days of the week you select in your application (weekday vs. weekend), your chances will vary.
- If you’re deadset on hiking Half Dome on a weekend day, your chances range from 10-20%.
- If you can swing a weekday hike, your chances go up to 20-30%.
- If you apply for dates in the later months of summer (late August to October), you’re more likely to win the permit lottery compared to applying for early summer dates (June to early August).
Let’s take a look at the actual 2018 and 2019 numbers.
- Preseason Lottery Applications: 34,098 in 2019 | 31,181 in 2018
- Preseason Lottery Application Success Rate: 29% in 2019 | 28% in 2018
- Daily Lottery Applications: 20,167 in 2019 | 14,618 in 2018
- Daily Lottery Application Success Rate: 23% in 2019 | 38% in 2018
These numbers aren’t all too bad. If you don’t win the preseason lottery, remember– there is always the daily lottery. The daily lottery makes sense if you are coming from out of state and happen to be visiting Yosemite already. Remember, the daily lottery equates to approximately an additional 50 permits per day (depending on cancellations and no-shows).
If you want to analyze the previous years’ permit statistics (which summer months have the least applicants, which day of the week to apply for best chances, etc), check it out here.
And remember this too. If you don’t win the first year, try again the next! I’ve applied for Half Dome permits probably six times now in my life and have won the lottery twice. Some of those years I banded together with my friends and submitted multiple applications to increase our group’s chances of winnings. Other years, I applied alone just for the heck of it to decide if I should plan a Yosemite weekend trip on a whim–with the added bonus of hiking Half Dome. And if I don’t win, I know the $10 spent on the application fee is going to a good cause.
What are some of your Half Dome permit success stories and tips?
YOSEMITE HALF DOME HIKE: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
- America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | Yosemite National Park costs $35 for a 7-day pass. However, the national parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more NPS parks or sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here. [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE!]
- Water Bottle | No matter what you decide to do in Yosemite, every trip into the park warrants that you bring water. If you plan on being in the park for an entire day, you should plan on bringing a few liters of water per person. This is especially true in the summer when temperatures rise to the 90’s and even the 100’s. For shorter hikes, packing a lightweight 1L water bottle such as the Nalgene water bottle will suffice. On hotter days, consider bringing an insulated Hydro Flask packed with ice and water so that your water stays cold all day. For longer hikes, I recommend a 3-liter hydration reservoir. For Half Dome specifically, 3-4 liters is crucial.
- Daypack | Bring a daypack to carry your gloves, camera/phone, snacks, water, and other gear while climbing Half Dome. For a more traditional style daypack with more room, the Osprey Daylite is sturdy, comfortable, and has never let me down on long day hikes. For regular park use, I like bringing my Camelbak Rogue 2.5L on hot days since the shape of the backpack minimizes sweaty back issues and doubles as a water reservoir.
- Gloves with grip | A must-have if you plan on ascending the cables. Make sure your gloves provide enough grip to ascend the Half Dome cables. This 6-pack of gloves on Amazon will be enough for you and your entire group.
- Trekking Poles | Trekking poles are essential for the Half Dome hike, especially if you don’t have the best knees. Walking sticks and trekking poles contribute to your stability and will greatly reduce the impact/stress on your lower body (especially helpful for the knees while hiking downhill). I like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles.
- Snacks | You’re going to need a lot of sustenance for the uphill climb to Half Dome. Make sure you have enough quick-energy options to feed your body.
- If you plan on bringing fruits/vegetables, pick harder options such as apples, pears, cucumbers, and carrots since these do better in heat and backpacks compared to more delicate produce.
- Go for energy bars that don’t contain chocolate to avoid the melted chocolate messes. Stinger Waffles are loved by outdoor enthusiasts and are delicious and easy to eat. Shot Bloks Energy Chews are also a great source of quick energy and super easy to pop in your mouth on those shorter breaks. Other snacks to consider include dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix.
- Sandwiches: Pick up some sandwiches and carry them all the way to the top for an ultra special meal at the top of Half Dome. Thinking it’s too much trouble to pick up sandwiches the night before? Trust me, having some real food once you summit as you enjoy your view is so, so worth it.
- Lunchables: super easy to pack and always a great option regardless of how old you are.
- Sunscreen | Even though there are plenty of trees in Yosemite, there are many areas or parts of hikes that are exposed and shadeless. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. Make sure you have a face sunscreen or a hat as well. Hiking down Half Dome in the summer is known to be brutally hot and exposed to the sun. Protect yourself!
- Bug Spray | Summertime in Yosemite means the bugs come out to play. Sawyer carries the best insect repellent on the market.
- Hat | A wide-brimmed sun hat can double as sun protection to your face and neck. Here are a few stylish yet effective options for men and women. For added protection, I’d recommend a sun hat with a neck cape.
- Sunglasses | Similar to sunscreen, you should bring a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
- Hiking Boots | Hiking boots are the way to go with Half Dome. Instead of simply wearing sneakers, consider hiking boots. They not only provide better protection for stepping on all of the rocks at Yosemite, but you’ll find yourself slipping a lot less on waterfall mist, dirt, and loose gravel. Trust me, it’s easier to hop around and walk on rocks with the extra traction provided by hiking boots as opposed to running shoes. Lowa Renegades are my go-to pair for life, I highly recommend.
- Sandals | Birkenstocks make for the best sandals for the car ride home. It’ll be great to have these in the car after a long day of hiking.
- First Aid Kit | A compact first aid kit is essential for any national park trip. You can pack it with you in your daypack and it won’t take up too much space. It’s better to be prepared in case you have any mishaps on your adventures. This one is as compact as it gets and is super easy to carry.
- Flashlight | Pack a flashlight or headlamp in case it’s still pitch black when you start hiking. Check out my favorite tried and trusted all-weather flashlight.
- Permit | Don’t forget to bring your permit for the park ranger to check off! Otherwise, you will not be able to climb the cables and summit Half Dome.