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.
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?
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