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Half Dome - Yosemite Valley Tours

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is one of the most loved a recognized rock formations on Earth—a true celebrity in the world of geology! You will want to find several places from which to view Half Dome on a visit to Yosemite, perhaps even attempt the hike to its rounded peak. This page offers some guidance on:

  • Why Half Dome is famous
  • How to get to Half Dome
  • Best places in Yosemite to view Half Dome
  • How Half Dome formed
  • Tips for hiking Half Dome

Why Half Dome is a Must-See Attraction in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley’s majestic cliffs, domes and columns command attention and stoke wonder. None more so than Half Dome which rises 4,737 feet (1,444 meters) above the valley floor to dominate Yosemite National Park. With one sheer face and three rounded sides, the dome appears to be cut in half. Its unique and dramatic features make it one of the most unforgettable attractions on our Yosemite tour.

Fun Fact: Half Dome in Yosemite was first called “Cleft Rock”, a name given to it by the Miwok Native Americans

The delicate beauty of the formation was a frequent subject for famed nature photographer Ansel Adams.  The artist made many attempts to capture the contrast between Half Dome’s textured vertical face and a smooth, cloudless sky. Romantic painter Albert Bierstadt often used Half Dome’s imposing features to depict the domination of nature over man.

Half Dome attracts the aspirations of Yosemite rock climbers; and the climbers attract attention from park visitors who enjoy watching the ant-sized adventurers inch up the walls of granite. Want to see Half Dome right now?  Check out this live stream webcam.

Getting to Half Dome in Yosemite

  1. Glacier Point. The view across Yosemite Valley to Half Dome can be seen from many viewpoints at Glacier Point.
  2. Merced River. Cool off in the summer by renting a raft and floating under Half Dome.
  3. Half Dome Village. Go ice skating under the granite dome, then roast s'mores at the fire pits.
  4. Olmsted Point. Have a seat on a boulder and watch hikers climb the backside of Half Dome.
  5. Tunnel View. There are many places in Yosemite National Park to get a good view of Half Dome, however, our favorite spot is Tunnel View. From Yosemite Valley, head south on Highway 41 (Wawona Road). Continue up from the valley for 1.6 miles, then pull into the parking area just before the tunnel. From the south entrance of the park, near the Mariposa Grove, drive 24.5 miles north on Highway 41. Once you pass through Wawona Tunnel, you will see the parking lot.

The easiest and most entertaining way to visit Half Dome is to take a 1-day or overnight tour to Yosemite National Park with Extranomical Tours.

How Half Dome in Yosemite Was Formed

Yosemite’s many domed monuments were formed in the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed this region. As red-hot, molten granite deep within the Earth’s core was pushed up to the surface it created a magma chamber—called a pluton--that crystallized as it cooled. The solidified chamber was uplifted and exposed through millions of years of erosion.

Fun Fact: Half Dome’s peak in Yosemite Valley sits 8,846 feet (2,696 meters) above sea level

Geologists theorize that Half Dome’s distinctive profile was caused when a broad vertical crack was created deep inside the huge rock by an ice-age glacier flowing by and undercutting Half Dome’s base. The slow movement of later glaciers did the rest of the work, grounding down the rock face into the sheer, vertical drop we see today.

These geological processes are continuing even though they are hard to detect over the span of a few generations. Thankfully, there are several organizations working to make sure that the Yosemite National Park’s attractions like Half Dome are protected for future generations. One of the most active is the Yosemite Conservancy. You can learn about their many programs for cultural and historic preservation here.

Hiking Half Dome

Despite being described by California Geological Survey as "perfectly inaccessible”, George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, charting a route and placing iron eye bolts in the granite for the thousands who would proudly follow.

Why take the Half Dome trail? Or maybe, why not? It's got 900 feet (300 meters) of spectacular waterfalls to enjoy on the Mist Trail route; 4,800 feet (1,460 meters) of elevation gain; a nerve-rattling cable climb that tests your strength and courage; and unforgettable panoramic views at the top.

Even for the most experienced climbers, the vertical ascent of Half Dome is physically and mentally demanding. The first ascent of Half Dome’s craggy northwest face was in 1957 by Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas. Their five-day, epic Grade VI climb has now been free climbed several times in a few hours' time.

All summit attempts by hikers up the smooth, back shoulder of Half Dome end with a 425-foot (130 meters), 45-degree ascent using metal cables which allow climbers to effectively pull themselves up to the summit with the aid of climbing equipment. The National Park Service considers the Half Dome hike to be “Extremely Strenuous,” and advises hikers to take plenty of time to complete the ascent.

Hike Distance:

  • 14.2 miles (22.7 km) round trip via Mist Trail
  • 16.5 miles (26.5 km) round trip via John Muir Trail
  • 20.0 miles (32.0 km) round trip via Glacier Point
  • 23.0 miles (37.0 km) round trip via Tenaya Lake

What to bring on your hike:

  • Topographic map of the area and compass
  • Footwear. Wear boots that are well broken in and have good ankle support.
  • Gloves. Helpful to prevent chaffing of your hands on the cables.
  • Trash. There is no service on the trails. Be sure to pack out all trash.
  • Water. Carry plenty of water, at least 4 liters if you are hiking to the top of Half Dome.
  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries.
  • Essentials. First aid kit, trail mix, whistle, sunscreen, and emergency blanket.

Restrooms. Toilets are only available at the Vernal Fall Footbridge, Emerald Pool, near the top of Nevada Fall, and in Little Yosemite Valley

Start early. It will likely take 10-12 hours to complete your Half Dome hike in Yosemite, so aim to start up the trail at sunrise (or earlier). Have the group establish a firm time at which you will turn around, regardless of where you are.

Warning. It is a bad idea to climb in rain, thunderstorms and colder months, as rain and ice make the granite slick. Lightning strikes are a risk while on or near the summit and have taken the lives of several hikers.

The Half Dome cables are generally installed and available for hikers between Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day in October. Conditions on the trail can cause these dates to change. Permits are required to climb Half Dome. Read more information about the Half Dome hike and the procedure for acquiring a permit here.

Yosemite National Park has a very nicely organized program, called “Ask a Climber”, for those interested in hiking to the top of Half Dome. Climbing rangers offer live events covering the geology of Yosemite’s cliffs and domes, climbing history, nature and safety. Check it out here.

FAQs

How long is the Half Dome hike?

Most hikers begin the 16-mile (26 kilometer) trek at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16). For the average hiker, it will take 10-12 hours to cover the 4,800 feet (1,460 meters) of elevation gain and reach the summit, so aim to start up the trail at sunrise (or earlier).

Is hiking Half Dome dangerous?

The National Park Service grades all Half Dome hikes as “Extremely Strenuous”. The most challenging portion of the trail is the cable-assisted climb to the summit where nine fatal accidents have been recorded since 1919. Most dangerous incidents occur when hikers become dehydrated or attempt the summit during lightning storms.

What caused Half Dome in Yosemite?

Half Dome was formed 60 million years ago when molten granite pushed up from the Earth’s core toward the surface, forming a magma chamber that crystallized as it cooled. Millions more years of uplifting forces, glacial activity and erosion have made Half Dome into what it is today.

Where is Half Dome?

Half Dome rises prominently over the valley floor of Yosemite National Park in Northern California. The formation can be seen from most viewpoints in Yosemite. Half Domed has been most famously painted and photographed from Tunnel View located just outside the Wawona Tunnel on Highway 41 (Wawona Road).

How hard is the Half Dome hike?

The National Park Service grades all Half Dome hikes as “Extremely Strenuous”. The most used trail from the Yosemite’s valley floor covers 4,400 feet (1,340 meters) of elevation gain before reaching the final 45-degree, cable-assisted climb to the summit. Most hikers require 10-12 hours to complete the round-trip.

When is the best time to visit Half Dome in Yosemite?

Summer in Northern California brings capacity crowds to Yosemite but the best time to visit is between March and May when the spring snow melt in the Sierra Nevada mountains swells rivers flowing into the valley. That’s when waterfalls, like Vernal and Nevada Falls, on the trail to Half Dome are at their peak.

How high is Half Dome?

Half Dome which rises 4,737 feet (1,444 meters) above the valley floor to dominate Yosemite National Park. Yosemite itself is in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, putting Half Dome’s peak at 8,846 feet (2,696 meters) above sea level.

Do you need a permit to Hike Half Dome?

Permits are required for day hikers and backpackers. A “pre-season” lottery for 225 permits per day opens on March 1st. A daily lottery during hiking season makes a small number of additional permits and cancelations available two days before the hike. To apply for a permit, visit Recreation.gov.