Half Dome Yosemite National Park | A First Timer
As I sit here preparing to write about my incredible hiking experience to Half Dome, my mind is drawing a blank. I think I am still going through a hiking hangover. Yosemite National Park is so amazing I don’t even know where to begin. The pure magnificence of this place is astounding and anyone who has visited will know it can leave you speechless. So, I will do the best I can to take you along with me as I recall the moments of this extraordinary journey of hiking to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Planning The Adventure
When planning your hiking adventure to Half Dome there are few things you need to know before you go. There is a permit required to hike the cables on Half Dome, which is the path to the very top. Only 300 hikers are allowed on this trail per day. They have what is called a lottery of which you sign up online at this website. The preseason sign up timeline for this year was March 1- 31, 2019; there is an application to complete as well as a $10 application fee for each person. You can sign up and include up to 5 people in your party. The results of the lottery are usually announced a few months prior to the installation of the cables, and they notify you by email. This year lottery results were announced on April 10, 2019; which is when I learned we would definitely be hiking to Half Dome in June.
Lodging and Dining Yosemite
Depending upon which entrance to the park you plan on taking, you can reserve rooms at a nearby hotel or reserve a camping site. If you are coming from San Francisco area, Maricopa might be the best option to find lodging, however if you are driving from Southern California, Oakhurst is probably best choice. You can also stay at various Yosemite National Park lodging located within the park. We made reservations at a Comfort Inn in the small town of Oakhurst, California. Which is about a half hour drive from the south gate entrance. In the town of Oakhurst there are plenty of dining options. Restaurants include Denny’s, several fast food places, and specialty dining such as delicious authentic Mexican and other eateries.
Now, if you are looking for lodging to have more convenient access to the park, you might consider places like Yosemite Valley Lodge, and formerly known as Majestic Yosemite Hotel; the Ahwahnee Hotel might tickle your fancy. There is also Tenaya Lodge and Cottages and Wawona Hotel as well. If you are looking for more of the bare bones and in nature kind of stay, then you may enjoy Curry Village and White Wolf Lodge. Note: Please stay up to date with Yosemite and know the list of closures before you go.
Preparing and Training for Hike
By now, I realize that we are not just talking about hiking to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park; we are no doubt doing it! So, I immediately began setting goals of which one of them is to keep up with my group, not struggle while climbing on the inclines, and not fall too far behind. Therefore, I created an exercise routine that I think will best prepare me for this hiking challenge. Here is my training schedule that includes a three month plan of preparation:
Three Months Until Hike
- Treadmill: Walking at 3.5 for 45 minutes 3.0 incline. 4-5 days / week.
- Nautilus Machine: Arm Pull / Extension 3 sets of 12 each arm
- Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 15 each arm
Two Months Until Hike
- Stair Master: 30 Minutes
- Treadmill: 30 minutes 7.0 Incline
- Abs and Arms Strengthening
One Month Until Hike
- Treadmill: Run 20-30 Minutes up 4.0 Incline then 30 Minutes walking 15.0 Incline
- Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 15 each arm 2 days a week
- Ab and Glute work and Yoga 2 days a week
What To Pack | Hiking Half Dome
Hiking to Half Dome is considered a day hike so you will be on the trail for several hours. I sat down and made a list of all the items I might need. Here is what I had in my Osprey backpack.
- Clothing; long sleeve shirt, light jacket and light rain jacket.
- Full camelback with my Yeti tumbler full of water.
- Energy protein bars
- Turkey and almond butter sandwiches- (2)
- Beanie hat
- Lipbalm with sunscreen
- Small first-aid kit in a zip lock; band-aids, antiseptic cream, anti itch cream. Small roll of black utility tape.
- Plastic bag- to use for any trash to take back with me.
- Kleenix tissues and Toilet paper.
The Journey Begins To Half Dome
Road Trip To Oakhurst
We are ready to go! It’s a Thursday morning and we have all our supplies that include a cooler with food, water, backpacks, hiking shoes, clothes, jackets, cameras, and everything else we thought we needed. It was an awesome road trip going through Los Angeles, heading north through Bakersfield, and then taking Highway 140 towards Coarsegold and Oakhurst. One of the most enjoyable things to do while road tripping is going through very cool small towns, courtesy of my friends at RoarloudTravel.
After cruising through several small towns, we finally arrived into Oakhurst. I have visited Oakhurst and Coursegold while living in Silicon Valley many years ago. I would spend a weekend or two visiting my former boss and his family in Coursegold, who owns a ranch. The annual local Rodeo is held on their property (it was back then anyway). So as you can imagine, I experienced a bit of nostalgia on this hiking adventure.
We check into our hotel and get settled, and then enjoy an early evening dinner so we can get to bed early. Our wake up call is set for 2:15 a.m. and a plan to begin the Half Dome hike is at 4:30 a.m. We are in bed by 7:30 p.m. A friend of ours; Sam, will also be joining us on this exciting hiking journey.
Hiking Yosemite National Park
There is a slight chill in the air as we see our breath in the morning darkness while we gather our backpacks, headlamps, and gloves. We leave the hotel by 3:00 a.m. and make our way to the park. I am a bit nervous knowing that we are about to embark on this iconic hike which overpowers Yosemite Valley by nearly 5000 feet and 8800 above sea level. But I am ready and excited to begin!
Finally, we pull into the Half Dome Village parking lot and we begin our trek on the trail around 4:40 a.m. Armed with clothing layers, hiking sticks, and other essentials, we proceed to tackle this very diverse trail. Realizing that we will probably end up soak and wet. The rain season was plentiful this year throughout California so there is still snow in several higher elevations throughout the park.
The medley of this trail is amazing. It begins with paved walk paths leading you through the valley of dirt and trees, to then scrambling through forest to encounter the infamous Sub Dome area to climb rock stairs.
I thought I had come prepared, I regret that I did not bring hiking sandals. Vernal Fall is incredible! The powerful force of the amount of water from the abundant rainy season this year made this climb quite a challenge.
Water was flowing everywhere, dripping from stair to stair to the misty wet vapor in the air blowing like a rainstorm. The scene is gloomy, dark, and eerie as we make our way towards the top inching closer to our destination. I am soaked from head to toe at this point.
Approaching this part of the trail is not too bad. You can get a very close look at the edge of the falls, which is an extraordinary view watching these massive water flows in full force! I actually enjoy climbing clean rock steps and switchbacks while enjoying a massive waterfall!
Half Dome Trail
Prior to reaching Half Dome trail, there may be a park ranger sitting in the area to check your permit if you are planning to hike to the top of Half Dome using the cables. We arrived in this area at approximately 9:45 a.m. and there was not a park ranger present. However, on our way down, there was someone checking permits.
Hiking Half Dome Yosemite National Park
Rated as extremely strenuous with a 4,800-foot gain, reaching this part of the trail has been so rewarding. But prior to reaching the climb on the cables, you have to get through Sub Dome. Climbing here is not as difficult as it looks, because it can be intimidating.
My goals for this hiking adventure are to take one step at a time, and that is exactly what I did! We made it to the top of Half Dome around 10:45 a.m. The time it took me to climb the cables was about 30 minutes because I made stops to rest as well as let hikers pass by as they were coming down. The views at the top are absolutely incredible! These massive granite cliffs and rock formations challenge both the body and mind. Here’s a perfect description and visionary of the final stretch to Half Dome Summit.
John Muir Hiking Trail
Since we have now experienced the awesome Mist Trail, we decided to take another path down on our return. We take the John Muir Trail which is longer yet not as steep and has several switchbacks. Our hiking adventure would end up totaling approximate 16-17 miles for the day. It’s great to be able to see two different trails on one trip.
We are completely exhausted upon our return but feeling a sense of accomplishment and still in a daze knowing that we just completed one of the most iconic hiking trails in the world. According to the information pamphlet, a note found in the 1868 Yosemite guidebook stated; “the summit of Half Dome will never be trodden by human foot.”
A point of interest that you cannot miss! An overlook of a superior view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite’s high country. This viewpoint is a must see spot to capture some of your most mind-blowing photos. However, if you arrive here in late morning the wait to get into the parking lot can be hours. We found that Washburn Point, just south of Glacier Point, offers spectacular view points especially those for Vernal and Nevada Falls.
There are several areas we have yet to explore in Yosemite. If you are looking for more hiking Yosemite National Park surrounding areas, then you might want to check out the Hetch Hetchy Trail. My gal pal from Where Gals Wander shares her journey through this interesting trail on one of her adventures in Yosemite. I can’t wait to go back! As I continue to return to reality after hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, I am still in a bit of bewilderment. I can’t believe I hiked a trail and climbed to a place that only a set number of people have been. This is one extraordinary feeling and one I will never forget.
Park Information and Details
Yosemite National Park
PO Box 577
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Phone: (209) 372-0200
- Yosemite Valley
- Glacier Point / Wawona / Mariposa Grove
- Yosemite Wild Places
- Half Dome
- Hetch Hetchy
- El Capitan
- Hiking Yosemite National Park
- Camping: Reservations are required March through November for Yosemite National Park campgrounds. Some are first-come, first served. For campground reservations, visit recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777.