How to prepare for Hiking Half Dome in one day

half_dome_3 Hiking to the summit of the Half Dome in Yosemite National park is one of the most spectacular day-hikes you can do. You’ll see amazing waterfalls, beautiful scenery and lots of nature. The hike is demanding but not technically too difficult. The trail is quite easy to walk until the final ascent to the summit of half dome, but keep in mind that there is a lot of altitude to be gained. About 1600 meters (4800 feet) in total. The total distance depending on the route is about 23-27 km (14-17 miles) and will take about 10-14 hours.

Half Dome

The final 120m (400 ft) ascent to the half dome summit is the hardest, scariest and most difficult part of the hike. The dome is very exposed and can be quite intimidating even for experienced hikers. During the summer season there are two cables attached to the rock surface creating somewhat safer “stairs” that make the final ascent easier. These cables are “down” and just resting on the rock surface during the winter season, so you’ll have to pull yourself up using your hands. This is much more dangerous, so a climbing harness and rope, sling or via ferrata set is highly recommended for attaching yourself to the cable. If you fall or slip without a harness you might end up somewhere several hundreds of meters below. With a harness you will at least be attached to the cables if sliding down. The cables have several points where they are attached to the rock and where a new cable begins. Those points will stop your fall when using a harness. The rock itself is not very slippery when dry but might be quite dangerous if wet.

Half Dome

We did the hike on a beautiful October weekday with the cables down. We did not need a permit and there were only a few other people on the trail. We could also spend the whole time at the summit alone. The hike is more difficult when the cables are down, but there are so many advantages that you might really want to consider it. You will also have much more flexibility if you are not stuck with a pre-selected date on your permit. We had to change our plans due to the first winter storm, but one week later the snows had already melted and the weather was perfect. Finding accommodation at the park outside the busiest summer season is also much easier and a little bit cheaper.

Half Dome

You can find lots of Half Dome information online so we have listed only some of the most important things to consider when planning your hike.


When to go?

– When the cables are up you need a permit 7 days a week. Cables are usually up form the end of May until the mid-October.

– Remember that rain, snow or thunderstorms can mess up your plans even if you have secured a permit.

– During the summer season there will be much more people doing the hike daily.


Are you fit enough?

– The hike is long, at least 10-14 hours with a lot of elevation gain and steps. About 1600 meters (4800 feet) in total.

– When the cables are down the final ascent is hard on the whole body, especially your hands.

– The final ascent using the cables is very exposed and may be intimidating especially if you are scared of heights.


Which trail to take?

– John Muir Trail is a popular option. It is a wide and easy trail, but may also be a bit boring.

– Mist Trail is little bit shorter than the JMT, but has lots of steep steps in the beginning. Mist trail offers the best views to the falls. We went up via Mist Trail and came down the JMT. This is also easier on your knees.

Panorama Trail is a bit longer but with less elevation gain. You can start or end your hike at Glacier Point and connect to the JMT near the Nevada Fall.


What time to start?

– Start as early as you can. It’s good to be at the trail head well before sunrise so you’ll have more time for resting and enjoying the views.

– Prepare to turn back if you are moving too slowly or the weather turns stormy.


What to bring?

If you are doing the hike in one day, the key to success is packing light. Here is our (per person) packing list for the colder October weather:

– 2 litres of water & Gatorade (more if the weather is hot)

– 1 Snickers, 2 Cliff Bars, 2 sandwiches

– Long sleeve t-shirt (for warmth and sun protection)

– Short sleeve t-shirt

– Warm fleece layer (not needed during the hot months)

– Hiking pants

– Waterproof jacket (even if it’s not raining you may get wet from the spray of the waterfalls)

– A hat, warm gloves and a beanie (not needed during the hot months)

– Running shoes with good traction and good hiking socks. Don’t use regular socks if you haven’t done hikes this long in them before.

– Backpack

– Harness, sling and a carabiner

– Gloves for the cables to protect your hands

– Torch or a headlamp

– Trekking poles

– Camera

– Watch

– Mobile phone and a map


Where to stay?

We found affordable and very nice accommodation from Yosemite West, 30 minutes drive from the Valley. The accommodation in the Yosemite Valley can get very crowded during summer and you might have to book well in advance. Camping is also a good option if you are travelling on a tight budget.

– Check this good guide for lodging options in the valley elsewhere in Yosemite


Some experiences by others

Yosemite forum is a valuable resource

Half Dome with Cables Down trip report


See our hike report here:

Hiking Half Dome with Cables Down


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