JMT Side Trip: Half Dome

We won the lottery – again!

We should really start thinking about buying some PowerBall tickets… After being in the 3% of applicants who were granted Yosemite JMT permits, we now join only 30% of applicants who were awarded Half Dome permits in the preseason lottery!


Half Dome is an iconic mountain in Yosemite Valley. Its unique shape and challenging route have earned it a place on many hiker’s bucket lists – ours included.


John Muir Trail hopefuls can apply for Half Dome permits on their thru-hike permit application. We did this, but were denied on our initial try. After we secured our JMT permits, we looked for alternate ways to hike Half Dome, and discovered the Preseason lottery.


The Lottery Process

Just like the John Muir Trail itself, Half Dome’s popularity has threatened the natural resources surrounding it. As a result, Yosemite National Park has implemented a permit system to limit the amount of hikers per day on Half Dome.

Day use permits are granted through a Preseason lottery system on The lottery is open through the month of March, and awarded applicants are announced in April. Roughly 225 day hike permits are granted per day.

In addition to the Preseason lottery, a daily In-Season lottery allows for up to 50 additional day use permits, based on cancellations. More detail on the lottery process can be found here.

We submitted Preseason applications for our group in March, and crossed our fingers until April, when we received email notification that applicants had been drawn. We signed into our account to find THIS!

hd permit
Success, again!


Woohoo! We will summit Half Dome on August 3rd, three days before our official JMT start at Lyell Canyon. We are hopeful that we will be able to link this day hike with a backpacking permit (available on a walk-up basis) connecting Yosemite Valley to Lyell Canyon.  This will allow us to complete the first 20 miles of the classic JMT route that we would otherwise miss when starting  downtrail at Lyell Canyon.

Left to right: 1. Trailhead from Yosemite Valley; 2. Half Dome; 3. Walk-up permit section (first 20 miles of JMT); 4. Our JMT start point at Lyell Canyon.


The Hike

The hike to the top of Half Dome is not for the faint of heart. The 14 mile round trip from Yosemite Valley gains 4,800 feet of elevation, the last 400 of which are on an exposed granite face. The full round trip can take up to 12 hours, but can be shortened if you have an overnight backpacking permit, which allows you to camp at the nearby Little Yosemite Valley Backpacker’s Campground.

The first part of the hike climbs out of Yosemite Valley and past famous landmarks such as Vernal and Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap.

Vernal Falls
nevada liberty cap
Nevada Falls, with Liberty Cap and Half Dome in the distance


Once  you ascend out of the valley and onto the Sub Dome, this is where the fun really begins (and permits are checked)!. From here, hikers ascend the last 400 feet on a 45 degree sheer rock face, a route deemed impossible until metal cables were installed as handholds. Wooden boards are spaced every 15 feet along the cable route as additional footholds. Hikers must climb hand-over-hand between the cables until they reach the summit.

hd cables


Once you reach the top, you will be granted with a view of the entire Yosemite Valley!



Though this hike is undeniably strenuous, there are no limitations on who can obtain permits. People of all ages and abilities attempt this hike every year! As for any hike, preparation is key – we plan to purchase climbing gloves to wear while ascending the cables, as they provide better grip and protection.


Making this side trip even better will be the company of our good friends Jess and Steve, who will be joining us for the Yosemite portion of our JMT adventure. We can’t wait to share this with them, and have them see us off as we continue along the John Muir Trail!

jess and steve




Image Sources: 1 4 5 6 7 8


3 thoughts on “JMT Side Trip: Half Dome

  1. EEEEEE!!!! This is how excited I am about this. I love how you explained every step of the way, making lazy people like me truly grasp the amount of luck, hard work, and preparation that has gone into all of this. The dome ascent itself would make a trip like this worth if for me.


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