The Best Yosemite Summits Without a Permit
By: Otto Ross
No Half Dome Permit? No Problem! While Half Dome is certainly an iconic Yosemite destination, acquiring permits in the lottery can be an arduous and frustrating ordeal. Here are five amazing summits in Yosemite National Park that allow you to skip the permit process but still take in the most amazing hiking and views Yosemite National Park has to offer.
However, in case you’re not convinced by the end of this list to give up your Half Dome summit bid, let us help you get your permits for a Half Dome Day Hike or, even better beat the crowds and join us on a Half Dome Backpacking Trip!
- Trailhead: Sunrise Creek Trailhead: May Lake Parking
- Length: 6-8 hours Length: 4-6 hours
- Mileage: 11 miles Mileage: 6 miles
- Elevation Gain: ~2,700 ft. Elevation Gain: ~2,000 ft
- Highest Point: 10,850 ft. Highest Point: 10,850 ft.
One of the best day hikes in Yosemite, Mt. Hoffman is the geographical center of Yosemite and just a 6-mile round trip hike from the May Lake Parking Lot just off Highway 120. Famed as John Muir’s favorite location in Yosemite, Mount Hoffman provides a 360-degree perspective of the entire park including incredible views of Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, the Clark Range, the Cathedral Range and Tuolumne’s High Country, and of the park’s northern borders. From the top, it is easy to understand why this huge exfoliating mountain was John Muir’s favorite view. The naturalist once wrote of his experience ascending the peak: “Ramble to the summit of Mt. Hoffman, eleven thousand feet high, the highest point in life’s journey my feet have yet touched. And what glorious landscapes are about me –a glory day of admission into a new realm of wonders as if Nature had wooingly whispered, ‘Come higher.’”
In addition to Hoffman’s incomparable summit, this hike also takes hikers past the pristine, blue May Lake, a chilly, high alpine lake at 9,329′ before heading up and away from the lake and above tree-line to the base of the rock-boulders that make up the last, exciting 150 vertical foot moderately steep scramble up granitic boulders to the peak. With the reputation of John Muir on the line, this is a gem just as exhilarating and beautiful as hiking up Half Dome.
Want to learn more about John Muir and take the easiest path through the scramble to the summit to Hoffman? Find out more about the Mt. Hoffman Day Hike.
- Trailhead: Sunrise Lakes Trailhead
- Length: 8-12 hours
- Mileage: 14.5
- Rating: Strenuous
- Elevation Gain: ~2,000 ft.
- High Point: 9,926 ft.
Clouds Rest is the taller neighbor of Half Dome, a massive fin located immediately to the North. When looking at Half Dome from the valley, you can see Clouds Rest immediately to the left. As Clouds Rest is actually about a thousand feet higher elevation than Half Dome at 9,926’and provides more of a line drive view down Yosemite Valley, almost everyone agrees that it offers a better than Half Dome!
This hike begins on the Western shore of the beautiful Tenaya Lake, a great place to swim and wade in the summer heat. From Sunrise Trailhead parking the trail begins at an elevation of about 8,150 and the first 1.5 miles is gradual before miles 1.5-2.5 which offers one of the more difficult climbs of the day. The reward at the top of this first climb is an awesome hidden viewpoint down the length of Tenaya Canyon seeing the valley in the distance past both Clouds Rest and Half Dome.
The next few miles are a combination of some downhill and gradual uphill before the last climb to the summit. Views of the high country on this less crowded trail are abundant. The last 1/4 mile or so to the summit we call the ‘Spine”. The Spine is a narrow ridge with a steep drop off to the west of about 4,000 feet and a lesser drop to the east of around 1,000 feet. Although it triggers fear in many, it is less dangerous and a bit easier then the height factor on Half Dome. The reward at the summit is one of the best 360 degree views in the park. From this viewpoint you can see many famous Yosemite icons such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, Mt. Watkins, North Dome, Sentinel Dome, Mount Hoffman, Mount Lyell, Mount Conness, Mount Dana, Merced lake, Tenaya Lake,… and the list goes on.
Worried about taking the “direct route” off one of the sides? Want someone to carry your pack while you scramble the precarious cat walk? Check out more info on the Cloud’s Rest Day Hike or, again, for those looking for even more of an adventure, check out the Cathedral Lakes to Clouds Rest & Half Dome which includes Mt. Hoffman, Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome!
- Trailhead: Tioga Pass Gate
- Length: 5-6 hours
- Mileage: 6 Miles
- Rating: Strenuous
- Elevation Gain: ~3,118 ft.
- High Point: 13,061 ft.
Mount Dana, at 13,061′, is the second highest peak in Yosemite only shy to Mount Lyell at 13,114′. However, many people agree that the Mount Dana hike offers the better view of the two with amazing views at the crest of the Sierras. This strenuous hike rises almost 3,000′ in just over 3-miles, but is simply one of the best of all Yosemite hiking trails!
The first mile passes through moderately flat terrain, trekking through the gorgeous Dana Meadows, a high sierra meadow painted with gorgeous grasses, flowers and crystal-clear meandering streams. Be sure to bring lots of water, for the succeeding two miles is a serious climb, ascending 3000 vertical feet with very little opportunity to refill water. Now begins the toughest part of the day, an intense and thrilling 2-mile ascent to the top of Mount Dana.
Being one of the park’s only non-granitic mountains, lose shale and an indefinite trail make the last mile or so quite an adventure, but highly worth the difficulty. As mentioned earlier, it is easy to lose the trail in the splintering shale, so make sure to keep a look out for the huge stacked rock cairns to lead you to the summit.
Being atop this immense peak offers incredible views west into Tuolumne Meadows’ high country, south towards the Ritter Range outside of park boundaries into Ansel Adams Wilderness, and to the east you will find no greater view of the huge and stunning Mono Lake than from atop this peak. After enjoying the breath-taking views and thin, cool, refreshing air, begin your descent back to where we started. 3000 vertical feet in 2 miles back into Dana Meadows, and a refreshing mile long cool down hike through flat terrain back to the Tioga Pass.
Want some help picking your way through the loose shale without having to worry about getting lost? Check out more info about the Mt. Dana Day Hike!
- Trailhead: Lembert Dome Parking
- Length: 2-3 hours
- Mileage: ~4 Miles
- Rating: Easy-Moderate
- Elevation Gain: ~1,000 ft
- High Point: 9,449 ft.
Sometimes called a “mini Half Dome,” Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows is a great place to practice trekking on shear granite before shooting for Half Dome. This hike begins in the Lembert Dome Parking area where you will often have the opportunity to see rock climbers taking the “short route” up the Western face of the Dome. From the parking area, hikers will circumnavigate Lembert Dome until arriving on the East side of the dome. The trail ascends through a dense wooded area until moving above tree line to the base of the granite dome. The last quarter of a mile is a fun scramble up the slick granite to the summit. At the top, you will be rewarded with one of the most stellar 360 degree views of Tuolumne Meadows, Tuolumne River, Cathedral Peak, Mt. Dana and just about every other feature in the high country. Once you recover from the sheer splendor of the view, there are plenty of areas on the Lembert Dome to scramble around on and explore. On the way back, there is an option to take a short side trail to Dog Lake, a great place to take a quick dip in the summer heat before finishing the hike back to your car. This hike can also be accessed via the Tuolumne Wilderness Center overflow parking, making the hike a bit shorter.
Want some help scrambling to the top of Lembert and then check out some other highlights in Tuolumne Meadows, check out our Yosemite Custom Adventure Day Hike where we can customize a Tuolumne Meadows trip for you that includes Lembert Dome and other highlights!
- Trailhead: Glacier Point Parking Trailhead: Sentinel Dome/Taft Point Parking
- Length: 2-3 hours Length: 1-2 hours
- Mileage: 3 Miles Mileage: 2 Miles
- Rating: Moderate Rating: Easy-Moderate
- Elevation Gain: ~900 ft. Elevation Gain: ~400 feet
High Point: 8,122 ft. High Point: 8,122 ft.
Looking for a more level and easy hike that the entire family will enjoy? Look no further as the Sentinel Dome hike is one of the best and least strenuous Yosemite summits! While you can start this hike from two different traiheads, Glacier Point offers sweeping views of all of Yosemite and awe-inspiring views of the unmatched natural beauty of Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Clouds Rest, Nevada Fall, Yosemite Falls and much more. Even if you go for the shorter hike starting at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point Parking, Glacier Point is certainly worth a visit.
After enjoying a brilliant morning around Glacier Point you’ll start the hike off with a somewhat strenuous, uphill 1.2 miles of the trek, which will bring us to the highest point of the trip at Sentinel Dome’s peak of 8122’. A terrific 360-degree perspective of Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne High Country, and the Clark Range are offered here. From this peak, you can choose to extend your hike by heading toward the Fissures and Taft Point, a mostly downhill and level 2.5 miles descending about 600 vertical feet from Sentinel Dome. Taft Point will provide unmatched views of El Capitan, the world’s eighth largest monolith, Yosemite’s largest waterfall system, 2425’ Yosemite Falls, and much more.
Senitnel Dome is the perfect hike for a family looking for a quick summit day trip!
Want to know which features you’re looking at and the history of the area? Check out more info about the Sentinel Dome, Taft Point Day Hike!
– Happy Hiking –
Otto Ross is the Program Director for Lasting Adventures and he has been guiding in Yosemite for over 3 seasons and thru hiked the full PCT in 2014.