15 Jan How to Get Permits for Hiking The Half Dome Summit
Advice from Experts on How to Get a Half Dome Permit
Summiting Half Dome made simple:
A cheat-sheet from the guides who do it most
Featured image by Dimitri Sagatov
Getting Past the Permits
Hiking to the summit of Half Dome is on your bucket list, but the permitting process seems as intimidating as the climb. But with thousands of Half Dome summits on our guide service resume, we’re here to tell you: It’s well worth the process!
Lucky for the guests of our guided Half Dome adventures, we provide the permits, along with knowledgeable and fun guides!
If you’re trying to DIY, there are a few pieces of critical info you need to know, and local advice can a long way. As the only guide service that’s operated exclusively in Yosemite for 23 years, we know the process better than most. Here’s the rundown on how to apply for Half Dome hiking.
Understanding the Permit Process
Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days a week as long as the cables are up. The need for these permits stems from the Half Dome Stewardship Plan, an institution created to protect wilderness character, reduce crowding, protect natural and cultural resources, and improve safety.
When are Half Dome permits required?
The National Park service begins requiring permits for the Half Dome summit only after the cables—a system of handrails that runs the final 400 feet to the summit—are secured and in service, allowing for a safer ascent up the granite slab. The cables usually go up around Memorial Day in May, after the snow has thawed, and come down again in October around Columbus Day, marking the end of the Half Dome season as inclement weather approaches.
What type of Half Dome permit do I need?
The Park Service offers two different permit types for summiting Half Dome, one for day hikers and another for backpackers. If you aim to do the day hike—a strenuous, 17-mile roundtrip trek from Yosemite Valley up Mist Trail with 4,800 feet of elevation gain—more power to you! For that, you’ll need a day hike permit, which involves entering the lottery rather than applying for a Half Dome permit with your wilderness permit as backpackers do.
Half Dome Permits for Day Hikers
Day hike permits don’t include any camping, lodging, or overnight accommodations of any kind. They’re administered through a lottery system with only 225 available each day, so there’s a degree of luck involved. If you do get lucky enough to snag one, be sure to bring photo IDs for the trip leader and alternate trip leader, and the email confirmation indicating that the permit has been paid.
How to enter the lottery for a Half Dome day hike permit:
Permits for day hikers are distributed through a lottery via Recreation.gov, with the preseason lottery application period running throughout March and daily lotteries during the hiking season. Backpackers, including those who plan to spend the night in Little Yosemite Valley, should apply for Half Dome permits with their wilderness permit rather than using this process.
Preseason lottery: Entering the lottery ahead of time
During the preseason lottery, 225 permits are available for each day. The application period for this lottery is from March 1 through March 31 (eastern time). Applicants receive an email with lottery results in mid-April, or can get results online or by calling Recreation.gov. We are planning on the Half Dome cables being up May 24, 2020 through October 15, 2020, but these dates could change based on conditions.
On each preseason lottery application, an applicant can apply for up to six permits (six people) and for specific dates or a range of dates. Applications will only be successful if the number of permits requested is available on at least one of the requested dates. If enough permits are available for more than one of the requested dates, permits are automatically awarded to the highest priority date, as entered by the applicant.
The park service gives out roughly 50 permits each day by lottery during the hiking season. These permits are available based on the estimated rate of under-use and cancellation of permits (the exact number may change through the summer). The daily lotteries have an application period two days prior to the hiking date with a notification late that night, and he application period is from midnight to 1 pm Pacific time daily.. So, to hike on Saturday, you would apply no later than 1 pm on Thursday and receive an email notification of results late on Thursday night (results are also available online, or by phone the next morning). To apply, go to recreation.gov and search for ‘Half Dome’.
NOTE: Daily lottery applications only allow each person to apply once. So if you’re going with a group, you each need to apply to maximize your chances.
TIP: If you have flexibility on which days to hike Half Dome, these graphs show how popular different days are. In general, your chances of success are higher on weekdays (especially beginning at the end of August). For the entire 2018 season, average success rate on weekdays was 47%, but only 24% on weekends.
Half Dome Permits for Backpackers
Even if you’re a multi-day backpacker going for a wilderness permit, you’ll need to apply for a permit specifically to hike Half Dome along with your wilderness permit. The quota for Half Dome permits for backpackers is now 75 permits per day (50 available by reservation and 25 available one day in advance on a first-come, first-served basis at wilderness centers). Half Dome permits cost $10 per person, which can be paid at any wilderness center the day of or day before your trip. Note: they’re not refundable if you chicken out!
Reservations for Wilderness Permits & Half Dome Permits
While making a wilderness permit reservation, be sure to specify that you want to add Half Dome permits. If Half Dome permits are available and Half Dome is within your trip’s itinerary, you will receive a reservation that includes them. Half Dome permits received in this way will be valid for any dates your wilderness permit is valid, so you can summit once at any point along your journey.
First-come, First-Served Wilderness Permits & Half Dome Permits
If you don’t reserve a wilderness permit in advance, you can head to a wilderness center try for a first-come, first-served wilderness permit, beginning at 11 am one day prior to your backpacking trip’s start date. When requesting a wilderness permit for a trip beginning in Yosemite using this method, be sure to request Half Dome permits as well, and you will receive them if they are available and Half Dome is within your itinerary’s path. As with reserved permits, Half Dome permits received this way will be valid for one summit attempt any time your wilderness permit is valid. These permits are very popular, so if you really want to do Half Dome on a backpacking trip, you’ll need to go early!
Half Dome Permits are Only Available from Yosemite National Park
Wilderness permits issued outside of Yosemite are not valid for hiking Half Dome. If you’re a through hiker starting your backpacking trip outside of Yosemite, you’ll need to apply for a new Trailhead Permit with Half Dome permits from the wilderness center, which can be acquired using the lotteries. There are no exceptions to this rule (Cottonwood Lakes or Pass wilderness permits no longer include Half Dome permits.)
Half Dome permits associated with wilderness permits are not valid for day hiking to Half Dome. If you have a wilderness permit and were unable to get Half Dome permits for your trip, you may compete in the Half Dome permit lotteries. However, Half Dome permits received by lottery are only valid on the date specified on the Half Dome permit. If you have a wilderness permit but were unable to get Half Dome permits, you may also try for a first-come, first-served Half Dome permit, as described above. If you have a Half Dome permit, you may attempt to get a wilderness permit to coincide with your Half Dome permit (but you won’t receive any preference in obtaining a wilderness permit, and your Day Hike permit will only be valid for the day listed).
How to Apply for a Permit
To apply for a permit, visit Recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777 (call center is open from 7 am to 9 pm Pacific time; online requests can be made any time during a lottery period). Or just call Lasting Adventures, and we’ll get you set up on one of our permitted trips!
SEE YOU ON THE SUMMIT!
Leave the permits to us and join our Half Dome in a Day hike!
A guided multi-day adventure to three iconic peaks, Half Dome included!
Blog: One day hike client’s experience standing proud on top of Half Dome!