Want to hike to the summit of Yosemite’s Half Dome? Here’s how to get a Half Dome permit, tricks for getting a permit at the last minute, and what to do if you don’t get one at all.
BY ANN FABRIZIO
WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO ARON FABRIZIO AND JUSTIN GALIETTI
Headed to Yosemite National Park?
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might be planning on hiking Half Dome, one of the park’s most iconic rocky peaks.
But before you hit the trail, you’re going to need a permit.
DO YOU really NEED A PERMIT FOR HALF DOME?
You can hike the trail towards Half Dome with no permit, but once you get to the subdome (2 miles before the dome) you need a permit to continue on up.
What if you, like us, arrive at Yosemite without a Half Dome permit, but know that you simply MUST HIKE HALF DOME?
There’s still hope. Keep reading to find out how you can legally get to the top.
WHY REQUIRE PERMITS?
Permits are required to protect the wilderness, reduce crowds, and improve safety.
The Half Dome cables are in place from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, and while the cables are there, the National Park Service limits the number of hikers on Half Dome to 300 (or fewer) per day.
What If I Try to Hike Half Dome Without a Permit?
The park rangers mean serious business.
They check and double check for people who try to sneak in without a permit. I actually have some sympathy for those rangers who make this beautifully exhausting hike every morning only to chase people around for tickets.
If you’re caught trying to sneak in illegally, you’re risking a $5k fine or 6-month jail time.
Keep in mind the permit itself is inexpensive (most of the options below will require a $10 permit application fee, plus a $10 fee per person if you actually get the permit), it’s simply that getting a permit requires a little effort.
Half Dome Permit Option 1: The PreSeason Lottery
The preseason lottery for Half Dome permits happens each year in March.
You have from March 1 through March 31 to apply, and then you find out whether or not you got a permit in mid-April.
There are 225 day-hiking permits available for each day of the season, and each permit can be for up to six people. To maximize your chances of winning, try choosing a weekday to hike instead of a weekend.
We completely missed this opportunity, since we planned a last-minute September trip.
Permit Option #2: Apply with a Backpacking Permit
The park service reserves 225 slots per day for day hikers, and 75 slots per day for backpackers.
If your plans to get a day hiking permit didn’t work, and you’re wondering how to get the permit another way, you can try applying for a Half Dome permit along with a backpacking wilderness permit.
Besides, if you’re looking for adventure, going backpacking in Yosemite is a good way to make that happen!
Permit Option #3: The Daily Lottery
There’s also the daily lottery with a nonrefundable $10 per application. You pay the fee even if you don’t get the permit.
To apply for the daily lottery permit, you apply two days before you want to hike, and find out later in the day if you got a permit.
We tried the daily lottery three times to no avail.
Permit Option #4: Beg
Since none of our other permit options worked out, our only option was to become trail beggars.
That’s right, we got up early, laced up our hiking boots, and started hiking towards Half Dome without a permit.
As we hiked, we attempted to charm our way into joining a group.
While we don’t recommend this route, it was well worth taking the chance that someone would have mercy on our hopeful souls.
Each day permit has up to six spots.
Usually, everyone in a group fully intends to go all the way to the top of Half Dome until they are confronted with the dome.
At that point, we were hoping to give someone a good excuse (with no shame) to opt out and pass his or her ticket onto us.
Happily, we found a wonderful group of hikers who had two spots open on their permit, and they let us join them.
Your permit group must be together at the first checkpoint at the bottom of the dome, so if you’ve opted to be a trail beggar (like we were), you need to find a group before passing the checkpoint.
Option #5: Hike a Different Trail
If you didn’t get a permit, it’s okay!
There are other trails in the park besides Half Dome.
There are even other domes!
If you don’t want to try begging for a permit, try hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, and then continue to North Dome instead of Half Dome.
If you headed out on the trail towards Half Dome without a permit, and your attempts to join a group fail, you did not waste your time!
Simply continue hiking past Half Dome to Clouds Rest, one of the prettiest lookouts in Yosemite.