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  • Writer's pictureKatie McGuire

So You're Gonna Hike Half Dome (PART 2): What You Need to Know on the Hike

Hey, y'all!

So you've read PART 1 where I share what you need to know BEFORE the hike & you're feeling a little more prepared to plan for your trip! Yay! You've made your way over here to PART 2, & are now ready to learn what you need to know ON the hike! Let me just say, this is the post that I wish I had before making the trek. While I was on my journey, there were many times where I was I like, "Dang, I wish I knew that beforehand." So I collected mental notes of those things to share with you here in this post! You're welcome, haha.

Here's what you'll find:

3. Safety

So, without further ado, let's get into it! Here's what you need to know on the hike!


On the Summit of Half Dome, 2020
  • Distance: Around 17 miles roundtrip from trailhead to trailhead, by way of the Mist Trail.

  • Difficulty: Strenuous.

  • Time: 10-15+ hours (depending on preparedness & other factors).

  • Elevation: Half Dome sits about 4,800 ft above the valley floor, which is a total of 8,842 feet above sea level. That's a pretty big elevation gain!

  • Starting location: Happy Isles. We were unable to book a campsite in the Upper Pines Campground, so the closest we could get to the trailhead was the Curry Village parking lot, which is about a mile to the trailhead.

  • Starting time: 3:00-4:00am

Here's a map that I made highlighting key areas of the hike, including water & restroom facilities:

Half Dome Trail Map


Here you'll find a lot of helpful information about the hike, including where to pee, where to fill up your water & how far each key marker is on your journey (as well as how much elevation gain takes place along the way). This hike is strenuous, & because of the elevation gain, even a simple 0.2 miles can be exhausting.

The Mist & John Muir Junction Outhouse (Nevada Falls)


If you're anything like me, the fewer times I have to bare all & squat over a hole, the better. Here are all the locations that you can use the restroom along the hike:

  • At the start of your journey, before crossing the Happy Isles Bridge there is a restroom facility.

  • At the Vernal Falls Bridge at the start of the Mist Trail, there is a restroom facility.

  • At the top of Nevada Falls, on the left from the trail up, you'll find the Mist & John Muir Junction Outhouse (pictured here).

  • At the campsite in Little Yosemite Valley is the last restroom facility before climbing Half Dome. This is about 3 miles from there. That means it'll be hours before you can sit on a pot again, so take advantage of it!

The tree we peed behind before hiking up Sub Dome. Classy, I know.
  • When desperate times call for desperate measures, it's time to find a tree to hide behind. Make sure you're following the Leave No Trace rules when digging a hole & disposing of your toilet paper (in PART 1 I recommend double bagging ziplocks to hold your used paper). There are some good places to hide out before hiking up Sub Dome. We found a spot deep to the left of the trail, right before the base of Sub Dome.

When it comes to water, you want to make sure that you're bringing MORE than a gallon of water each! This might sound like a crazy amount, but TRUST ME, not having enough water on you can be dangerous. Trying to "conserve" your water to make it last you the whole trip is just as bad as finishing it in the first few hours. You want to make sure that you're fueling your body with enough water to function properly! Dehydration is no joke on this trek. Trust me, I experienced it—Because I was afraid of running out of water, I didn't drink enough throughout the day. I brought a gallon of water & it didn't end up being enough. If you come across this problem, be more prepared than I was & bring water treatment so you can fill up along the way (I talk more about this in PART 1).

Where to fill up your water:

  • The ONLY water fill up station is at the Vernal Falls bridge, just a mile into the hike.

  • If you're in need of water further in the hike, you can fill up at the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley. You NEED to treat the water first, before drinking it!

NOTE—On the map I made of the trail, it includes where the outhouses & water fill-ups are on the hike, so be sure to use it!

If you run out of water on the trail, this is the place to get it: The Merced River, in Little Yosemite Valley. Don't forget to treat it before drinking!!!


Walking up the steep stairs of the Mist Trail in the dark hours of the morning.

To get to the cables, you'll start at Happy Isles & go by way of the Mist Trail—This will lead you up steep stairs to the top of Vernal Falls.


  • 1 mile, with a 541 feet elevation gain from the valley floor.


  • About 0.5 a mile of steep stairs, with a gain of about 561 ft. (1,083 ft. from the valley floor). Depending on what time of the year you're doing this hike, it can be slippery. They don't call it the mist trail for nothing!


  • About 0.2 miles, and 125 ft gain (Which is about 1,211 ft. from the valley floor).

Switchback stairs on the way up to Nevada Falls


  • On the trek from the bridge at the base of Nevada Falls to the top of Nevada Falls, you'll make your way through a lot of switchbacks (pictured). It's about 0.7 miles with an 896 ft elevation gain (close to 2,077 ft from the valley floor).

After ascending the switchbacks to the top, you'll make your way from there through Little Yosemite Valley.


  • From the Mist & John Muir Junction Outhouse at the top of Nevada Falls, to the Little Yosemite Valley campsite restrooms it's about a 1.1 mile hike with 220ft. gain in elevation (2,257 from the valley floor).


  • 1.3 miles, with an 860ft gain (3,104 feet from valley floor). There are quite a few switchbacks on this part of the trail, so be prepared for that.


  • From the trailhead to Sub Dome, you'll come across more switchbacks, stretching about 1.6 miles, the gain in elevation at this part is 1,102 ft (4,206ft from the valley floor).

The stairs of Sub Dome. The sign, at the base, is where you'll find a Ranger.


At the base of Sub Dome is where you'll find a Park Ranger. They'll be checking your permits at this point in the hike. If you are without a permit, this is where your hike ends.

The hike up Sub Dome is steep & pretty intense, with lots of stairs & switchbacks (pictured).

  • From Sub Dome to the Cables of Half Dome, it's about 0.1 miles with 354 ft. elevation gain (4,541 ft. from the valley floor).


The climb up Half Dome on the cables is about, 0.1 miles, but with an elevation gain of 312 ft. This brings a total of just over 4,800 ft in gain from the valley floor, which is 8,842 ft. above sea level at the Summit of the rock.

Climbing the cables is intense & no joke. If you plan your hike early enough, you'll beat the crowds that form on the cables (it can typically get congested around 10-11am). With circumstances that were outside of our control, we weren't able to make it to the cables early enough to climb them alone—which ended up actually being a good thing for me. About a third of the way up the cables I started to freak out a little on the inside (like I said, the cables are no joke). But the hiking community is absolutely incredible—everyone is so caring & encouraging which is just what I needed in those terrifying moments. The conversations & encouragements

from the people on the cables is what kept me going.

Those who were coming down from the top who had to pass me were so encouraging—I heard things like, "You're doing great, keep going! You've got this!" and, "Just a little ways more!" and, "Once you make it to the top it's worth it! And coming down is easier!"

I gotta say, I don't think coming down is all that easier, I would say they're both equally awful, haha.

Everyone was so kind & helpful; it was a community of people looking out for each other, making sure everyone was safe & secured. I personally benefited from having others on the cables with me, even though it takes a lot longer to climb.


  • Take Your Time: Make sure to spend a solid amount of time on the Summit of Half Dome! You just conquered a pretty crazy feat! Take in the victory. Enjoy the moment. (Also make sure to allot enough time to get back down the mountain).

  • Make Memories: Take all the pictures, videos & make all the memories! This is (for most) a once in a lifetime opportunity. Get the shots you want!

  • Rest & Fuel Up: You're now officially halfway through your hike. Make sure you're resting & fueling up before the climb back down.


Safety is the most important thing on any hike (especially this one), & it starts before you hike it.

  • PREPARE WELL: If your body isn't ready for a 17+ mile hike with a 4,800 ft elevation gain, don't go. Give yourself enough time to train & prepare your body for the hike. I've heard of ripped dudes saying it kicked their butt. Prepare well!

  • PACK WELL: Bring enough water & food to fuel your body. Bring water treatment in case you run out of water. Prepare yourself for an emergency with a first-aid kit, emergency blanket & shelter.

  • PACE YOURSELF, but DON'T GET STUCK: You know your body, so make sure you're pacing yourself & saving your energy. If your hike is later in the year, like the beginning of October, be aware of how many hours of daylight you have. We ended up starting & finishing our hike in the dark. Make sure you're starting early enough (3-4am) to give yourself plenty of time to complete the hike at a decent hour. Like I mentioned in PART 1, maybe even consider backpacking & doing this hike in multiple days.

  • BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. For the hours that you're hiking in the dark, consider a Bear Bell. This will help you when you can't be totally aware of your surroundings; alerting bears of your whereabouts, when you don't know theirs, so they'll be shooed away. Nothing like having a peace of mind while hiking in the dark.

  • WEATHER: Keeping weather in mind is so important when preparing to hike Half Dome. If it's raining or storming on the day of your hike, DO NOT GO. It is unsafe to climb the cables when the rock is slippery. You also run the risk of being struck by lightening when hanging onto the cables. Most deaths on the cables happen during bad weather.

  • SCARED OF HEIGHTS? Maybe don't choose Half Dome to be the event you attempt to conquer your fears. Climbing Half Dome is not only a physical hurtle, but it's a mental one as well. You're the only one who can carry yourself up or down the cables, which means if you start the climb, you have to finish it. You know yourself. DON'T PUSH YOURSELF.

  • IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY: We had pretty good cell reception throughout the majority of the hike (I don't know if this is normal), so calling 911 should be easy to do if you find yourself in need of help. In the case that you may need Search & Rescue, keep in mind that they don't do searches after dark. If you find yourself in a situation where you can't keep hiking & it's dark, prepare to stay on the mountain. If you can, call 911 to let them know your whereabouts for when dawn comes. This is where having an emergency blanket & shelter comes in handy. On the way down, we ran into some issues & thought we were going to have to stay the night on the mountain, but we weren't prepared for that. We had to weigh our safety options & decided to push through the night with some minor injuries. We wish we would have had an emergency shelter as an option.


If hiking Half Dome is on your bucket list, start preparing now! Start gathering the gear you need (I asked for specific things for Christmas & my birthday). Start preparing your body physically. Ask friends & family if they're down to join your team. Set a reminder for March to apply for permits. Print out the Half Dome Check List in PART 1. Reread these blogs!

You can do this. So start planning now!

I hope these notes are helpful to you as you prepare for your trip! If you have any questions or if you've done the hike yourself & have tips you'd like to share, please feel free to comment below!

Safe travels to you, friend!

P.S. You can watch my vlog of our hike here!

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