Applying for a Half Dome Permit

Despite the effort it takes to get to Half Dome, this is the most popular hike in Yosemite National Park. The nearly 17-mile hike to the top of Half Dome (8,844 feet) gains an elevation of 4,800 feet and is definitely an endurance challenge. Reaching the summit of Half Dome involves a nearly vertical ascent up the actual dome (400 feet) via cables, which are two metal cables held up by a series of metal poles and wood planks affixed to the granite rock itself.  It’s both a thrilling and heart-stopping experience! 

This blog post provides all the details on the permit process, which is one of the most important steps of planning for this hike. To learn more or plan your own hike to the summit of this iconic peak in Yosemite, read my Half Dome Hike blog post

WHAT YOU’LL FIND IN THIS BLOG POST?

WHAT IS A HALF DOME PERMIT?

To reduce congestion and protect the wilderness area surrounding Half Dome, Yosemite instituted a permit process in 2012. While a permit is not needed to day hike much of the trail leading up to Half Dome, hiking the subdome and the cable route to the summit requires a permit seven days a week when the cables are up (late May through mid-October).  

This blog post provides information on both permit systems for Hiking Half Dome:

  • Day Hiking Permits, which is for hikers attempting a Half Dome summit within a day without camping along the route on the way to the summit or back. These permits are awarded through one preseason lottery. If there are any unused/canceled permits, they are awarded through the in-season lottery two days prior to the hike. 
  • Wilderness (backpacking) Permits are for backpackers even if it’s just one night in Little Yosemite Campground. These permits are awarded via weekly preseason lotteries starting in November and ending in May. A portion of the permits are released on a first come, first-serve basis as well. An extremely limited number of permits (unused/canceled) are available on a first-come, first-serve basis on the morning of the hike at a Yosemite wilderness center. 

GENERAL INFORMATION & OTHER REGULATIONS

The Half Dome hiking season begins when the cables go up (typically the Friday before Memorial Day) and when it comes down (second Monday in October). Hiking beyond the subdome without a permit when the cables are up will result in a fine up to $5,000 and/or 6-months in jail. 

Day hikers and backpackers must bring their ID and permit with them on the hike. The ranger at the subdome will check both and the ID must match the name of the trip leader and/or alternate leader on the permit. 

Yosemite charges an entrance fee ($30 for a car and good for seven consecutive days, $60 for an annual pass to Yosemite, or $80 for an annual interagency pass that gives you access to all areas managed by the National Park Service). This is separate from the fees related to the Half Dome and wilderness permit fees described below and every visitor must pay this fee. 

Yosemite also requires a vehicle reservation to enter or drive through the park during peak hours (6 AM – 4 PM) between May 20 and September 30. However, this reservation is not needed for hikers with a permit for Half Dome for the duration of the reservation (ID must match the name on the permit), but you will need a reservation for dates outside this range. 

DAY HIKE PERMIT

A day hike permit allows hikers to summit Half Dome in a day without camping along the trail. The majority of the hike to Half Dome is going uphill with very few flat areas. While the day hike is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite, it is strenuous so be prepared for it! Below is a summary of the day hike permit process (updated in June 2022). Yosemite’s website has more detailed information. 

HOW DOES THE DAY HIKE PERMIT SYSTEM WORK & WHEN SHOULD YOU APPLY? 

The pre-season lottery for day hike permits opens on March 1 and closes on March 31. The results are announced in mid-April. You are likely to have a better chance of securing a permit in the middle of the week after Labor Day. To help guide your date selection, Yosemite provides permit request statistics from the previous hiking season. 

There is also a daily lottery to award unused/canceled permits. Daily lottery requests must be submitted at least two days in advance of the hike date. The application period opens at 12 AM and closes at 4 PM (PDT). The result of the daily lottery is available the evening of the day you applied. 

HOW DO YOU APPLY FOR THE DAY HIKE PERMIT?

All permit applications are processed on recreation.gov.  The trip leader and alternate leaders must have a recreation.gov account. 

Applications must include a trip leader and it is best to list an alternate leader as well. Either the trip leader or the alternate leader must be present on the hike for the permits to be valid. Otherwise the permit for the entire group is canceled. 

A person can be listed as a trip leader or alternate leader in only one application (i.e., you cannot be listed as a trip leader in one application and an alternate leader in a separate application). An applicant can apply for up to six permits in one application (i.e., groups cannot be larger than six people including the trip leader and alternate leader). The trip leader/alternate leaders cannot be changed after the application is submitted. 

A permit can specify several specific dates or range of dates, but the permit will be awarded only to the highest priority date that is available. 

WHAT IS THE COST OF THE PERMIT?

The application fee is $10 and is nonrefundable, regardless of whether you succeed or not in the lottery. There will be an additional $10/per person fee, if you are successful in obtaining a permit.  For example, if you are planning to hike Half Dome with two friends, the total cost of the permit will be $40 ($10 application fee + $30 for three hikers). You’ll have two weeks from the day you’re notified of your successful application to pay the second per person fee. If you cancel 24 hours before the start date, the per person fee ($30 from example above) will be refunded. 

WILDERNESS (BACKPACKING) PERMIT

A wilderness permit allows hikers to summit Half Dome as part of a multi-day trip, including spending the night at Little Yosemite Campground before tackling the dome itself the next day. I completed my Half Dome hike as a backpacking trip and it was definitely the right decision for me. Below is a summary of the process for securing a backpacking permit. Yosemite’s website has more detailed information. 

HOW DOES THE WILDERNESS (BACKPACKING) PERMIT SYSTEM WORK?

If you want to summit Half Dome as a backpacking trip (including camping overnight at Little Yosemite Campground) and you start your trip at an eligible trailhead, you only need to apply for the wilderness permit. On the day you pick up the permit, you can add and pay the fee to hike Half Dome. This change to the backpacking process took effect during the 2022 season. The eligible trailheads are: 

  • Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley
  • Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley
  • Happy Isles past LYV (Donohue pass eligible)
  • Sunrise Lakes
  • Cathedral Lakes
  • Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang
  • Mono Meadow

For backpacking trips starting on any other trailhead including points outside Yosemite (e.g., starting the John Muir Trail outside Yosemite), you must apply for a day hike permit via the preseason lottery. Hikers can combine any wilderness permit with a day hike permit to Half Dome. 

You are likely to have a better chance of securing a permit in the middle of the week after Labor Day. I applied for my permit the week after Labor Day and got my first choice date for a group of four. 

WHEN SHOULD YOU APPLY FOR THE WILDERNESS (BACKPACKING) PERMIT? 

Backpackers can apply for a wilderness permit via the weekly preseason lottery 24 weeks (6 months) in advance of the start date. Yosemite awards 60% of the permits during this pre-season lottery reservation process. There’s a weekly lottery for these reservations that starts in mid November and ends in early May. 

The remaining 40% of the permits (and any unused permits from the pre-season weekly lottery) are available online at 7 AM PDT on a first-come, first serve basis from 22-weeks to 7-days prior to the start of the trip. All reservations must be made 3-days prior to the start date. 

Hikers can also pick up any unreserved permits for a same-day hike in-person at a wilderness center. Wilderness centers are open from 8 AM to 5 PM. Park entrance reservation system applies to hikers picking up a same-day permit (i.e., you must have a reservation to enter Yosemite during peak hours (6 AM to 4 PM daily) or enter during non-peak hours. The number of same-day hike permits are extremely limited. 

HOW DO YOU APPLY FOR THE WILDERNESS (BACKPACKING) PERMIT?

All permit applications are processed on recreation.gov.  The trip leader and alternate leaders must have a recreation.gov account. 

Only one application is allowed for each weekly lottery and each application can include up to seven dates. While there are no limits on the number of wilderness permit reservations for the year, Yosemite only allows six active reservations at a time. 

Each group can only submit one application for the group (e.g., you can’t apply as the group leader in one application and the alternate leader in another application with the same group of people). Each group is allowed to list three alternate leaders. Neither the trip leader nor alternate trip leaders can be changed after the application has been submitted. 

Groups are limited to six people, including the trip leader. 

WHAT IS THE COST OF THE PERMIT?

The application fee is $10 and is nonrefundable, regardless of whether you succeed or not in the lottery. There will be an additional $5/per person fee for the wilderness permit (must be paid by the Thursday after the successful result notification) and $10/per person fee for Half Dome (paid in person when you pick up your permit).  For example, if you are planning to backpack Half Dome with two friends, the total cost of the permit will be $55 ($10 application fee + $15 per person wilderness permit fee and $30 per person permit for Half Dome). The per person wilderness permit is refundable if you cancel the trip 24 hours before the start date. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? 

The pre-season backpacking lottery results are announced the Monday following the day of application. Successful permits applications must be accepted by that Thursday, otherwise the permit will be canceled.  

Hikers must pick up the wilderness permits in person day of or day before the hike at a permit issuing station in Yosemite. Remember to request the Half Dome permit when picking up the wilderness permit and pay the additional $10/per person fee. 

If you plan to pick up the permit after 11 AM on the day your hike starts, it must be marked for late pick up via recreation.gov or the permit will be canceled. The option to mark a late pick will be available only one week before the start date – open the reservation, select modify reservation, and then mark yes for late pick up. 

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