Treadmill Rating (out of 10):
Distance: 14.2 miles
Max Elevation: 8,842
Arguably the hike to Half Dome, located in Yosemite National Park, is one of the most popular hikes in the world. This is a 14- to 16-mile round-trip hike and requires some serious preparation and physical stamina. You will be gaining about 4,800 feet of elevation for a majority of this hike…meaning its pretty much all up hill. You will see incredible views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and of course Half Dome along the way. Elevation at the top is 8,842 feet.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
A surprising portion of this hike is actually paved. This is not a technical hike, but it is quite steep in certain sections. About a quarter of the way up you will run into a split in the trail, one path for the famous Mist Trail and the other path the longer Muir Trail. I’ve been up to Half Dome about 3 times now and I always pick the Muir Trial. It is about 1.5 miles longer but much easier on the knees, and still quite a challenge. Many people prefer the shorter yet steeper Mist Trail.
Here is the important part: Either way you choose, it’s a long day of hiking up steep grades. You should have plenty of water, good hiking shoes and know when to turn around.
Instead of trying this all in one day, we split this hike up by sleeping in Little Yosemite Valley the first night and then hiking the remaining 3.5 miles up to Half Dome the next morning. Then we make our way back down to the valley floor.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
This is a 9/10 hike for a reason. It is long, steep and requires stamina and physical conditioning. Many people are assisted each year by Park Rangers because they were not prepared for the level of exertion Half Dome requires. You should be prepared both physically and mentally for this challenge. To put this in perspective, I climbed Half Dome last summer with my 11 year old daughter. We did the trip in two days, sleeping in Little Yosemite Valley. I would not have attempted to bring her up in one day, but it was manageable in two on the Muir Trail.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Yosemite National Park is beautiful all year, however, I only climb Half Dome when the cables are up. The cables are down for the winter (typically, from the day after Columbus Day until the weekend before Memorial Day weekend) (check the Park Service’s conditions update for status and any available updates). This is because the rock on Half Dome can become very slick when wet. Personally, of the times I visited the park, the end of July was best. The valley floor is crowded with tourists, but once you pass Vernal Falls, you leave the crowds behind and feel as if you are part of a small group of adventurers. Keep in mind, however, that rain and lightning storms can occur anytime in Yosemite.
I would suggest training for this hike at a minimum of 3 months prior to your hike date. Six months would be optimal. Training on similar hikes is best, but if you don’t have hills where you live, you can train on a treadmill. If you are carrying a pack, you should begin to train with full pack weight about a month out. You are looking to increase your distance and stamina, long hikes with what you plan to carry are best. This will also help you build up confidence for your trip.
One thing I learned after doing this hike several times is to just pace yourself. Get into a comfortable stride (for me it is just slightly slower than my natural walking speed)…and remember to look around. You will be in one of the most beautiful places in the world!