Half Dome Yosemite

The Half Dome Permit: How to be One of the Lucky Lottery Winners

Julie United States 21 Comments

If you have plans to hike to Half Dome, you must have a Half Dome permit. A maximum of 300 permits are awarded per day in a lottery system.

Why do you need a permit?

Since 2010, the National Park Service has required hikers to have a permit to climb Half Dome.

Before 2010, overcrowding on the cables created a dangerous situation. On peak days before 2010, there would be as many as 1,200 daily visitors to Half Dome. In 2009, 2 people died while climbing the cables.

Half Dome July

Now, only 300 people per day are allowed to climb Half Dome, and to do so, you must have a permit.

So, how do you get to be one of the lucky permit holders?

Preseason Lottery

Permits are awarded in a preseason lottery for the entire summer hiking season.

A maximum of 300 permits are awarded per day, with 225 for day hikers and 75 for backpackers.

Applications are accepted during the month of March, regardless if you are hiking in June or September.

On the application, one person (called the team leader) can apply for up to six people for 7 different dates. The team leader is only allowed to apply once per lottery. If you apply multiply times, all of your applications will be removed from the lottery.

The trip leader or the alternate person listed on the application must be present at the sub-dome when the permits are checked. The permits are not transferable to other hikers.

It costs $10 to file an application, regardless of the number of people listed on the application.

Update for 2019:  Applicants may be a permit holder (trip leader) or alternate on only one application during the preseason lottery. Your name can only appear on one application, whether or not you are the trip leader OR the alternate. If your name appears on more than one application, all of your lottery applications will be cancelled. 

The lucky lottery winners are notified April 10. 

Once you are notified by email, you then have to two weeks (until April 24) to pay the $10 per person for the permit. The permit is refundable.

To get more information, visit the National Park Service website.

To file an applicaton, visit the recreation.gov website. If you have questions, give them a call at 877-444-6777.

What if you plan to visit Half Dome with kids? The youngest age we would recommend is 12 years old, and that is only if your child has lots of prior hiking experience and is very physically fit. When I spoke to the supervisor at recreation.gov, they told me that children can be listed on the permit application. I was told that there was no minimum age. However, if your child is listed on the permit, you will need to bring a government-issued ID as their form of identification.

Half Dome

Daily Lottery

Another 50 permits are awarded on a daily basis, depending on cancellations of other permits and no-shows on the trail. You can apply online for these permits two days before your anticipated hiking date. Visit recreation.gov to file your application for a daily permit.

What Are Your Chances of Getting a Permit?

As the Half Dome hike grows in popularity, your chance of scoring a Half Dome permit decreases.

In 2016, there was a 25% chance you would be awarded a permit. Compare that to 2015, with a 35% success rate and 2014 with a 45% success rate. In 2017, there were 26,963 applications, with a 19% success rate.

Does this sound discouraging?

To get a permit, you do need to be lucky, but there are some ways you can increase your chances.

If you can be flexible in your travel dates, you can greatly increase your odds of being one of the lucky permit holders.

Monday through Thursday are much less popular than Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. It’s almost impossible to get a permit for Saturday.

The few days from July 4 through July 8 tend to have slightly smaller crowds than the other times of the summer (and fewer applications for the Half Dome cables). This is the time that we visited Yosemite. On July 5, crowds were manageable, but by July 7 the park was getting very crowded again. Consider taking advantage of the July 4 holiday and hiking Half Dome if you have plans to visit Yosemite during the summer months.

September and October are the months with the fewest number of applications so it is easier to get a permit. In general, Yosemite will be a little quieter during this time also, since summer holidays are over.

If you are unsuccessful in getting a pre-season lottery ticket, you can apply for a daily lottery ticket, which is awarded two days before your anticipated hiking date.

Where am I getting all of these numbers? The National Park Service website has excellent data on lottery applications and success rates for the entire season. If you want to plan your Yosemite trip around your best odds for getting a Half Dome permit, I highly recommend that you take a look at their lottery statistics.

Half Dome Cables

Hiking without a permit

What if you want to take your chances and hike without a permit? Rangers on the trail check permits just before the sub-dome and at other spots along the trail.

If you hike Half Dome without a permit, you risk paying a $5,000 fine and/or 6 months in jail.

Half Dome Permit

Read more about hiking to Half Dome and Yosemite:

Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite, a Step-by-Step Guide

Climbing the Half Dome Cables: A Journey in 18 Photos

Yosemite for First-Timers: Best Hikes, Best Views, and the Best Things to do

Comments 21

  1. There is one way to hike Half Dome without a permit and not get fined… you climb the 2000+ ft face and hike down. That said, if the hike to the top is “tough,” the climb would be even more intense.

    It always makes me smile that one person’s entire outdoor sport (hiking) is another person’s accessory to their sport (hiking to the base of a climb/hiking out after a climb).

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  2. Hi Julie,
    Me and my brother are planning to go to Whitney this year and this is top of the list for my training hikes.. I was unsuccessful in getting a permit. Do you know of a blog where I can sync up with other permit holders to see if there is a space on their group?


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      I don’t know of such a group. But hopefully someone who does will read this and comment with more info. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  3. I received 2 permits to climb Half Dome on June 12th of this year. I am trying to swap the permit to the week prior, any day from May 31st to June 5th. Let me know if you have permits within that time frame and are willing to swap. Thank you in advance!

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      Hello Amanda. I’m pretty sure you cannot swap permits. Your ID needs to match the name on the permit. You can get a full refund for your permit if you don’t plan on using it, as long as you notify the National Park Service in advance. Click here to read all the fine print about the permits. Good luck on June 12th…that’s our 20th wedding anniversary…it’s a great day! πŸ™‚ Cheers, Julie

  4. Do you know if the following section still applies for 2019?

    “Update for 2018: I spoke to a supervisor at recreation.gov (the agency responsible for processing the permit applications) in March 2018 and they confirmed that you can be listed as a team leader on one application and as an alternate on a second application. But you can only be listed as a team leader on one application.”

    I am planning to submit two applications this March – One with my husband listed as team leader and one where I am listed as the team leader. I just want to be sure that this is still allowed so that our applications don’t get thrown out.

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      That was the rule in 2017 when we applied and as of March 2018 when I called the National Park Service. There’s a chance things could have changed in the past year. It doesn’t hurt to give them a call and confirm the rules. The phone number is listed in this post. Good luck!! Cheers, Julie

  5. Thank you for this helpful blog! I’d really like to know what information is required for the application so I can be prepared and get it beforehand for the people in my group. Do you know of somewhere this is posted or could you scan and post a redacted image of your application?

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      It’s all very straightforward info you need to provide…name, email, planned date of your hike, etc. We do not have a copy of our application. Visit the national park website and take a look at the application so you know what you need to enter (the link is in the article). Good luck!! Cheers, Julie

  6. I wish I would have filled out multiple applications as you suggest. I just received notice that my lottery was unsuccessful. I live in Iowa, so making a trip to Yosemite is a big deal. Any chance I could still travel to Yosemite and pick up unused passed the night before? In addition to the daily lottery, isn’t there a way to stand in line at the ranger station? There are 4 of us wanting to hike half dome, any day between June 3-17, 2018.

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      Hi Ryan, I’m sorry to hear that you did not get a permit. You still have a chance to get a daily permit by applying 2 days in advance of your hiking date. Roughly 50 permits are awarded per day, depending on the number of cancellations. I don’t know how many people apply per day (and I am sure this varies day to day) so I don’t know what your chances are of getting a permit this way. It’s a gamble. I don’t know anything about standing in line for a permit. Read this info on the recreation.gov website. You might want to call them and learn more about the process and what the likelihood is that you’ll get a permit. Good luck!

  7. Super helpful! I’ve done the hike to the top of Half Dome many times in the 80s and 90s but haven’t done it since the permit process has been put in place. Thanks for showing how to do it so you have the best chance of getting a permit.

    Keep on trekking!

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  8. Hi there,

    You said “We submitted two applications, one under Tim’s name and one under my name. We spoke to a National Park Service representative on the telephone to make sure that this was acceptable and they told us that this is allowed. Every person in your team is allowed to file a separate application.”

    Did you name each other as alternates? I can’t get an answer by calling. Myself and my daughter want to go. She’s 17. I see no restrictions on age in any of the documentation.

    So could both her and I apply, then have my wife apply as a third naming me or my daughter as an alternate, Or would that void the application.

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      Hello Brian. We just pulled up copies of our permit applications. I was the alternate on Tim’s and Tim was the alternate on my permit. We had a group size of 4 on each (Tim, me, Tyler, and Kara). We did not do 4 applications because Tyler and Kara were only 14 and 12 (and we were still contemplating the wisdom of bringing a 12 year old). I don’t know for sure if there are any restriction for a 17 year old (and you’re right, the website does not give a minimum age). If your wife gets a permit, she will have to hike to Half Dome as well, although she does not have to climb the cables. But the permit holder needs to be present at the sub-dome. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

    2. Hi Brian,
      They did change this. You cannot be named on 2 permits any more. If you are, both will be voided. Here is an example of what you can do for a 2 person permit IF you are certain which 2 people are going:
      Apply for 1 permit in your name with a 3rd person as the alternate, then, apply for a permit in the 2nd persons name with a 4th person as an alternate. This way you can take each other since the alternate person does not have to be present.

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        I spoke to a supervisor at recreation.gov, the organization that handles the Half Dome permits, and they told me that in 2018 it is acceptable for a group leader on one permit to be listed as an alternate leader on a separate application. Both applications need to be submitted under separate accounts. Cheers, Julie

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