Julie United States 42 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.

During a “typical year,” 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 a series of 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.

IMPORTANT:  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 mid-April. 

Once you are notified by email, you then have to two weeks (until April 25) 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 application, 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

Permits are awarded on a daily basis, and this number depends 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. We hiked Half Dome in 2017.

Does this sound discouraging?

In more recent years, your chances of getting a Half Dome permit actually improved, with a 28% success rate in 2019 and a 36% success rate in 2020. But we all know that 2020 was not a normal year.

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

Complete Guide to Yosemite National Park


Do you have any more questions? Visit the National Park Service website for more information or comment below.

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Permit Half Dome

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Comments 42

  1. Avatar for Paulo
    Paulo

    S1o you need to fork out $10 (is it refundable in case you don’t get lucky?) per group to apply to the preseason lottery and an additional $10 refundable per person?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, $10 per group for the application, which is non refundable. And then yes, $10 per person for the permit, but if you cancel more than 24 hours before your hiking date you can get your money back.

  2. Avatar for Lindsey
    Lindsey

    Thanks for such a great post. How reasonable is it to complete the hike in 1 long day? If you plan on camping, do you have to get both a wilderness permit and lottery day hiking permit? Thanks for all your helpful information.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Most people who do this hike do it as a big day hike. It’s important to get an early start in order to give yourself enough time. It takes most people between 10 and 14 hours. We started at 6 am and it took us 9 hours total. However, we did not stay long on Half Dome, since it looked like rain was approaching. We are fast hikers, even with kids. It’s a tough hike, and we were exhausted at the end of it, but it is worth it. Since it’s a long hike with a lot of elevation gain, I recommend training for this – either doing long, hilly hikes prior to visiting Yosemite or running, with your long runs between 8 and 10 hours. If you plan to camp, then yes, you will need a wilderness permit and a Half Dome permit. Camping does make this hike shorter and easier. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Michelle
    Michelle

    Hi,
    I was lucky enough to be awarded the permit for July 7th..but I think I made a mistake by not also applying for a wilderness permit. Now, when I try to look, there are absolutely none available. I was thinking of doing the 2 week lottery for Little Yosemite/Tuolumne or just sleeping in Mariposa and making a hearty day trip up the dome. Any tips/advice?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Michelle. Congrats on getting a permit! We did the hearty day trip up the dome from Mariposa. 😊 The key is starting early, getting to the trailhead just around sunrise is ideal. It is a BIG day hike but in early July you will have tons of daylight. It doesn’t hurt to enter the lottery for Little Yosemite Campground. If you can stay here, you will already have gotten a lot of the hike out of the way. But hiking Half Dome in one day from the Mist Trail trailhead is definitely doable and how most people will do this hike. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Courtney
    Courtney

    I already submitted my lottery application but now after reading this I think I want to change the dates and add a couple more week day options. Am I allowed to cancel the existing application and submit a new one? I don’t want my name to be flagged as submitting twice.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      For a question like that, I recommend contacting the national park service directly (there is a phone number listed in this post). They might be able to remove you prior application. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Tom
    Tom

    I believe they are allowing 300 total daily applications this year and are not limiting the number of permits due to COVID-19. I asked the NPS to double check and the Yosemite ranger said it was still 300.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
  6. Avatar for Scott
    Scott

    So….if I put my name on the initial application for 4 people with no alternate, then the other three people I plan on going with do the same (adding no alternate)…would that work? What if for some reason all of us get awarded 4 permits each, can we then just say no to three of them without any issue? All that would happen is that we lose the initial $10 application fee?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, if you each individually apply, that should work. Your name can only show up on one application, either as the Permit Holder or the Alternate. If someone lists you as an alternate, any permit with your name will be removed from the lottery. The problem with not listing an alternate is that if the Permit Holder cannot do the hike and make it to the subdome, for whatever reason, the remainder of the group can’t hike past the subdome (where permits are checked). So, if you get a permit, but you get sick or injured and can’t hike, the whole group is out of luck. If your group happens to win multiple permits, you don’t get a refund on your $10. In April, reserve the one permit that you want and then release the other permit(s) so other hikers who applied can still get one, too. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Tom Clark
    Tom Clark

    Great information., thanks! Can you only pick up the DAILY permit and start hiking in the Valley or can you pick it up in Tuolumne? Can it be combine with a previous wilderness permit (I wasn’t able to get a HD permit in connection with that)?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      You apply for the daily permit online and your permit is awarded to you online. We were emailed a copy of our permit once we paid the fee. So you do not need to physically go anywhere to pick up your permit. I don’t know enough about the wilderness permits to answer your second question but here is some info on the NPS website. If you still have questions, you can email them or give them a call. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Lincoln
    Lincoln

    What would stop someone from getting a wilderness permit with the add on Half Dome permit and then they just do a day hike from the valley floor. Do the rangers make sure at the permit check that you truly have camped in your tent and are carrying with you? I can see someone trying this if they fail to get a Half Dome permit during the early lottery.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That could potentially work, but there are two things to consider before doing this. (1) Wilderness permits can potentially just be as hard to get as a day use Half Dome permit. (2) If you get a wilderness permit to increase your chances of getting a Half Dome permit but don’t plan to camp, you are then taking this experience away from some one who does want to camp overnight. Just something to consider. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Sheldon DuBois
        Sheldon DuBois

        It’s the park, not the person wanting to use the park taking the experience from others. They create incentive to apply for activities that circumvent park reservations.

        Same goes for camp site reservations. I’ve sniped a Thursday site reservation for the 3 day weekend entry more times than I care to admit.

        I just got back from a full week and the park is disturbingly empty because the number of people taking advanced reservations and not showing up is high and no method of obtaining same day exists. Turning people away at the gate for an empty park is wrong… but as you see they prefer it this way.

  9. Avatar for Becky Morgan
    Becky Morgan

    Hi, we are travelling to Yosemite 6-10th October from Wales (uk). We have read that we have to get a wilderness permit to get a half dome permit however you can only apply for the wilderness 24 weeks prior to the date of your arrival, which would mean we miss the lottery. Can we still apply for the half dome lottery without the wilderness permit and then get the permit when we are able to?
    I hope that makes sense, any advise would be appreciated
    Thanks
    Becky

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you are only planning to hike Half Dome, without camping in the backcountry, then you do not need the wilderness permit. You only need the Half Dome permit. So, if you plan to hike Half Dome like in our hiking post, starting in Yosemite Valley, you do not need a wilderness permit. The only reason to get a wilderness permit is if you plan to camp in Little Yosemite Valley or if your hike up Half Dome starts outside of the park. Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for Rahul Gupta
    Rahul Gupta

    Do you know if this also applies to the daily lottery?
    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.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      I am not sure and I don’t want to tell you the wrong thing. It does state that this rule is for the preseason lottery. I recommend calling the National Park Service to confirm (their phone number is in this article). Good luck! – Julie

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