So you didn't win the pre-season permit lottery for Half Dome in March or you didn't even know you had to enter a lottery to hike up Half Dome. Now what?! You can't visit Yosemite National Park and not bag Half Dome right?!! Relax. Depending on when you are planning your visit to Yosemite or how long you plan to spend there, you have a few options to help achieve your hiking goals.
How To Hike Half Dome Without A Permit
1. Apply For The Daily Lottery
Every day around 50 permits are issued to hikers during hiking season. The system has changed a little since the first time we ever came to Yosemite. And I am sad to say that you can no longer walk up to the rangers booth and ask if they have any first come first serve permits left. Now you must apply for the daily lottery online and TWO DAYS prior to the day you want to hike. For example, if you wanted to hike Saturday you would need to enter the lottery on Thursday between midnight and midday. If you are successful you would be notified later that night by email. This is a great option for you if you are flexible with your travel dates to Yosemite or if you are already there and have a few days to work with. Obviously weekends are very popular so to increase your chances of winning a permit apply to hike on a week day.
2. Hike To Half Dome And See If The Ranger Can Get You On Someone Else's Permit
Okay, so you didn't win the daily lottery (or should I say two day lottery) and you don't have time to be waiting around entering the lottery in the hopes that you might be drawn… what should you do now?
Well, you could hike to sub-dome and ask the rangers that check permits to let you know if there are any hikers who have a free spot on their permit. This does happen all the time. Someone’s friend may have pulled out of their Yosemite trip at the last minute or maybe their friend/significant other suddenly realized they have a fear of heights. The latter does actually happen ALL THE TIME. I know my legs go wobbly just thinking about hiking up sub-dome! Anyway, you will have to stay very close to the rangers so that they can alert you if you are fortunate or not which is not ideal. The best way to increase your chances of finding someone is to make sure you get up top very early in the morning.
3. Wait Along The Trail And Offer Hiker's Cash For Giving You Their Permit
Hiking Half Dome is usually many people's first ever hike. Or first ever long distance hike. Or first ever hike up a mountain. I know it was all of those 'first times' for us back in 2013. What I am getting at is that hiking longer trails or up mountains isn't really a lot of people's ‘thing’ and possibly by the time they reach the top of Nevada or Vernal Falls they might be looking for an excuse to quit. Well you could give them a really good one by offering them say $20 and informing them there is a really good pizza restaurant back in the valley that they could spend that cash on. I haven't tried this but I know I might have been able to be swayed by this offer back then.
4. Climb A Different Peak
This might come as a shock to you but there are other hike's you can do in Yosemite National Park besides Half Dome. Some are even more challenging. The hiking trails we highly recommend are Upper Yosemite Falls, Cloud’s Rest and North Dome.
Upper Yosemite Falls has stunning views of Yosemite Valley and a gorgeous river up top. Cloud’s Rest is a much longer hike and a lot higher in elevation than Half Dome. To get to Cloud’s Rest from the valley floor you take the same trail as you would to Half Dome but instead of turning left to get to the start of sub-dome you take a right and go for a few extra miles. This trail is extra special because not too many people hike to it from the valley or even know about it. North Dome is another awesome hike because it leads you face to face with Half Dome itself. The bonus of hiking North Dome from the valley floor is that you will also get to visit Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point which have stunning (and freak-ishly steep) views.
5. Get A Wilderness Permit And Add Half Dome To Your Trip
Another really great trick to scoring a permit to hike Half Dome is to get yourself a wilderness permit and hike Half Dome as part of an overnight trip. This is an option we have tried and been successful with after failing advice given at number 1 & 2 of this post. You can make reservations online in advance, or if you are already in Yosemite you can get a first-come first-serve wilderness permit one day prior to your trip. Be sure to tell them you want to include Half Dome in your itinerary. Learn more about obtaining wilderness permits.
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