Half Dome#4 in Best Things To Do in Yosemite
Hiking Yosemite's Half Dome Cables Route has been described as unforgettable and even life-changing by travelers. But this expedition is not for the faint of heart. The trail is about 14 to 16 miles long and features elevation gains totaling 4,800 feet (for reference, the elevation gain on the Mist Trail is between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, depending on which waterfall you visit). On this hike, the challenge begins immediately with a steep ascent up the Mist Trail, which serves as a good litmus test to see if you're in adequate condition for the remaining journey. The hike then continues to the top of Nevada Fall, followed by a long, flat section through Yosemite Valley. When you finally reach the base of the dome, a steep rocky climb finally takes you to the Half Dome Cables, a vertical, exposed rock face scalable by two steel cables.
If you're afraid of heights or are not in excellent physical condition, don't ascend the cables. You can still enjoy many of the dome's tamer sections, such as the trip to Nevada Fall. If you are going to try the entire hike, you'll need to allot at least 12 hours. The National Park Service recommends you leave just before or at dawn, and advises you to bring all necessary hiking equipment, including durable hiking boots, a flashlight and good grip gloves for the cables. You'll also need at least a gallon of water, and don't rely on park facilities for hydration or a bathroom break (the NPS suggests bringing your own toilet paper).
Recent travelers said this hike is a very strenuous but an incredibly rewarding journey. Hikers who have completed the trek echo NPS advisories: bring plenty of water, boots with great traction (the granite going up the cables are slippery) and gloves for the cables (those who didn't reported their hands burning after the climb). It's also suggested to bring plenty of food and snacks, as travelers said you will be hiking for a very, very long time. Some even recommended, if you can, training for the hike ahead of time to prepare for Half Dome's tough elevation gains. Half Dome becomes incredibly dangerous to climb when rain, and especially thunderstorms, are in the forecast. If either of those start to occur during your hike, the NPS strongly advises hikers to turn around and leave the area. It's also important to know that the summit can be between 15 to 20 degrees colder than Yosemite Valley, and at times windy, so bring a jacket or windbreaker for the top.
Half Dome is generally accessible from late May to October. A permit is required if you wish to hike to the top of Half Dome and a maximum of 300 hikers are allowed each day. Permits are distributed by an NPS lottery; there is a preseason lottery and a daily lottery, and you can find more information about the lottery drawings and requirements on the NPS website (some fees apply). If you aren't driving, you can take the shuttle to Happy Isles, stop Np. 16, which is three-quarters of a mile from the Mist Trail trailhead. The application fee for the permit costs $10; if you are selected you are required to pay an additional $10. For more information about hiking Half Dome, visit the park's website.
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#1 Yosemite Valley
Unless you are solely planning backcountry expeditions during your trip to Yosemite, chances are you'll end up in Yosemite Valley at one point or another. That's because Yosemite Valley features much of the park's top attractions, including Tunnel View Outlook and a handful of Yosemite's most famous waterfalls, including Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls, to name a few. One of the world's largest granite monoliths, El Capitan, is also located here.
Yosemite Valley is an excellent place for first-time visitors to set up shop. In addition to housing many of the park's most popular points of interest, Yosemite Valley is home to Yosemite Village, where you'll find plenty of amenities and lodging options, including campsites and hotels as well as visitor centers, some dining options, including a grocery store, and a couple shops. There are also a handful of lookout points, picnic areas and light trails, perfect for those who aren't looking to do strenuous hiking in Yosemite.
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