Hiking the Half Dome Cables: A Step-by-Step Planning Guide

Graphic Half Dome Cables


Half Dome was once declared to be “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” We have George Anderson to thank for our opportunity to summit this mighty beast. He reached the top in 1875, and in the process created the first original cable route. It is no easy feat (physically or mentally), but the experience is truly once-in-a-lifetime.


Step 1: Apply for a permit (and get chosen!)


You’ll need to enter the lottery for a permit during the month of March for a May-October visit through recreation.gov. (Note that the cables are not up from mid-October through the end of May because of snow.)

Results for the preseason lottery are announced in mid-April. If you do not get chosen and plan to be in Yosemite anyways, you can take a chance and enter the daily lottery 2 days in advance of when you want to climb. 

If you are selected, you’ll need to confirm the reservation and officially purchase your permit. 

Note: For each hiking day, there are 225 preseason permits issued and 50 permits available for the daily lottery. You can only apply once each year, and you’ll need to show your ID at the permit checkpoint. 


These wonderful people hike up here every day to check for permits and assist with rescue operations.


Step 2: Plan ahead


Book your sleeping arrangements: Because you’ll want to start before sunrise and the hike will take you nearly all day, you’ll want to make sure that you are sleeping nearby the night before and the night after your hike. There are a few hotels and campgrounds within Yosemite National Park (if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation), or you could stay in an AirBnB closeby. We stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Yosemite West, which was perfect for our week-long stay!

Prepare yourself physically and mentally: This hike is not for you if you’re out of shape or unprepared. The 14-16 mile round-trip hike will take you approximately 10-12 hours and you’ll gain about 4,800 feet in elevation. Look up sunrise and sunset times. 




Step 3: Pack your bag!


Be sure to bring:

a printed copy of your permit and your government-issued ID (to show at the permit checkpoint)

plenty of water- at LEAST 1 gallon per person (There is only one opportunity for drinking water, a water fountain at the Vernal Falls footbridge, but it’s only 1 mile from the trailhead)

food (be sure to bring several salty snacks too)

flashlight and/or headlamp

gloves for climbing cables (I’d recommend ones with a rubber grip- gardening gloves or mittens will NOT grip the cables, and they’ll most likely tear)

climbing harness and via ferrata setup (this is not 100% necessary, but it is STRONGLY recommended because of the steep grade)

hiking boots (sneakers are just a bad idea- be sure to wear hiking boots with good traction and sufficient ankle support)

hiking socks



layers of clothing (the weather can change drastically very quickly in Yosemite- we witnessed both snow and a wildfire during our week-long visit in June)

poncho or rain jacket (in case of rain, but mostly to prevent you from getting soaked while climbing the steps next to Vernal Fall)

toilet paper (the only restrooms along the trail are located at Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall)

bag for trash 



hiking sticks

camera and extra batteries

electrolyte tablets or powder



bandana (for soaking in water and keeping yourself cool)

compass and map (the trail is well marked, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe)

extra pair of socks

first aid kit




Step 4: The day of your hike


Parking: The majority of hikers begin from Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16), but keep in mind that shuttle service doesn’t begin until 7am, so you’ll probably want to park at the trailhead parking area (just beyond Curry Village) or in the Curry Village parking area. 

Don’t forget your pack (with all the items I listed above) and your car keys! 

Keep an eye on the weather: Don’t continue if you see storm clouds! It’s a long way down, and it can be very dangerous if you are exposed to the elements. And remember that if you do not make it to the summit by 3:30, turn around. It’s better to come home safe and sound than take a chance of getting injured in the dark!

Tips for the cables: 

  • Always be hooked into (and/or holding on to) the cables
  • Take your time
  • Stick to one side going up, and one side going down
  • Be patient with other hikers, and allow faster ones to pass you (if it’s safe)
  • Remain on the inside of the cables
  • On the way down, walk backwards (very carefully, while holding onto the cables, paying attention to your surroundings)


May the forest be with you!




Watch the video below to step into our shoes and see what it was like when we hiked the Half Dome Cables (*caution: may cause sweaty palms*)



Thanks for taking look at our guide to the cables! We hope this post was helpful for you in planning your own adventure. Comment below or send us an email at wildthingsandcoffee@gmail.com if you have any questions, or if you want to tell us what you did with our advice! We’d love to hear from you 🙂

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