How to hike Half Dome?

2:51 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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So we'll be in San Diego the last weekend of September and I'm thinking about staying a few extra days after the family leaves to drive up to Yosemite and hike Half Dome.

It looks like the daily lottery is my only option to get a permit for the cables which starts 2 days prior to the day you want to hike. Is this accurate?

They have "wilderness permits", are those for camping anywhere along the trail, or is it something else?

The campgrounds look full for whats reserveable, but it looks like this "Camp 4" is on a lottery system which you can enter the day before you want to stay there. Are there any other options locally that day hikers typically do that can guarantee me a spot now?

I would be driving to Yosemite on 9/30 getting there in the evening. I would ideally like to hike the dome on 10/2 and head back to San Diego airport on 10/3. I would just like to get my flight changes done now, but it's such a gamble with the lottery system.

4:43 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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Wilderness permits are only for backpacking.  They do not apply and are not needed for day hikes.

Many campsites in Yosemite are reserveable through recreation.gov.  The rest are first come, first served.  Get there early for any hope of a spot.  There are some campgrounds outside the park that might also work for you. While the valley fills up quickly, spots at Hodgdon Meadow, Yosemite Creek, etc are often available until early afternoon.

If you can't get a Half Done permit, consider hiking to Clouds Rest.  It's two miles shorter, a more interesting hike, and with better views. In fact, from Clouds Rest you'll be looking down on the crowds at Half Done.

6:05 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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I climbed the cables in 1974.  Now it would be a big line of people.  I agree with balzaccom that Clouds Rest is a good spot.  You can hike the 5,000 vertical feet from the Valley and camp at Little Yosemite Valley.  A rest day would be good and then return the 5,000 feet on the third day.  I camped at Hodgdon Meadow last Oct.  It is kind of lumpy but has some good sites.  The Valley is not that far. 

6:12 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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If you're prepared for backcountry camping then you can try for a wilderness permit. The permit you would want is actually a "permit within a permit" -- you would need a wilderness permit to be able to camp in the backcountry and you would need a Half Dome permit attached to it (you can't go up HD just with a wilderness permit). The HD permit that can be attached to a wilderness permit is different from a HD dayhike permit.

There is no camping along the trail before Little Yosemite Valley. There are two wilderness permits that you would be most interested in, either Happy Isles to LYV or Happy Isles "pass-thru" to Sunrise/Merced Lake. With the first one you must camp in LYV your first night, with the second you are prohibited from camping in LYV your first night and must proceed at least up to the trail junction where the Half Dome Trail splits off. With either permit you can camp anywhere legal after your first night (in or out of LYV). For wilderness camping you must carry an approved bear canister that holds all of your food, garbage, and smellables (if you don't have one you can rent one where you pick up your permit, I believe it's still just $5 but you need enough space in your pack to carry it). 

If you want to dayhike it then you still need a permit. If you don't score a permit what some people do is hike up to near the base of the sub-dome (where the ranger is checking HD permits) and ask people approaching if they have an extra slot on their permit. The gamble is that you might have hiked 12 of the 14 roundtrip miles and not ended up getting up top of HD. 

Bring gloves for the cables, they can shred your hands. I picked up a cheap and light pair of nitrile gloves from Home Depot that worked well.

If you can't get a permit for HD and don't want to risk trying to join someone with extra space on theirs, I agree with Cloud's Rest as a great alternative. Crossing the arête from the northeast is an amazing experience. Or, if you want to be able to look down on both Half Dome and Cloud's Rest, ascend Mt. Hoffmann.

9:34 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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There are plenty of amazing overlooks into the valley, other than HD.  Given how crowded it is - and this is the big holiday of the season - the HD hike is more a bucket list touristy thing, I compare to climbing Everest or New Years in Times Square.  All are real spectacles, but is the experience worth the downside?  Meh! 

Ed

10:58 p.m. on August 5, 2019 (EDT)
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JR makes a good point.  Other amazing views are from North Some (10 mile round trip hike from Porcupine Flat trailhead) or the easiest is Sentinel Done, less than two miles off the Glacier Point Road.

2:10 p.m. on August 6, 2019 (EDT)
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We headed for the high country in Yosemite to escape the Valley crowds and had a great time, so many things to do. In the book The Dharma Bums Gary Snyder took Jack Kerouac near there and they had an epically great time and a super climb too. We did not see any other people once we hiked away from the road. My kind of place, insanely beautiful and nobody in sight.

2:57 p.m. on August 6, 2019 (EDT)
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In 2011 I hiked up Yosemite Falls then over to North Dome and down on a July weekend and saw maybe six people after Lost Arrow. Go left where everybody else goes right and you can have a pretty quiet time. +1 on Cloud's rest.

December 5, 2019
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