Yosemite’s Half Dome is one of the most popular and iconic sites in the entire U.S. National Park system. It is so popular in fact that in 2010 the Park Service was forced to institute a provisional set of guidelines that required hikers to have a permit before attempting to make the long trek to the top. Last week the NPS announced that the temporary system would now become permanent, limiting the number of hikers to just 300 per day.
Prior to the permit system being instituted in 2010, the number of hikers on the Half Dome trail were often excessive. During the peak season the 14-mile route would often average more than 400 hikers on weekdays and as many as 1200 on holidays and weekends. This caused overcrowding, particularly on the 400-foot ascent to the summit, which employs a series of cables to help hikers safely climb to the top. Traffic jams were not uncommon on that stretch of the hike due to the steep and physically demanding nature of the trail. Those delays could often prove dangerous as long lines of people waited for hours for their chance to climb the granite dome.
In an effort to improve safety on the trail and preserve the natural environment around Half Dome, the NPS decided that a permit system would be a wise choice. When they launched the system nearly three years ago the daily limit was set to 450 hikers, but in their announcement last week, the Park Service has reduced that number to 300. About 225 of those would be day hikers while the remaining 75 would be allotted to backpackers.In addition to limiting the number of daily hikers, the Park Service is also using a lottery system to award most of the permits. The preseason application for the permits will open March 1 and run through March 31 and will be available at Recreation.gov. The winners of those permits will be alerted by email on April 15, so if you’re planning on hiking Half Dome this year, it may be wise to select your dates ahead of time and apply for your permits early. The cost of the permit is $4.50 for the application and an additional $8 per person if the permit is actually awarded. An additional 50 permits will be available in a daily lottery up to two days ahead of time throughout the rest of the year.
While this permanent permit system puts serious limitations on the number of people who get to enjoy Half Dome on any given day, I think it’s safe to say those limitations are for the best. Not only do they make the trail safer, they also provide a lot more solitude for those who get to walk it. That makes for a better experience in Yosemite, which is something I think we can all appreciate.
[Photo Credit: Av9 via WikiMedia]