New Half Dome Permit System In Place For Yosemite

This past Friday, just in time for the busy Memorial Day Weekend, the climbing cables were put in place on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, opening the door for hikers and backpackers to hit the iconic trail. The 16-mile round-trip trek includes a challenging scramble up the side of Yosemite’s famous rock formation and eventually winds its way to the summit, some 8800 feet above sea level. When they reach the top, hikers are rewarded with an unbelievable view of Yosemite Valley, which is a large part of the trail’s appeal.

In the past, the Half Dome trail has gotten very crowded and traffic jams have occurred on the climbing cables where slower hikers have been known to cause delays. In 2010, in an effort to prevent those issues, the National Park Service instituted a permit system for anyone wanting to hike the trail. That permit system has been further refined this year and visitors hoping to make the hike should be aware of the changes before they arrive.

This season the number of people on the trail is limited to just 400 per day – 300 of those being day hikers and the other 100 are backpackers intending to stay for a longer period of time. Applications are accepted at and up to six permits can be requested on a single application. Furthermore, applicants can list up to seven dates that they would like to hike the trail and they’ll be eligible to receive their permits on one of those dates based on availability. Additionally, 50 permits will be made available through a daily lottery. In order to be eligible for those permits, hikers must apply online two days before their intended arrival in Yosemite. Permits cost $5 each and more details on the system can be found by clicking here.

Prior to instituting the permit system, the Half Dome trail would average more than 400 hikers per day during the week and twice that on the weekend. The system has made it more difficult for visitors to simply show up and hike the trail, but it has also made it safer all around. Additionally, by limiting the number of people on the trail on a daily basis, the environment is better protected. So far, the permit system has been a success and it appears that it will be come a permanent solution starting next year.

Number of permits for Yosemite’s Half Dome could be cut

The number of permits available on a daily basis for Yosemite‘s popular Half Dome hike could be reduced in number starting next year – if a National Park Service proposal goes into effect. The move could be made in an effort to make the hike up the iconic mountain less crowded, and therefore safer, following the death of a hiker this past summer who fell while descending on the steep slopes.

The Half Dome hike is amongst the more popular attractions in Yosemite, despite its strenuous and daunting nature. The trail to the summit is 8 miles in length and wanders up the side of the massive rock slab, requiring hikers to use metal cables to help stabilize them both on the way up and down. It can be a treacherous walk, particularly if bad weather sets in, and traffic jams, like those seen in the photo to the right, are not uncommon along the way.

Last year, the Park Service began requiring a permit for the hike, limiting the number of people on the trail to just 400 per day. That was way down from the 1200 that it would sometimes see on busier days before the permit system went into effect. Under the new proposal, which is currently open for public comment, the number of permits issued would be reduced to 300, cutting crowds even further.

Cutting back on the number of people on Half Dome will have the added benefit of helping to protect the environment there as well. Large crowds can have a adverse effect on any ecosystem, and by reducing the number of visitors, the region is more likely to stay protected and viable for future hikers to enjoy as well.

We’ll have to wait and see if the number of permits available does indeed get cut for 2013, but it almost seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. All around, I think it’s a good move, although travelers will have to plan further ahead if they hope to hike Half Dome.