Permits! Get your permits! Half Dome Cable permits available this Monday for May and June.

In the few times that I've visited Yosemite National Park, an equal number of unfortunate souls lost their lives plummeting as they ascended half-dome, the iconic and oft-climbed granite outcropping for which the park is so well known. Last summer, one climber fell as he was descending the rock. It was the first fatality on the wall since 2007, when a Japanese visitor fell after leaving the safety of the cable to collect his dropped water bottle (at least according to witnesses). In total, approximately 20 people have perished on half dome from a variety of causes, but any many others were injured.

In light of recent deaths and injuries, the National Park Service decided to begin regulating the number of hikers using the Half Dome cable system by requiring a day-use permit when the cables are reinstalled in May. The NPS expects that the permit system will address safety issues that have resulted from crowding, which has led to unsafe conditions and long waits.

Starting tomorrow, March 1 at 7 am, the National Park Service at Yosemite will begin accepting reservations for May and June. Thereafter, July and August permits will be available for reservation April 1, and on May 1, the permits for September and October will be released.

The Half Dome day-use permits will be required Friday thru Sunday and on holidays (in 2010 federal holidays are May 31, July 5, September 6, and October 11). Four hundred will be issued per day, with 100 of those to be included in wilderness permits. The permits are required for the use of the trail from the base of the subdome to the summit of Half Dome and include the Half Dome cable route.

Permits are available by advance reservation only, and can be purchased online through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) or by calling (877) 444-6777. Up to four may be obtained per reservation; each person must have his or her own. Permits are not available in the park or on a first-come, first-served basis. They are free, but each one incurs a 1.50 non-refundable service charge which covers the cost of NRRS processing the permit.

If you are thinking about making the hike, which is definitely worth it, be sensible and well prepared—the cable route is extremely dangerous and it should only be attempted by hikers who are in good physical condition. I've seen more than a few women try to ascend in high heels and plenty of guys wearing $5.00 flip flops. Hopefully the permit system will root these folks out. Wear sturdy hiking boots or sneakers with ample support. Remember to pack an ample supply of water (there are few places to refill, carry as much as you can) and snacks to ensure that you have enough energy to make the14+ mile round trip hike. Here are a few of the frequently asked questions, and answers, on the Yosemite National Park website regarding the new interim system:

Question: What is the penalty for not having a permit?

Answer: If you attempt to hike beyond the subdome or up the cables without a valid permit, a ranger will turn you away at or near the subdome. Additionally, you could face misdemeanor charges -- up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

Question: How long will this interim program continue?

Answer: This program is being implemented as an emergency safety measure for 2010. If significant crowding or other major issues are observed, modifications to the program will be effected during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Question: Why is the quota 400 people per day?

Answer: Free-flowing conditions prevent additional fatigue to hikers waiting on the cables and allow an orderly evacuation down the cables if a fast-moving storm approaches. Free-flowing conditions generally occur on weekdays, during which time, an average of 390 people per day use the cables. The quota includes 300 day hikers and 100 backpackers.

Question: Why aren’t permits available in Yosemite on a first-come, first-served basis?

Answer:  The very high demand we would expect for the relatively few first-come, first-served permits available would lead to a frustrating experience for visitors and would be difficult to manage. However, we may consider offering some permits on a first-come, first-served basis (one day in advance) in the future, as well as other changes to the permit system, based on our experiences this year.

Question: Can I stay at the base of the cables and wait for other members of my group to hike to the top of the cables and back?

Answer:  No -- hikers without a permit cannot go beyond the base of the subdome.

Question:  Why not redesign the cables to accommodate more people?

Answer: Any long-term solutions or permanent changes will be addressed in the planning process that will be initiated in spring 2010 and all reasonable and feasible options will be evaluated in the environmental assessment.

Note: Backpackers with an appropriate wilderness permit can receive a Half Dome permit when they pick up their wilderness permit with no additional reservation required. Rock climbers who reach the top of Half Dome without entering the subdome area can descend on the Half Dome Trail without a permit.

Get a Half Dome Permit

  • Visit  www.recreation.gov (recommended)
  •  877/444-6777 
    (or 877/833-6777 for TDD)
    (or 518/885-3639 from outside the US & Canada)
  • Permits are not available by mail

Hours: 
7 am to 7 pm Pacific time (November through February)
7 am to 9 pm Pacific time (March through October)

Note: You may only get four permits per phone call or website visit (you can call again or start over again to get additional permits).