Backpacker Magazine Yosemite National Park: Half Dome at Full Moon 

Let the soft light of a full moon guide your way to Yosemite's most iconic granite peak on this 14.2-mile out-and-back.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 1 Aug 2008 4:55:56 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: California (CA)
Distance: 14.2 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 5034 ft
Total Loss: 229 ft
Net Change: 4805 ft
Difficulty: 8 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Half Dome
Tags: California, Half Dome, Waterfall Hikes, Wawona, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park
Rating:   6 rating(s) Rate it

This 14.2-mile trek to Half Dome—under the guiding light of a full moon—gains more than 4,000 feet of elevation. Make sure to turn off your headlamp and marvel at the starry skies.

From Happy Isles campground, turn right on the paved path and cross Vernal Falls Bridge. Pass Illilouette Falls Vista, where Yosemite, Illilouette, Vernal, and Nevada Falls can be seen simultaneously. Merge onto the 3-mile Mist Trail and watch your footing on the trail's sometimes-slick granite (raingear will come in handy by the waterfalls on this trip).

Keep left at the Y-junction after Vernal Falls and continue along the Merced River. Once you reach the Y-junction at Yosemite Valley, turn left up the John Muir Trail. After about 2 miles, bear left onto Half Dome Trail. From here, grab giant cables to climb the last stretch up Half Dome to (if you've timed it right) a once-in-a-lifetime sunrise view.

-Mapped by Kip Evans

PERMITS: Starting in May 2010, the park will require a Day Use Permit to hike the cables on Half Dome. A maximum of 400 permits will be issued each day (300 of these permits are available to dayhikers). For details, go to

MORE INFO: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-020;

TO TRAILHEAD: From Civic Center Station, take the BART Fremont Rte. to Coliseum/Oakland Airport. Transfer to Amtrak to Martinez, then take San Joaquin Rte. to Merced. In Merced, take YARTS to Curry Village, then free shuttle to Happy Isles. Info:;;

Position Format: Datum:

Yosemite National Park: Half Dome at Full Moon

Distance: 7.07 mi Points: 456
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 37.732575, -119.558308
From Happy Isles Campground, follow Mist Trail for 1.5 miles to Vernal Falls. A moderate 3-miler, Mist Trail is often wet from the spray of nearby waterfalls. Be sure to pack your rain gear and exercise caution. When it's dark, keep your headlight on at all times to avoid falling.


Location: 37.727297, -119.543159
Take the footbridge over the Merced to Vernal Falls, the first waterfall on this route. If you aren't in a rush, take a moment to hike to the top of Vernal Falls and see Silver Apron and Emerald Pool.


Location: 37.726075, -119.541314
Keep left @ Y-junction, staying on the Mist Trail. Cross back over the Merced on the footbridge and continue to climb the granite steps up toward Nevada Falls.


Location: 37.726483, -119.534168
Pass Nevada Falls at mile 2.2. From the top of the falls, you'll see Liberty Cap directly to the north with Mount Broderick in the background.


Location: 37.726007, -119.530392
Bear left and continue along the Merced. For a short distance, the Mist Trail merges with the John Muir Trail through Little Yosemite Valley. You'll walk along Sunrise Creek, then continue in a northeast toward Little Yosemite Ranger Station. Optional: For close-up views of Nevada Falls, turn right and head southwest for 300 yards.


Location: 37.734730, -119.514642
Bear left and merge onto John Muir Trail. Keep Sunrise Creek to your right. If you thought your warm-up on the Mist Trail was difficult, think again. You'll climb roughly 600 feet on this 1.5-mile stretch. Once you merge onto Half Dome Trail, this hike gets hairy.


Location: 37.745081, -119.511895
Bear left and walk up Half Dome Trail. You'll gain more than 1,000 feet of elevation from here to the summit. Heavy exposure makes this a difficult part of the route, but still not the most strenuous section. Save your energy: As you approach the summit of Half Dome, you'll need to ascend the rest of the 8,800-foot granite peak using cables. Don't forget your gloves.


Location: 37.745937, -119.533249
Half Dome (8,836 feet): One of the most recognizable landmarks in Yosemite National Park. This peak is not the greatest place to camp due to strong winds and chilly temperatures. However, few places rival this granite peak when it comes to stargazing and sunrise views. Pack wind gear, warm clothes, and binoculars. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Cable Ascent

Location: 37.745387, -119.533181

Moonlit Climb

Location: 37.745675, -119.533095

Sunrise View

Location: 37.745947, -119.533010
A sunrise view of Tenaya Canyon from Half Dome.

Rainbow below Vernal Falls

Location: 37.726856, -119.544243
©Dave Miller

Vernal Falls

Location: 37.727297, -119.542944
©Dave Miller

Top of Nevada Falls

Location: 37.724870, -119.532902
©Dave Miller


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