Editor Ingrid McCleary couldn't resist sharing these photos with her fellow Road Trip Planners of the views from the top of Yosemite's Half Dome. "The window of opportunity to see this first hand may have closed for me," she says, "but that doesn't mean my heart didn't sing when I saw some of these photographs my son and nephew took." She goes on to share: For others who can handle a tough, high-altitude, 17 ½ mile round trip in one day, perhaps this will entice you to gear up for it next summer. I say next summer because you'll need those extra daylight hours as members of my family hiked the last two miles of the trail with flashlights when they went on September 21, 2009. And by 17 ½ miles, I'm not talking flat terrain…as my son, Travis, wrote in his Facebook status, "17.6 miles, 4800 vertical elevation increase, 14 hours, 1459872403957 steps." (Okay, the first three facts are true, the last one hyperbole, though I imagine it must have felt like that many at the end of the trail!).
There were also spots where my son, Travis, wanted to linger, like indulging in a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water of Emerald Lake. Two of my brothers, both older than me, got as far as the saddle and opted out of the final cable climb. But judging by their photos, their view was spectacular as well. Other family members went as far as Nevada Falls.
That's not to say only the hardy hiker can go to Yosemite. It can, in fact, be one of best RV road trips a family can take because you have a "soft place to land" when you return from this mega-hike to find your family ready to regale you with their own adventures they had that day. It makes for some animated campfire chatter (though you might beat your children to bed that night).
My family stayed at Cedar Lodge, an affordable hotel about eight miles from Yosemite's West entrance. In order to do the full 17 ½ mile round trip in one day, they hit the road at 6 a.m. and pulled into the parking lot just as the day lightened enough to reveal the intimidating heights they would have to climb.
Another option to consider adding to your road trip planner is to hike approximately 4 1/2 miles to a primitive camping area called Little Yosemite Valley (no reservations required but you do need a wilderness permit), spend the night and then head for the top the next morning (beat the crowds by 2 hours!).
If you decide to spend another night, then your second day would be an 8 1/2 mile round trip, leaving 4 ½ miles for the third day. Others choose to spend only one night, stash their tent gear at the campsite, climb to the top, then return for their gear & hike back to the parking lot, making this day a 13-mile hiking day.
It really depends on your fitness level and how your envision your trip that will determine whether you'll choose the 17 1/2 mile marathon, the 4 ½ - 13 mile overnight plan or the more leisurely 4 ½ - 8 ½ - 4 ½ . Myself? I'd do the more leisurely one because that's my current fitness level but one of my colleagues could easily handle the 17 ½ mile round trip…and do some geocaching along the way!
Here are some other hiking distances, depending on your start point:
- 14.2 miles round trip via Mist Trail
- 16.5 miles round trip via John Muir Trail
- 20 miles round trip via Glacier Point
- 23 miles km round trip via Tenaya Lake
- Cedar Lodge: This hotel is 8 miles from the western entrance of Yosemite National Park (the only one closer is Yosemite View Lodge noted below).
- Housekeeping Camp: This is the ideal location for those who like to camp outdoors without the bother of setting up a tent. Housekeeping Camp features sandy beaches for swimming and sunbathing, plus great views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Housekeeping Camp is also the only lodging facility that allows guests to cook their own meals, with each unit having an outdoor fire-pit and grill.
- Yosemite Lodge At The Falls - As the closest property to Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Lodge is an idyllic spot for families, group retreats and visitors seeking to blend the comforts of a hotel while exploring the wilderness.
- Yosemite View Lodge – This two-story motor inn sits right along the Merced River and is only 2 ½ miles from the west entrance.
RV Accommodations: Yosemite has 10 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs and trailers (including fifth wheels) of varying lengths. Campgrounds requiring reservations fill up rapidly from April through September so make a reservation early. If you don't have reservations, find out more about camping without reservations. And note that hookups are not available in Yosemite, although dump stations are available at Upper Pines Campground all year, and during the summer only at the Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Campgrounds.
A tip: Plan on going on the Half Dome hike on a weekday instead of the weekend. There can be quite a bit of gridlock on weekends and it will be challenging enough making it to the top without needing to wait for the step above you to open up (and give vertigo a chance to get its claws into you).
My son's best moment? Imagine this: "Laying down on the ledge with Jeff and a good number of other people, looking down over the cliff face and talking about what we'd just accomplished."
Enjoy the photos. Hope they entice you to put a Yosemite Half Dome hike down in next summer's road trip planning adventure.Here's a link that explains it in more detail.
P.S.S.S. Check out the comments below. My son doles out practical and first-hand experience advice that every hiker should consider before hitting the Half Dome Trail.