Backpack to Little Yosemite Valley Campsite and Hike Half Dome

Upper Pines Campground Parking Lot

Great overnight site with direct access to Half Dome for a next-day hike. Incredible views of Yosemite from the top of Half Dome. Set up camp right next to a peaceful river you can dunk into after a long trek and of course a nice water source. The hike to the valley features two waterfalls and amazing scenery

First things first. You will need to get a wilderness pass by entering the lottery for Half Dome access. If you don't get a pass via lottery just go to the Yosemite Valley visitor center, tell the clerk you are backpacking to Little Yosemite Valley and that you would like to hike up Half Dome. They will likely give you a pass. Next, park your car at Upper Pines and REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED. Look for the Happy Isles Trail head and begin your trek towards Little Yosemite Valley (3.8 miles). The initial portion of the trail will usually be populated with day hikers going up to the falls. About a mile and a half in you will find yourself at the top of Vernal Falls. Enjoy the site, but not for too long since you still have a ways to go, the views only get better, and the crowds smaller. Continue for a couple more miles, pass Nevada Falls, and follow the Mist Trail along side the Merced River for another mile and a half until you hit the backpackers campgrounds in Little Yosemite Valley.

The campsite is large and incredibly beautiful with 30-40 first come first serve sites set amidst the trees, alongside Sunrise Creek and just a couple minute walk from the Merced River. Perfect for filtering water and dunking your head after the long hike up Half Dome. Little Yosemite Valley Campgrounds is minimally developed and depends on the cooperation of campers to to keep it clean, safe, and functioning properly.

Everyone staying in LYV Campground needs to take appropriate measures to ensure no bears are attracted by food in the open. Bring a bear canister or use the communal bear lockers. Store only food products in this shared space and don't be shy to remind other backpackers to use the bear locker if they are leaving food or used dishes out.

There are also two large communal campfire rings and a compost toilet for the entire grounds to use. Campers are allowed to burn dead and down wood but are asked to search for pieces smaller than their forearm and never burn trash. There is no potable water at this campground but the Merced River is close by and the water is drinkable once treated by boiling, with a giardia-rated filter or iodine.

After the first night at camp, make your way to Half Dome via the Mist Trail. This hike is absolutely amazing. After about a 3 mile hike you will find yourself at the base of Half Dome where you will see two parallel cables pretty much going vertical. Grab some gloves from a pile left at the base of the dome and head up. Hold on tight! Take it slow if you need to and please be mindful of folks coming back down. Once you reach the top, stay for awhile - the view is like non other from 8800ft.

The way down may be a bit nerve wracking for some since you are indeed looking down. Take it slow. Once you get back to your camp you can stay another night and rest up or just pack up and head back to Upper Pines.

Overall this is a great overnight trip for an intermediate backpacker. Be sure to engage in some strength and conditioning regimen prior to the hike and you will be just fine. Lots of amazing sites and a nice adrenaline rush.

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • 65-70L pack
  • Water filter
  • REI 10 essentials
  • Light jacket for summer
  • Extra socks
  • Headlamp
  • Plastic bags (must carry out trash)
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RT Distance 15 Miles
Elevation Gain 4800 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall

Reviews

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Bonus info

I used rock climbing shoes and my normally much-faster friend used hiking boots. I blew her away. The weight of the climbing shoes was worth it for safety. I didn't slip.

Nice tips

This article is overall very helpful. The only thing I would argue with is a 70L backpack. That is absolutely ridiculous for an overnight trip. I have done like 10 days of camping with a 65L. I am doing this trip with a 34L (still carrying all my equipment including sleeping bag, pad, tent, cookware, food and clothing for 2 nights)

Amazing, Challenging Hike

This is definitely the way to do Half Dome! After failing to get wilderness permits the day before our hike we went back to the wilderness center around 8 am the day we wanted to go up and were able to get same day cancellation permits. We ended up waking up at 1:30 am to start the hike up to Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley. We were the only people on the trail and the first people up Half Dome about an hour before sunrise. I know it sounds miserable waking up that early but it was 100% worth it. We beat the crowds and the heat and were able to appreciate the unbelievable stars and sunrise. Would definitely recommend!


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