Backpack to Little Yosemite Valley Campsite and Hike Half Dome
Yosemite › Upper Pines Campground Parking Lot
Added by Eddie Jo
- Distance: 15 miles round trip over multiple days
- Elevation: 4,800 ft
- 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.
- Sleeping bag
- 65-70L pack
- Water filter
- REI 10 essentials
- Light jacket for summer
- Extra socks
- Plastic bags (must carry out trash)
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Busiest in Yosemite
This route is the most popular backpacking trip in the park, and therefore the permits are hardest to get. Sometimes Half Dome permits are confusing, so here's some clarification: If you're backpacking for one or more nights, you can add the Half Dome permit to your wilderness permit rather than doing the lottery via recreation.gov. You may apply for a wilderness permit reservation 24 weeks (168 days) prior to your trip through fax or phone. First-come, first-serve walk up permits are given out 1 day before your trip starting at 11 am. This means if you want a walk up permit for Friday night, you need to get in line at the Valley Wilderness Center early in the morning on Thursday for the 11 am release. If you'd like a Half Dome permit included in your backpacking trip, be sure to specify when making a reservation, or a first-come, first-serve wilderness permit request. If Half Dome permits are available and Half Dome is reasonably part of your itinerary, you will receive a permit that includes them.
Incredible, but Difficult Hike
Let it be known that this hike is NO JOKE. It is only for people who are in relatively good shape and can handle hiking 14 miles round trip. My girlfriend and I did this hike in one day instead of backpacking it over two days. We started at around 5:30AM just before sunrise and got back at 7PM, just after sunset. This is a very long, demanding hike. Quite dangerous too. You must bring adequate supplies (at least 1 gallon of water per person, food, headlamp/flashlight, etc) to do this hike. Many people have died on Half Dome. The reason for this is mostly because storms roll in very quickly here and people try to ascend Half Dome anyway, but when it rains, the granite becomes slippery and people have slipped on the cables and fallen to their deaths. My recommendation to everyone that the original post leaves out: BRING GLOVES. Yes, there is a pile of gloves at the base of the cables. Are they good? Not really. I tried some. I found it way better to bring my own. I went with rubber gardening gloves with extra grip on the fingers and they helped immensely. Please, do yourself a favor and research this hike before attempting it. Do not try to do this hike without hiking boots with good grip. If you go prepared, and you get a permit, and you have good weather, this hike is unparalleled. You will feel like you accomplished something huge in your life once you finished it. Be safe out there, and happy trails!
Immense love for this trail
If you are unable to get your Wilderness Permit on the online lottery you will need to one of the three locations in the park where you can purchase a permit, but there is a limited number of permits they administer a day. In the summer time I advise you to get there at 7:30-8am even though they give out the permits at 11am because a line will form; like I said before the numbers are limited. The trail is steep but extremely rewarding and utterly beautiful. The most difficult part of the hike is the larger than life steps and switchbacks of sub-dome. The cables are a challenging experience but the feeling and view at the top is unlike no other! I had the privilege of my (now) fiancé proposing at the top and it was THE most experience in the world!
If you go when the cables are "down" I would recommend bringing a climbing harness so you can clip in and be a little safer. Totally do-able without it, but I would bring a harness next time. Also, if you don't bring gloves there is a pile at the base of Half Dome. The Half Dome cables usually go back up the Friday before Memorial Day (conditions permitting) and come down the day after Columbus Day.
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