Yosemite National Park is full of granite domes and while the infamous Half Dome tends to get all the fame, the more moderate (but still challenging) North Dome shouldn’t be overlooked. This incredible hike brings you to the top of a granite dome with gorgeous views of Yosemite Valley and the massive wall of Half Dome. Best yet, there are no permits needed to day hike to this incredible view. Plus, the trail doesn’t involve any treacherous cables to ascend.
This hike is long and strenuous and will be challenging for most hikers. If you’re not an experienced hiker or don’t have experience hiking at higher elevations, a more moderate trail in the park might be a better choice.
If you do attempt this incredible hike, start early to make sure you don’t get stuck on the trail during afternoon thunderstorms or after dark and be prepared with plenty of water, snacks and layers.
This hike is only accessible when Tioga Road is open, usually June through early November.
How Long is the North Dome Hike in Yosemite?
The hike to North Dome is approximately 10-miles roundtrip if you take the shortest route. You’ll gain just over 2,000 feet in elevation as you climb to what feels like the top of the world.
Start at the Porcupine Creek Trailhead on the south side of Tioga Road. Don’t confuse this trailhead with the similarly named Porcupine Flat Campground, a mile west. It takes over an hour to get to this trailhead from Yosemite Valley, so be sure to plan accordingly if you’re staying in the valley.
From the trailhead, follow the sign toward North Dome. You’ll hike along an old, paved road for just under a mile before hitting a dirt trail. The trail meanders through a beautiful coniferous forest and crosses some streams.
There will be several trail junctions along the way. Be sure to follow signs for North Dome at each junction. You’ll steadily climb to the intersection with the Indian Rock Trail. To continue to North Dome, stay straight on the main trail. However, if you have some extra energy, a side trip to Indian Rock is well worth it. Detour 0.6-miles roundtrip to the park’s only natural rock arch before continuing on towards North Dome.
From here, the trail can get a bit hard to discern. Follow the most well-worn path and look for cairns (which are stacked rocks) to show you the way. Stop for a break as the side view of Half Dome becomes visible. Then, continue along until the trail leaves the trees to follow a granite ridge. You’ll see your destination, North Dome, in the distance.
Since there is no protection on this portion of the trail, do not head out on the ridge if you see storm clouds or lightning in the area.
The views are deceiving as you still have one more section of dirt trail to traverse before you get to North Dome itself. Follow cairns and the sign when you reach the junction with the trail for Yosemite Falls.
After one final, gentle climb, you’ll reach the broad, flat surface of North Dome at 7,546-feet. Take in the views of Yosemite Valley to your right and Half Dome and Clouds Rest to your left over a snack or lunch before returning the way you came.
How Long Does It Take to Hike North Dome?
The time it will take to hike to North Dome is dependent on the speed of your group. Fast hikers who don’t stop often might be able to do the whole hike in four or five hours, but slower groups might find themselves on the trail for upwards of eight hours.
It’s always a good idea to overestimate the amount of time you think you’ll spend on the trail. Plan on utilizing most of the day to hike to North Dome and pack accordingly. This means at least two to three liters of water per person, plenty of snacks and a lunch, and layers you can put on in case the weather gets cold, rainy or windy.
On long hikes it’s better to be prepared for the worst and never need some of the items you packed than to be stranded without them. Pack a small first-aid kit in case of injury along with a headlamp in case you end up spending more time on the trail than you’d bargained for.
Can You Camp on North Dome?
Camping is not allowed on North Dome itself, but you can camp in the area just before you get to the dome. Backpacking anywhere in Yosemite requires a wilderness permit. Twenty permits are issued each night for the Porcupine Creek Trailhead. Twelve of those can be obtained through a lottery 24 weeks ahead of your desired date and eight of them are available on a first-come, first-served basis online a week in advance. Both the lottery and the first-come, first-served reservations can be found on recreation.gov.
If you manage to obtain a coveted wilderness permit, you can camp almost anywhere you like as there are no designated campsites on this trail. You can’t camp on North Dome itself and you must also choose a campsite that’s been previously used and is at least 100 feet from the trail and any water sources.