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Mountains & Landscapes

Iconic Half Dome of Granite at Yosemite National Park

Half Dome is a world-renowned 8,800-foot landmark in Yosemite. Learn how the dome was formed, the best places to view it and  how to hike it.

Yosemite has more domes than any other place on the planet. Its most famous, Half Dome can be seen from Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point inside the park. It is 8,800 feet of towering granite and a world-renowned icon of Yosemite National Park.

The domes were formed about 65 million years ago, when molten, igneous rock solidified into granite deep within the Earth and was pushed up under pressure to the surface. The granite was shaped into domes as the uplifted, curved layers of rock cleaved off.

“Missing” Half

Despite its misleading name, Half Dome was never whole. Millions of years ago, Half Dome was larger than it is today, but it never sported a matching half in front of the sheer cliff face. Deep inside the great hunk of rock, a broad vertical crack was exposed when glaciers flowed by and undercut Half Dome’s base. The glaciers carried away about 20 percent of the formation (geology buffs like to joke that it was originally an 80-percent dome); more blocks of rocks cleaved away from the crack over time, leaving the sheer face that park visitors see today.

Just the Facts

  • Elevation: 8,842 feet (2,650 meters)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet (1,600 meters) from Yosemite Valley
  • Best Time to View: Early season when the waterfalls are at their fullest from snowmelt.

Five Best Places to View Half Dome in Yosemite

1. Yosemite Valley

The heart of the national park sits at the floor of the granite dome, waiting for you to look up as the sunset hits the top of rock face.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley
Half Dome from Yosemite ValleyJohannes Andersson/Unsplash

2. Glacier Point

Gaze down at Yosemite Valley from the many viewpoints at Glacier Point.

Glacier Point Amphitheater in Yosemite National Park
Viewing from the Glacier Point AmphitheaterGrant Ordelheide

3. Float Down the Merced River

Cool off in the summer by renting a raft, innertube or bringing your own floaty. Start walking from the Sentinel Bridge, then put in the river and float back to the bridge or beyond.

Rafting and floating past Half Dome near Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite
Rafting and floating past Half Dome near Sentinel Bridge in YosemiteGrant Ordelheide

4. Ice skate at Curry Village

Go ice skating under the granite dome, then roast s’mores at the fire pits.

Couple skating at Yosemite's Curry Village Ice Skating Rink.
Couple skating at Yosemite’s Half Dome Village Ice Skating RinkCourtesy DNC

5. Olmsted Point

Bring your binoculars and walk the short trail to Olmsted Point off of Tioga Road in Yosemite. Have a seat on a boulder and watch hikers climb the backside of the granite dome.

The view of Cloud's Rest (left) and Half Dome (right) from the overlook at the end of the short trail at Olmsted Point.
The view of Cloud’s Rest (left) and Half Dome (right) from the overlook at Olmsted PointGloria Wadzinski

Hiking It

Hiking the dome is a 14-16-mile round trip and takes about 10-12 hours. There are cables along the last 400 feet of the climb to the summit and the cables and unsafe in inclement weather and if not used with care. Permits are required to climb Half Dome. Read more information about Half Dome permits at www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm.