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.
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.
2. Glacier Point
Gaze down at Yosemite Valley from the many viewpoints at Glacier Point. Glacier Point Road that leads to Glacier Point is closed for 2022, but you can hike Four Mile Trail from the Yosemite Valley and reach Glacier Point. It’s a strenuous 8-mile, round-trip hike.
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.
4. Ice skate at Curry Village
Go ice skating under the granite dome, and then roast s’mores at the fire pits.
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.
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.