Hiking North Dome | Yosemite National Park
Hiking North Dome Yosemite| Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Spectacular views of Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest and Yosemite Valley make the hike to North Dome a must-do when visiting the Yosemite high country.
This trail is seasonally accessible from Tioga Pass (usually open from June – October) or it can be reached as an longer extension of the Yosemite Falls trail from the Valley. We prefer the shorter route, which can also be done as overnight backpacking trip.
North Dome: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 8,100 ft.
Distance: 11.2 miles (including a short trip to Natural Arch)
Elevation Gain: 2,247 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Permit: None required for day hiking. A permit is required to camp at North Dome
Date Hiked: June 17, 2020
2020 Update: Please note that you currently can only visit Yosemite with a reservation secured through www.recreation.gov until further notice. The fee to reserve admission is $2 and does not include the normal park entrance fees listed above. Each reservation is valid for 7 days of access to Yosemite.
Getting to the Porcupine Creek Trail Head
The hike to North Dome begins at the Porcupine Creek Trail Head which is accessible off Tioga Highway (120). Because the road is only open seasonally, it’s important to verify conditions with the National Park Service before attempting this hike.
From the South Bay Area, the drive takes about four hours and covers slightly over 200 miles.
If you’re coming from the Orange County/Los Angeles area, the drive is between 5.5 to 6.5 hours and just under 400 miles.
The Porcupine Creek Trail Head is easily marked and there will likely be quite a few cars ahead of you as this is one of the more popular hikes on Tioga Pass.
The North Dome Hike
Once we had secured our parking spot, we threw all of our scented items into one of the four bear boxes, used the restroom (pit-toilet), and began our hike to North Dome. The first quarter mile of the trail is on an old paved road and it descends through a quiet forest of conifer pines. Seeing remnants of a paved road in Yosemite brought back memories of our hike last year to Artist Point. Eventually, the road becomes entirely dirt just past the half-mile marker, and the continues along a flat and easy path.
We hit the first small section of elevation gain around 1.7 miles in which precedes a junction for Yosemite Valley via Mirror Lake or Yosemite Falls. Here, we stayed to the left continuing on our way to North Dome. Easy rolling hills are the name of the game until you reach the 3 mile mark and the junction for Indian Rock (0.3 miles). Feeling good momentum, we opted to skip the side trip and planned to make a stop on our way back, staying to the right here.
Up to this point, we had only managed sporadic views outside of the forested trail, but that changed entirely just before the 3.5 mile mark. Cloud’s Rest is the first site the comes into view, before eventually the majesty of Half Dome is visible. The trail begins to turn to granite, and we headed to the left and followed a descent that was fairly steep (marked by rocks), and another section that was also narrow. From here, it was just one more steady climb and we were standing on the top of North Dome. At this point, my Garmin read 5 miles and 667 feet of elevation gain. I knew that meant that we had about 1,500 feet of elevation gain on the return hike to look forward to, but first it was time to enjoy the views.
If you find yourself wondering why you would hike to North Dome, I can summarize it quite succinctly for you: stunning views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. Having spent time at Glacier Point, above Yosemite Falls and in Yosemite Valley, I’m not sure there are better views than standing on North Dome. You feel a greater sense of closeness to Half Dome and the surrounding peaks, thanks in part to the unobstructed nature of being on top of North Dome. We took this opportunity to enjoy the scenery while snacking on our lunch of PB&Js and Cheez-Its while shooing away aggressive chipmunks in search of scraps. They were clearly dependent on humans for food, so please remember to never feed wildlife!
After spending an hour on North Dome, most of which included no other hikers, we packed up and started to head back the way we came. As we descended, we ran into a younger man who asked us which direction we were heading in and warned us of a bear he had seen on the trail. We deduced that he likely came from Yosemite Valley via Yosemite Falls and that the bear wasn’t on our trail back to Tigoa Pass. Regardless though, after our Sequoia bear encounter last year, we made sure to make plenty of noise on our return hike.
Rather than follow the switchbacks we had come down, we opted to stay on the granite and head straight back up to the trail. While this was a bit tougher given the elevation (7,500+), we both found it more enjoyable and the breeze kept the mosquitoes away. An added bonus is that you continue to have views of Half Dome along this route and we made sure to take our time and soak it all in.
Once we reached the junction for Indian Rock, we decided, despite our tired legs, that we would go check out the Natural Arch that is part of the rock. The trail here was a little rough and having just recently been in Arches National Park, we found Natural Arch to be a bit of a letdown. But, if you have the energy, it’s a short hike to see the arch which is definitely not a regular occurrence in Yosemite.
Back in the forest, we kept moving, crossing the three small creeks along the trail, and doing our best to keep the mosquitoes from landing on us. While it was certainly less than ideal to gain most of the elevation for this hike on the return trip, it was absolutely worthwhile with such an incredible destination as North Dome. The remainder of the hike, we saw no other people, and overall for the day only saw about a dozen. With Yosemite limiting access to the park in 2020 and our visit landing on day three of Tioga Pass being open, the conditions worked out well in our favor for a great day on the trail!