If Yosemite is a cathedral to the outdoors, then Half Dome is its altar.
The central monument in the world's first protected environment, the granite monolith is one of those bucket-list outdoor destinations and backcountry experiences that you must experience and enjoy.
Don't forget the camera. Half Dome is best when cast in dramatic light, of course, and this happens during a storm and at sunset. The sun rises at the wrong angle for the best photography at Half Dome, though good photos are possible. During storms, shifting weather patterns (read: clouds) add texture and depth to photographs. During the golden hour and at sunset, Half Dome is illuminated in gorgeous light.
During daylight hours, experience the peak in more traditional ways.
Half Dome Hike via John Muir Trail: There's no better way to enjoy Half Dome than to summit its peak. The dome was first ascended in 1875 by a drilled and bolted line close to the modern route. It is a demanding and strenuous route: over 16 miles and 4,836 feet of elevation gain. There goes your day. Life is tough, isn't it?
There are many gentler alternatives.
- Glacier Point is one of the most photographed vistas in the park, and it squarely faces Half Dome. It's a simple drive for the war-weary. Consider the Four Mile Trail, and visit during the sunrise or sunset for a particularly scenic view. Also, Glacier Point Road closes during the winter—to automobiles. It makes for an especially rewarding cross-country ski.
- From Glacier Point, the Panorama Trail offers a shifting perspective of Half Dome as it descends the opposite valley wall. Prereq: Its 8 miles are mostly downhill (if one way) and include scenic waterfalls to go with that iconic backdrop.
- Half Dome is much more imposing as it looms over Lower Yosemite Falls.
- Olmsted Point offers a completely different vantage from the backside of Half Dome. Bonus: It's right off of Highway 120.
- Sunset at Tunnel View adds color to a beautiful vista, and Half Dome can still be seen peeking from behind Sentinel Rock.
- Recreate a scene similar to Ansel Adams' shot from the Merced River at the Sentinel Bridge on Sentinel Drive just before it joins Southside Drive.