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We're an Aussie family heading over to the USA in September. We're hoping to go hiking/camping at Yosemite. :)

We looking to hire a car from San Fran, drive to Yosemite and then:

  • Hike day 1 and camp
  • Day walk up to Half Dome
  • Hike back to car.

So we're not sure what our options are:

  • Do we need a permit(s)? If yes, can we buy them online (we're living in Australia)
  • Is there any recommendations on where to camp and hiking out?

For more info, we've done some hiking and camping before in Australia. Family is 2x adults, 3x children (11,9,8 at time of USA holiday).

Would appreciate thoughts and help, helping us plan this awesome adventure!

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    Have you seen Wilderness Permits from the National Park Service? – Weather Vane Mar 23 at 18:43
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    Absolutely plan to do some version of this—any permutation of that will be gorgeous and memorable. However you do have some logistics well worth planning now (as you are wisely doing) so that the youngest child especially is not overwhelmed with too much in a day. Campsites need to be reserved in advance, and while adults do half dome as a day trip from the valley it’s a ways. and while wilderness permits (outside the campsites) are available, because of the significant visitation there are logistics around proper human waste disposal and keeping your food from the human-accustomed bears. – mmcc Mar 24 at 21:44
  • Yes you do need permits to camp outside of the campsites – ldgorman Mar 25 at 12:49
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@WeatherVane has already posted the permit link in a comment. Get your permits ASAP since you are at the 24 week window about now. They go fast - looks like Happy Isles TH is full through the current 24-week mark (9 Sep). You can get walk-up permits but lines are usually long and you won't have flexibility in your dates unless you're willing to hang around a day or two. You'll also need permits if you intend to hike to the top of Half Dome, which may be too tough or scary for the kids (need decent upper body/arm strength to pull up the cables). My son (then 14) didn't want to do it but other kids do, of course. If Lower Yosemite Valley isn't available, you can camp anywhere within regs near Sunset Creek, which is PAST (east) the Half Dome turnoff, but that makes for a quite tiring day for kids. I think your only other TH option to reach HD for such a quick trip with kids would be Sunrise Lakes, but it is also pretty much full. I would not recommend doing HD as a day trip (out and back in one day) with younger kids. That would be brutal. Also do not let them play anywhere near the top of the falls. Note that Yosemite requires the use of bear canisters for smellables in the wilderness, which they can rent to you.

If you elect to just front country camp, which may also be tough to get a reservation, there are plenty of day hiking opportunities and sights to see in 3 days. It appears the window for that will open 0700 Pacific time on 15 April for dates through 14 Sep. They will be full within minutes most likely so be sure to follow their advice on how to increase your chances.

Good luck! It is an incredibly beautiful park.

  • You should include the permit link in your answer, you can give credit to @WeatherVane for posting it. Comments are not always persistent, you answer will lose value without it. – James Jenkins Mar 28 at 13:25
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    @JamesJenkins Done – topshot Mar 28 at 13:40
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You can backpack from the valley (up the Mist Trail, or the John Muir Trail) to a Half Dome (HD) "base camp" area called Little Yosemite Valley (LYV), where you would bivouac in a site overnight then hike up to and ascend HD the next day. Bear canisters and special toilet arrangements are not required at LYV because there are fixed bear-proof food storage boxes and composting toilet facilities there.

As you have apparently deduced, attempting to hike from the valley to the top of HD in a single day is a strenuous endeavor (most who try it leave well before sunrise) and would be a very tough slog for young kids, I don't recommend it. I have climbed the cables to the top of HD twice recently, it is dangerous and not for the faint of heart. I would be fearful of children 8 & 9 trying it, but only you can judge their fortitude.

You need separate permits for camping in the backcountry and for ascending HD, and they are very tough to get. In fact, there are so many applicants that the permits are issued by random lottery. If you secure permits, they include a tent camping spot in the valley both the night before and the night after your backcountry permit dates, at the "backpacker's camp", along with parking for the duration.

I will say it is a lot of hassle getting it set up, but you will never forget it.

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Other answers have addressed what you have to do to get permits for the Half Dome hike, and for camping, and the level of difficulty involved in the hike for children of the ages of your children. So I won't repeat any of that.

If you don't manage to get a Half Dome permit, do not despair, and please do not pass on Yosemite. There are many spectacular hikes aside from Half Dome, both starting from the Valley, from Tuolumne Meadows, and from trailheads along Tioga Pass Road. The big virtue of the Valley hikes is that you don't need to get acclimatized to the altitude. The hikes from the Valley reach the Rim at about 7,000 feet. Of course, you can continue and go higher.

Starting from the Valley, you can (1) go up to the top of Yosemite Falls and as far beyond as you have the energy for; or (2) hike up to the top of Nevada Falls and further to Little Yosemite Valley and further to Merced Lake; or (3) hike up the Snow Creek Trail which also has a lot of options at the top of that trail. Then there is the Four Mile Trail (one way is four miles) from the Valley to Glacier Point. And so on and on and on.

Yosemite can exhaust you, but you will never exhaust Yosemite.

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