John Muir Trail

Description

The John Muir Trail (JMT) covers 220 miles of the Sierras through Yosemite, Ansel Adams, John Muir, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Inyo wilderness. It crosses scenic passes, rivers, lakes, meadows, and landmarks. It offers view after incredible view and ends at the summit of the tallest mountain in the lower 48. This hike is the quintessential high Sierra trek and I would recommend it to any avid backpacker. However, this is also one of the most strenuous trips imagineable with an elevation gain totaling nearly 50,000ft, a majority of the trail residing above 7,000ft, and several passes above 10,000ft.

We started our trip in early August of a particularly dry year and things went really well until we encountered the Rough Fire burning in Kings Canyon. We were forced to exit over Bishop Pass (JMT mile 137) due to heavy smoke, although the actual fire encroaching on the trail was never a concern. It was a difficult decision but we wouldn't have been able to enjoy the remainder of the trail. Despite exiting early we had a fantastic trip covering 160+ miles of JMT and side trails and spent 13 days in the wilderness.

We finished the JMT in August of the following year, starting again at Bishop Pass and completing the trail at Mt. Whitney.

Click on an itinerary day or map icon to read a detailed description of that day.

Itinerary

Day 1

Clouds Rest Junction (10.1mi)

Day 2

Lower Cathedral Lake (11.6mi)

Day 3

Lyell Canyon (14.6mi)

Day 4

Garnet Lake (13.1mi)

Day 5

Reds Meadow (13.8mi)

Day 6

Purple Lake (13.5mi)

Day 7

Lake Edison Junction (15.3mi)

Day 8

Vermilion Valley Resort (3mi)

Day 9

Marie Lake (12.7mi)

Day 10

San Joaquin River (14.3mi)

Day 11

Wanda Lake (11.8mi)

Day 12

Bishop Pass (13.1mi)

Day 13

Exit Bishop Pass (9mi)

Day 14

Enter Bishop Pass (9mi)

Day 15

Lower Palisade Lake (13.9mi)

Day 16

Marjorie Lake (11.7mi)

Day 17

Woods Creek (9.4mi)

Day 18

Rae Lakes (6.0mi)

Day 19

Center Basin (10.3mi)

Day 20

Tyndall Frog Ponds (9.8mi)

Day 21

Guitar Lake (11.3mi)

Day 22

Mt. Whitney (15.0mi)

Dates hiked: 8/7-20 (2015) & 8/11-18 (2016)

Logistics

Logistics can get tricky for this trip but there are a few things to consider up front to begin your serious JMT planning:

Permit

Obtaining a permit might be the hardest part of the entire trip! For me (in 2015) the permit process involved filling out and faxing a form to the Yosemite National Park precisely 24 weeks (168 days) in advance, and then waiting for an e-mail response the next day. The fax line was busy every night so it would take 30+ minutes sitting at the fax trying to get my permit through. After 9 rejections I was finally chosen!

There are a few permit options for starting the JMT. Here are some key points:

>> Click here for a detailed article on landing a south bound permit

Re-Supplies

Food and gear re-supplies might actually be the hardest part of this trip! An average JMT hike takes 3 or more weeks so re-supplies are critical. There are many ways to go about this but here are some thoughts based on our trip (ordered from north to south):

>> Click here for a detailed article on my food pack list

getting there

We had a pretty unique travel case because we had one hiker exiting at Red's Meadow, the remainder exiting at Mt. Whitney, and a family member living in Bishop to help us out. We took a full day departing from Los Angeles and it went like this:

Public Transit Options

There are a number of public transit options once you arrive in the vicinity (Southern California, Bay Area, or Mammoth Airport). I have included links to some popular options to the right.

Re-supply Deliveries

It is ideal (and in some cases required) to plan ahead and ship your re-supplies in advance. However, it is possible to hand deliver your re-supplies and this may be relatively convenient depending on your starting point and where you are traveling from. Red's Meadow is a relatively quick stop in Mammoth (although a bus is required to get to the lodge) and Toulumne is on the way to Yosemite Valley if you are traveling from the eastern Sierras.

Required gear

The following is a list of gear necessary for the JMT that may not be required on other trips.

>> Click here for my gear recommendations

Recommended Reading

John Muir Trail by Elizabeth Wenk

I carried this guide with me on the JMT and burned completed sections as we went to save weight! It goes into great detail on every point of the trail including campsites, re-supplies, trailheads, and exit points. Each night we read the upcoming trail and campsite descriptions to make a plan for the following day. The maps and elevation profiles were incredibly useful. It also covers planning, history, and wildlife.

National Geographic Trail Map

It's also good to have a map handy! This 17-page map covers all sections and surrounding areas of the JMT, including elevation plots and mileages.

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