John Muir Trail

World → N AmericaSierra NevadaJohn Muir

One of the best hikes in the world is the

John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07

Hikes in this area are called:

  • Mount Whitney Trail
  • Half Dome (Cable Route permit required since 2011)
  • Yosemite to Tuolumne Meadows
  • Tenaya Lake to Yosemite
  • Horseshoe Meadow (Whitney South)
  • … many, many more

Walk for 2-3 weeks without crossing a road. Brilliant! This is the best hike in the USA and includes many of the best sections of the longer Pacific Crest Trail.

BestHike editor Rick McCharles

BestHike editor Rick McCharles

Note: This page is perhaps outdated. You can improve it by leaving recommendations or links in the comments on this page. Our editors will consider them. Thanks for your help!

AT A GLANCE

  • one of our top 10 hikes in the world
  • Yosemite mapstart in stunning Yosemite, Muir’s “Range of Light”
  • 223mi (360km) to Whitney Portal adding sidetrips to Half Dome, Vermillion Resort and Mt. Whitney 14,505ft (4,421m)
  • 15-21 days recommended
  • most hikers carry their own food and tent (pack animals can be hired, however)

pack animals

  • most hikers resupply en route
  • anyone can walk sections, but to do the John Muir as a thru-hike requires experience, toughness and advance planning.
  • short hiking season as snow still covers some passes into July and some passes may snowed in as early as mid-Sept.
  • the best weeks are Aug through Sept
  • getting a permit to start in Yosemite or Whitney is difficult — apply 24wks in advance. It’s fairly easy to get permits to start at other trailheads.
  • moderate to difficult hiking, depending on weather and trail conditions
  • temperatures can range from 86F+ (30C) to below freezing
  • bear-proof food containers mandatory

Whitney is the highest mountain in the lower 48, and the most climbed.

Processed with VSCOcam with e2 preset

Why We Like This Hike

For many, this is the best hike in the world. More than that, it’s a pilgrimage in honour of the man who co-founded the Sierra Club and helped create Yosemite National Park.

    • crosses Yosemite, Ansel Adams and John Muir wilderness, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
    • 11 high passes, unbelievable views
    • about 10 Ranger stations en route
    • comparatively safe walking for such a long hike (the scramble up Half Dome being the notable exception)
    • JMT is about 10% the length of the Pacific Crest Trail
    • many marvellous waterfalls cascading the huge granite walls of Yosemite
    • thousands of small lakes
    • public transport to the trailheads (easy to Yosemite, Reds, Bishop, Lone Pine and others)
    • the JMT passes through 6 of 7 ecological zones of America
    • gorgeous “wild camping” options. No need to tent near other people unless you wish to.

tent McCharles

  • often great weather — though afternoon summer thunderstorms are likely
  • Whitney, highest in the continental USA, is a beautiful and impressive peak
  • the warm welcome (and day off) at Vermillion Resort is a highlight
  • the Wilderness Permit is free
  • it is easy to solo the JMT — but only if you are strong enough to haul your own gear. In fact, there are many solo hikers, including solo female hikers.
  • signing the summit register on Whitney is a great culmination to the adventure

Tuolumne Sunset, Yosemite.

Considerations

The biggest problem when planning for the JMT is that Muir Trail Ranch is the last place you can easily resupply with food. From there you may need to carry 10 days food or more over steep, remote passes to Whitney. (Consider finishing at the Ranch or Reds if you do not think you are up to the remote southern section of the JMT.)

An alternative is to arrange for someone to bring you food / fuel on the trail.

Also, on the Muir Ranch to Whitney section you may need carry more food than you can fit in one bear canister (barrel). Consider carrying two!

  • few bear-proof campground lockers are available on the JMT. You need and are required to carry a bear-proof food container.
  • often seen on the JMT: rattlesnake, bears, grouse, deer, marmots, …
  • water is not a major problem, but it will be dry on the the high passes in August
  • a good water filter is recommended, however, as some suffer diarrhoea on this hike. Boil also, when you can. It is easy to resupply with fuel.
  • dehydration and heat are more often problems than hypothermia, but bring enough warm clothes
  • bring a lightweight stove. Fire limitations are in effect usually based on elevation.
  • the smartest bears in the world will be trying to get anything edible or that smells edible
  • Marmots will eat anything and may chew through your pack. We even had a chipmunk chew through our tent on Whitney, attracted by some batteries wrapped in plastic.
  • mosquitos are a slight problem early in the season
  • keeping with rustic tradition, the JMT has very few signs. It’s fairly easy to get lost as (We did in 2007.)
  • snakes live there but are usually not a nuisance
  • altitude sickness is a big worry, if you are starting at Whitney
  • some hikers bring DIAMOX (Acetazolamide) — we do not recommend it
  • Half Dome cables are taken down early to mid-October
  • last day for the Tuolumne Meadows Tour bus shuttle was Sept. 17th in 2006
  • you must poop in a bag on Whitney. (If you’ve never done it, you are in for an experience.)
  • some river crossings may be a concern early in the season. Hiking poles an advantage.
  • Most hikers prefer sturdy footwear on this trek. A second pair of footwear recommended.
  • do not hike alone at night. Bears are a concern.
  • there is limited parking at Whitney Portal on a busy day
  • you are not supposed to leave food in the vehicle at Whitney Portal (due to bears) but there are not enough bear lockers to accommodate a full camp.

Nevada Falls

Cost

  • this is one inexpensive holiday, all things considered
  • bear canisters can be rented in Yosemite, but you might be better off buying your own.

Routes

maptrailthe recommended route starts in Yosemite and culminates with an ascent of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48. You are well acclimatized to altitude by the time you get there!

click to see LARGER version

click to see LARGER version

  • the main downside of starting in Yosemite at Happy Isles trailhead is the steep climb at the start of your hike. Smart hikers, instead, catch the Tuolumne Meadows Tour bus from Yosemite valley up to Tuolumne Meadows, then hike back down to Yosemite via Half Dome. (Turning the slog into a relaxed descent.) From there take the shuttle again back up to Tuolumne Meadows where you resupply and start the trail proper. (Credit for this idea goes to one of the comic Yosemite shuttle drivers who went on to tell us that thru-hikers are mostly crazy — they consider this cheating.)
  • You can certainly reverse the route and start from Whitney Portal at 8,360ft (2548m). Public transport is more easily available out of Yosemite, for one thing. But you risk ill effects from the huge altitude gain of 6100ft (1859m) right at the start of your long trip while your pack is heavy. This is a particularly bad idea if you are coming from sea level. Not only that, but it may take you 10 days to get to the next resupply at John Muir Ranch. With a full pack. Over the highest passes.
  • Almost everyone should hike south to Whitney.
  • Cicerone – The John Muir Trail by Alan Castle lays out the JMT into 21 day long stages. Start with that reasonable itinerary. Hard core hikers often finish in 15 days. Some have taken as long as 30 days.
  • John Muir Trail by Elizabeth Wenk (2007) uses drainage basins to split up the JMT. This guidebook worked well for us as we planned to start each day on flat ground. Or, better, downhill.

8 thoughts on “John Muir Trail

  1. I’m a bit troubled by your information. You advocate skipping the permit for Whitney and heading to the summit anyways. Permits are required to manage trail use and prevent environmental degradation. The rule serves an important interest: maintaining the fragile ecosystem at that elevation and ensuring that future hikers have an opportunity to enjoy the experience. Consider removing that reference or at least caution that it may have unintended and damaging consequences.

  2. So I stalked the Mt. Whitney online reservation page, but was unable to get a reservation for August or September. I was however able to get a reservation for October 12. I was going to hike northbound with my boyfriend, but I am concerned about weather and snow. I have not been able to find much info about hiking in October. Any thoughts?!?

    • Hey, I am in a similar boat where I am hiking Whitney in early June this spring as part of the JMT. I have not been able to find much online about the snow/ice conditions that are typical for an average snow year so far + El Niño, however, I have contacted park rangers about my concern and they are insistent that it really all depends on the conditions closer to date. There may or may not be storms in October just as there may or may not be considerable snow and ice on the trail in June. My advice is keep checking weather predictions, especially as you get closer to your start date, and be smart about it. A little storm isn’t going to deter any strong-willed hiker, but preparedness is key. Happy trails!

    • Hi! I’m curious if you ever found any information on hiking in October?? Any tips you can share would be great! 🙂

  3. October generally has snowfall and many of the resorts, I.E. food drop locations will be closed due to snowfall. I found information online and spoke to rangers on the phone supporting this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s