The John Muir Trail is one of the finest wilderness hikes to be found anywhere in the world. Our route starts near and then climbs, Mount Whitney, the high point of the lower forty-eight states and continues north some two hundred miles ending at Yosemite National Park. Along the way it climbs over 13,000’ passes, wanders beneath high alpine peaks, and traverses beautiful meadows and forested river valleys. The spectacular scenery is combined with the generally clement weather of California and warm summer temperatures. This is truly a trip of a lifetime to be remembered for years to come.

We have lived in the area for over 35 years and in this time we have seen a lot of changes in use of the JMT. The last few years in particular have seen a tremendous explosion in use.

Hiker numbers have skyrocketed and this has made it ever more difficult to obtain permits and the logistical difficulty has increased markedly.

Our trips now start in the south and we access the trail via the Cottonwood trailhead. This adds a day but also makes the acclimatization better at the start and with our resupply plans also means lighter packs for these first few days.

We are now allowing twenty three days for the complete trip.

We will have four or five food drops so that the packs are not too heavy so you should be carrying a maximum of 5 days food at any one time. You can expect to cover ten to twelve miles a day. The tentative schedule is as follows, but remember that weather, conditions and perhaps issues such as sore feet or a desire for a rest day may well vary this outline. Be flexible and adapt to the inevitable changes that will occur during a trip of this duration.

Numbered days refer to significant logistical events during the trip. Due to the difficulties of trying to map out every day of a long journey such as this other days have been omitted from this itinerary. Expect changes to this itinerary!

Not everyone has the ability to get an entire 23 days off work so we offer the option of shorter sections. These sections follow our entire JMT schedule but have additional days added for access in and out at different trailheads. These segments are their own separate trip and while following the same overall itinerary as the entire trip are on different dates. We do not have people join or leave the entire trip. Ask about our sectional Itineraries.

Here is a video diary from our 2011 JMT trip courtesy of Paul Ebdon.

Logistics

this is a long wilderness trip and for many people may be the longest backcountry trip they have ever done. You will get tired, dirty and there will be no showers along the way. Because of the length there is always the potential for things to go wrong and the unexpected to occur. Your guide will be trained in wilderness first aid and will carry a radio or cell phone for emergency communications. (No, not for personal use and calling home!). Remember that in these remote locations we cannot guarantee that cell phones will work reliably and in the event of an emergency it is likely to take a considerable effort to find a location where the phone will work. Family and friends can contact you through our office, but because of the problems of communication in the backcountry the delay can be substantial. It will be possible to receive (small) mail and messages with the resupplies.

Physical Ability

You need to be in very good shape for the trip. Do not think that you will get in shape on the trip. You must be in good shape before the trip and physically capable of a demanding multi-day undertaking. This does not mean being a super fit marathoner though. The days will be long and steady. The most important thing is endurance and the ability to deal with whatever happens. Please contact us for details if you have specific questions. Also refer to our training hints. Be serious about your fitness.

Backcountry Conditions

We do this trip from late July to early September to get what we consider to be the best conditions. Most biting insects and bugs should be gone. Days, while getting shorter should be warm with day temperatures in the 60-degree region and nights dipping to about 32 degrees rarely and only at the higher elevation. There may be small snow patches on the highest passes, but not enough to warrant ice axe and crampon use. Stream flows will be well below peak flow and most should be easy to cross. There is the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms that may be heavy for a short time. You will be in the high mountains so there is always the chance of snow, but prolonged storms are not common at this time of year.

JOHN MUIR TRAIL BOOK

Our good friend John Dittli published a book on the John Muir Trail. It’s a collection of John’s photos, history and recollections from many hikes. Click here to see John’s slideshow.


Return to Sierra Backpacking & Hiking

Section One - Cottonwood to Big Pete Meadow — 96 Miles

This segment includes several high passes and stays close to the Sierra Crest and after climbing Mt. Whitney travels through the wide open alpine valley of Upper Basin and passes below the fourteen thousand foot peaks of the Palisade region. The passes here are high and steep, but the effort is more than compensated by the incredible scenery.

We meet at the campground at the end of the Cottonwood Road, do a gear check, dinner and get to bed early, sleeping at high elevation allowing the body to adapt to the thin air of 10,000 feet. Day 1 is a short day to Chicken Springs Lake again to aid in our acclimatization and after this we steadily pick up the pace to Crabtree Meadows. From here we leave our camp and detour, climbing to the 14,495 foot summit of Mount Whitney. Returning to camp we head north, pick up a resupply coming in over Kearsarge Pass, and then after numerous high passes drop into the deeply incised cleft of Le Conte Canyon. Here we get a resupply brought in by packstock.

Day 1

Meet at SMC headquarters in Bishop. Do a gear check and shuttle to Horseshoe Meadows.

Day 8

Arrive at Bullfrog Lake with a resupply coming in over Kearsarge Pass.

Day 13

Arrive in Le Conte Canyon and a resupply.

Section Two - Big Pete Meadow to Reds Meadow — 77 Miles

This section takes you into the heart of the mountains. From LeConte Canyon we cross Muir Pass and enter the stunning beautiful high alpine area of Evolution Valley. We drop in the San Joaquin River drainage and then the route stays well to the west of the main Sierra Crest and after passing Lake Thomas Edison we climb up onto the Silver Divide. We briefly touch an outpost of “civilization” at Reds Meadow where our final resupply arrives along with lunch. Those doing Section two only leave from Reds Meadow via vehicle.

Day 13

Pick up our resupply and head north to Little Pete Meadow.

Day 16

A short side trip to Muir Ranch to pick up a resupply.

Day 20

Arrive at Reds Meadow north of Mammoth. Here we pick up our first food re-supply.

Day 20

Leave Reds Meadow and head north.

Section Three - Reds Meadow to Tuolumne — 34 Miles

For many people this is the most beautiful section of the trip and by now we are really broken in to the hiking and with light packs knock off the final section quickly and efficiently. After leaving Reds Meadow we camp at Johnston Meadow. We skirt the beautiful Garnet and well named Thousand Island Lakes Before dropping into Rush Creek and then climbing our final pass, Donohue. Lyell Canyon is long but nearly flat and before long we are done, ending at Tuolumne Meadows and a well deserved rest.

Day 20

Leave Reds Meadow and camp at Johnston Meadow

Day 23

Arrive Tuolumne Meadows.

Program Prerequisites:

Good level of physical condition and prior backpacking experience. Ability to carry a multi-day pack on trail.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List:

Details, itinerary, and equipment list

Map:

JMT Map 1
JMT Map 2
JMT Map 3
JMT Map 4
JMT Map 5