The John Muir Trail is one of the finest hikes to be found anywhere in the world. 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. For all participants this will be a trip of a lifetime, one to be remembered for years to come.
Perhaps a 200-mile trip carrying a full backpacking load seems too much for you. We can understand.
This is why we work with Rock Creek Pack Station to offer pack-supported trips where you simply shoulder a light daypack and leave the hard work to our gorgeous, four-hooved friends (mules). We offer high quality meals, a relaxed pace and if not all the comforts of home some additional comforts not typical of a backpacking trip, such as a chair at the end of the day. (You will never appreciate a chair more than you will during a backpacking trip!) Think of these trips as not just “doing” the John Muir Trail but as a stress-free relaxing sojourn amongst some of the finest mountains in the world.
Our route starts at Cottonwood Meadows to the south of Mount Whitney and winds north over two hundred miles to Yosemite Valley. We head north instead of south, and start further south than Whitney due to the extreme difficulty of obtaining permits, and to allow our guests more time to acclimate before reaching 11k, 12k, and 13k+ feet.
The big question everyone asks is “How much will I have to carry?” The answer is “Not much.” A day pack with water, extra clothing, lunch, rainwear, sunscreen, a camera etc. Your day pack ideally weighs less than 10 pounds.
This is a long trip and, for many people, may be the longest backcountry trip they have ever done. 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 and/or cell phone for emergency communications. (No, not for personal use and calling home!) Family and friends can contact you through our office, but because of the problems of communication in the backcountry, the delay can be substantial.
You need to be in good shape for the trip. This does not mean being a super fit marathoner though. Some days are long; some are short and some we do not move camp at all. Though most days will be shorter, you need to be prepared for up to fourteen miles a day. Most importantly, you should possess endurance and the ability and flexibility to deal with whatever happens. Please contact us for details if you have specific questions.
We do this trip from mid-August to early September to get what we consider to be the best conditions. Most biting insects and bugs should be gone. While getting shorter, days should be warm with day temperatures in the 60º region and nights dipping to about 32º rarely, and only at the higher elevations. 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 has just published a book on the John Muir Trail. A collection of John’s photos, history and recollections from many hikes. You can also view John’s JMT slideshow (Youtube).
Return to Sierra Backpacking & Hiking
On average, hiking the John Muir Trail takes over twenty days. But since not everyone can take time off for that, we have divided the trip into annual segments. This enables you to see the full JMT over the course of a few years, spend more time in the backcountry and fully enjoy what the trail offers.
You can expect to cover six to twelve miles a day. Plan on one or two layover days to simply relax, sit by the stream, fish or maybe even climb a peak. Depending upon the segment, we will meet at either the trailhead or at the SMC office in Bishop. Come fully prepared and ready to go since there will be no last-minute shopping at the trailheads.
Below are tentative day-by-day itineraries. Itineraries can change for many reasons such as weather, minor injury, tired mules or unforeseen circumstances. Please be flexible and flow with the changes as they are always part of the adventure.
Mileage and elevation changes are approximate and rounded. They may differ slightly based on the program or GPS device/settings that you might use. They may also differ if campsite locations change.
For more detailed day by day descriptions go to the “Resources” tab.
Section One — Cottonwood to Onion Valley:
9 Days, 70 Miles
We will cover 23 miles following the Pacific Crest Trail over three days to stage for the ascent to Mount Whitney at Guitar Lake. The top of Mount Whitney begins the start of our trek along the John Muir Trail. We will then follow the JMT north enjoying views of the Kaweah Range to the west and the Sierra crest to the east before crossing over Forester Pass, the highest pass on the John Muir Trail. Dropping into the glacially carved U-shaped valley of Bubbs Creek we descend to Vidette Meadow before exiting over Kearsarge Pass.
The mileages and elevations below were GPS calculated in 2017 and should be more accurate than those taken from maps.
Day 1 — Cottonwood to Chicken Spring Lake: 5.3 miles, 1405′ of gain, 0′ of loss
Day 2 — Chicken Spring Lake to Rock Creek: 9.7 miles, 700′ of gain,’ feet of loss
Day 3 — Rock Creek to Crabtree Meadow: 6.75 miles, 2040′ of gain, 990′ of loss
Day 4 — Crabtree to Guitar Lake: 3.0 miles, 1050′ of gain, 160′ of loss
Day 5 — Climb Mt Whitney and return to Guitar: 14.4 miles, 3405′ of gain, 4410′ of loss
Day 6 — Crabtree Meadow to Tyndall Creek: 9.5 miles, 1850′ of gain, 1950′ of loss
Day 7 — Layover day
Day 8 — Tyndall Creek to Upper Bubbs Creek: 12.5 miles, 2590′ of gain, 3400′ of loss
Day 9 — Bubbs Creek to Onion Valley via Kearsarge Pass: 9 miles, 2375′ of gain, 2900′ of loss
Section Two — Onion Valley to Bishop Pass:
10 Days, 65 Miles
This is truly the Sierra High Country picking up where Section One left off. We will climb over three 12,000’ passes and walk down the famous golden staircase. Hiking above tree line for much of this section affords us expansive views of the glacial cut granite walls of Kings Canyon National Park. The varied landscape rewards us with cascading creeks as well as serene meadows along much of the hike all the way to our exit at Bishop Pass. This section has several “shorter” days as well as two layover days.
Day 1 — Onion Valley to Charlotte Lake via Kearsarge Pass: 7.5 miles, 2870′ of gain, 1650′ of loss
Day 2 — Charlotte Lake to Baxter Meadow: 9.0 miles, 1825′ of gain, 2650′ of loss
Day 3 — Layover day
Day 4 — Baxter Meadow to Twin Lakes: 9.1 miles, 2,100’ gain, 1,850’ loss
Day 5 — Twin Lakes to Upper Basin: 7.5 miles, 1,550’ gain, 2,150’ loss
Day 6 — Layover
Day 7 — Upper Basin to Lower Palisade Lake: 9.3 miles, 2,200′ gain, 1,550′ loss
Day 8 — Lower Palisade Lake to Grouse Meadow: 8.5 miles, 450′ of gain, 2900′ of loss
Day 9 — Grouse Meadow to Upper Dusy Basin: 7.5 miles, 3130′ of gain, 1100′ of loss
Day 10 — Upper Dusy Basin to South Lake: 6.7 miles, 875′ of gain, 2460′ of loss
Section Three — Bishop Pass to Red’s Meadow
11 Days, 90 Miles
Days on this segment are long so be prepared for that. We climb back into the high country steadily getting used to the elevation taking two days to rejoin the JMT. This section through Evolution Valley and the surrounding high peaks has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful sections on the JMT and we can only agree. Steadily we drop to lower elevations, heading west towards Lake Edison and Mono Creek before climbing over the Silver Divide. not as vast as what we have already traversed but more intimate and exquisite. The final section takes us through the recent volcanic cones and soils of the Mammoth area to our van pickup at Reds Meadow.
The mileages and elevations below were GPS calculated in 2020 and should be more accurate than those taken from maps.
Day 1 — South Lake to Upper Dusy Basin: 8.7 miles, 2231′ of gain, 1342′ of loss
Day 2 — Upper Dusy Basin to Big Pete Meadow: 6.5 miles, 570′ of gain, 2021′ of loss
Day 3 — Big Pete Meadow to Colby Meadow: 15.4 miles, 2927’ gain, 2274’ loss
Day 4 — Layover Day
Day 5 — Colby Meadow to Shooting Star Meadow: 14.3 miles, 6401’ gain, 2560’ loss
Day 6 — Shooting Star Meadow to Rose Marie Meadow: 10.4 miles, 3150’ gain, 1,015’ loss
Day 7 — Rose Marie Meadow to Quail Meadow: 12.4 miles, 1,180’ gain, 3190’ loss
Day 8 — Quail Meadow to Horse Heaven: 13.5 miles, 3,500’ gain, 1650’ loss
Day 9 — Layover Day
Day 10 — Tully Hole to Deer Creek: 12.8 miles, 2030’ gain, 2,540’ loss
Day 11 — Deer Creek to Red’s Meadow: 6.2 miles, 203′ of gain, 1475′ of loss
Section Four — Red’s Meadow to Yosemite
8 Days, 60 Miles
Now we get to experience the grandeur of the Ansel Adams Wilderness with the Minaret Spires and the Ritter Range escarpment towering over green meadows and alpine lakes. We take our time through this section enjoying it and relaxing alongside of the lakes away from the main trail. Read a book, fish or scramble up a peak; or just do nothing and absorb the Sierra. This might just be our favorite part of the range. We make our last big pass crossing ascending over Donahue Pass to follow the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River before ascending one last time past Cathedral Lakes before the long descent to Yosemite Valley.
Day 1 — Reds Meadow to Gladys Lake: 7.1 miles, 2500′ of gain, 575′ of loss
Day 2 — Gladys Lake to Laura Lake: 5.0 miles, 1500′ of gain, 1500′ of loss
Day 3 — Laura Lake to Davis Lake: 7.5 miles, 1820′ of gain, 1500′ of loss
Day 4 — Davis Lake to Lyell Canyon: 9.5 miles, 1675′ of gain, 2700′ of loss
Day 5 — Lyell Canyon to Cathedral Lake: 13.0 miles, 1500′ of gain, 1100′ of loss
Day 6 — Layover
Day 7 — Cathedral Lake to Sunrise Creek: 11.5 miles, 1175′ of gain, 3300′ of loss
Day 8 — Sunrise Creek to Yosemite: 6.0 miles, 300′ of gain, 3550′ of loss