The John Muir Trail (JMT) is one of the finest hikes to be found anywhere in the world. The full hike reaches about 200 miles from Yosemite National Park to the high point of the lower forty-eight states, Mount Whitney, and takes about 20 days.
But not everyone can take the time to do this.
So here is a short four day segment of the trail that more slowly takes us through some of the most beautiful portions of the JMT. This hike has a little of everything, condensing the best parts down to four days: a wide river valley, a high pass crossing, great views, stunningly beautiful lakes and jagged peaks.
Return to Sierra Backpacking & Hiking
This trip can be made in either direction but we like to start from Mammoth Lakes since it avoids the problems of obtaining a wilderness permit in Yosemite, which can be very difficult. This also enables you to spend the night before in Mammoth and gain some acclimatization to the elevation in a comfortable setting. While this trip can be done in less than four days, our goal is to enjoy the hike and not beat ourselves up. That way we can split the days into easy segments that allow you to forget the city, work and all those things that come with modern life. You’ll have time to sit by a lake in the sun and read a book, go fishing or take an afternoon hike without the overnight pack.
We head up the rushing San Joaquin River from Agnew Meadows along the River Trail. Shortly after Olaine Lake, we head up and pass the beautiful Shadow Lake with fantastic views of the jagged Minarets and the blocky summits of Mounts Ritter and Banner. We plan to camp above Shadow Lake, close to Shadow Creek and to make this not too long a day.
Starting elevation: 8,314 feet
Ending elevation: 9,000 feet
Distance: 4.5 miles with 1,100 feet of gain and 420 feet of loss
We head north paralleling the San Joaquin river and pass by some of the Sierra’s most beautiful lakes all aptly named from precious gems: Ruby, Garnet, Emerald and finally to the incomparable Thousand Island Lake. We wander around the lake stopping to enjoy the scenery as we climb up and over the low and easy Island Pass. From here we descend into Rush Creek and stop near the forks of the creek to set up camp.
Starting elevation: 9,000 feet
Ending elevation: 9,650 feet
Distance: 8.o miles with 2,000 feet of gain and 1,500 feet of loss
Today is our biggest pass but the distance to the top is not too far. So we shoulder our ever lightening packs, head over Donahue Pass and drop into Lyell Canyon. Above us rises Mt Lyell, the high point of Yosemite National Park, and we start a steady drop into the wide glacially carved valley of Lyell Canyon. We plan to camp near the Tuolumne River in the base of Lyell Canyon.
Starting elevation: 9,650 feet
Ending elevation: 8,950 feet
Distance: 8.0 miles with 1,500 feet of gain and 2,200 feet of loss
All downhill now to the roadhead at Tuolumne Meadows through Lyell canyon. As we walk, we pass the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River as it is lazily meandering its way to the Meadows. We aim to be at our vehicle pick up in the early afternoon giving us time to head back to Mammoth and a well-earned rest.
Starting elevation: 8,950 feet
Ending elevation: 8,700 feet
Distance: 8.0 miles with 180 feet of gain and 500 feet of loss
Total trip mileage: 28.5
Prior day hiking experience required. No prior overnight experience is required but you need to be in good physical condition, able to walk 10 miles and gain up to 2000 feet daily while carrying a multiday backpack.
Price includes guiding, permits, tents, kitchen gear, shuttle back, 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.
★ Please Read before you go ★
We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)
Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List
- Our Covid-19 plan. Questions how it pertains to this program? Get in touch.
- Our Cancellation Policy
- Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
- Tips on physical training for your trip
- LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environments.
Map Day 1
Map Day 2
Map Day 3
Map Day 4
Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.