Mammoth to Tuolumne Hike

The John Muir Trail is one of the finest hikes to be found anywhere in the world. The hike from Yosemite National Park to the high point of the lower forty-eight states, Mount Whitney, is about 200 miles and is a twenty day trip. 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.

Day 1

We head up the rushing San Joaquin River from Agnew Meadows along the River Trail. Passing 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 make this not too long a day.

Starting elevation 8321 feet
Ending elevation 10030 feet
Distance 4.5 miles with 1050 feet of gain and 350 feet of loss

Day 2

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 and set up camp.

Starting elevation 10030 feet
Ending elevation 9650 feet
Distance 7.5 miles with 2000 feet of gain and 1500 feet of loss

Day 3

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 to into Lyell Canyon. Above us rises Mt Lyell, the high point of Yosemite National Park, and we start a steady drop to 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 9650 feet
Ending elevation 8950 feet
Distance 8.0 miles with 2200 feet of gain and 1550 feet of loss

Day 4

All downhill now to the roadhead at Tuolumne Meadows through Lyell canyon, past the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River lazily meandering its way. 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 8950 feet
Ending elevation 8700 feet
Distance 7.5 miles with 400 feet of gain and 200 feet of loss

Program Prerequisites:

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.

Program Inclusions:

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)

  1. Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Map Day 1
Map Day 2
Map Day 3
Map Day 4

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.