The John Muir Trail is one of the finest wilderness hikes to be found anywhere in the world and the trip of a lifetime. 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 in 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. We have lived in the area for over 35 years and in this time we have seen enormous changes, with the last few years in particular showing a tremendous explosion in use. Hiker numbers have skyrocketed and this has made it ever more difficult to obtain permits. Our trips now start in the south at the Cottonwood trailhead. This adds a day but aids in acclimatization to the elevation. We are now allowing twenty three days for the complete trip.
We will have four or five food drops so that packs are not too heavy, with you carrying a maximum of 8 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 in 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.
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.
We do this trip from July to early September to get what we consider to be the best conditions. There might be biting insects and bugs in July but by August they should be gone. In August and September the 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 elevations. There may be small snow patches on the highest passes, but not normally enough to warrant ice axe and crampon use. This might well change should we have a big snow winter and we will let you know should this be the case. 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 likely 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
THE ENTIRE JMT
We meet in Bishop at SMC Headquarters for a gear check, then shuttle to the Horseshoe Meadows Campground, have dinner and an early bed. We’ve started the process of getting the body adapted to the thin air at 10,000 feet.
To further aid in our acclimatization, Day 1 is a short day; after this we steadily pick up the pace to Crabtree Meadows and from here climb to the 14,505 foot summit of Mount Whitney. After climbing Mt. Whitney we travel north and pick up a resupply coming in over Kearsarge Pass. The passes here are high and steep, as we travel through the wide open alpine valley of Upper Basin and below the jagged Palisade Range. But the effort is more than compensated for by the incredible scenery and after numerous high passes we drop into the deeply incised cleft of Le Conte Canyon where we get a resupply brought in by pack stock.
Next we travel into the heart of the Sierra. From Le Conte Canyon we cross Muir Pass and enter the stunning beautiful high alpine area of Evolution Valley. We drop into the San Joaquin River drainage and, staying well to the west of the main Sierra Crest, pass Lake Thomas Edison before climbing up onto the Silver Divide. We briefly touch an outpost of “civilization” at Reds Meadow where our next resupply arrives along with lunch.
For many people the last segment is the most beautiful section of the trip and now, being trail hardened and carrying lighter packs, we finish the final section quickly and efficiently. After leaving Reds Meadow we camp at Johnston Meadow. We skirt the beautiful Garnet Lake and well named Thousand Island Lake before dropping into Rush Creek and then cross Donahue Pass, our last pass. Lyell Canyon is long but nearly flat, ending at Tuolumne Meadows and a well deserved rest.
- Day One: Meet in Bishop, do a gear check and shuttle to Horseshoe Meadows.
- Day Eight: Arrive at Bullfrog Lake with a resupply coming in over Kearsarge Pass.
- Day Thirteen: Arrive in Le Conte Canyon and receive a resupply. Hike north to Big Pete Meadow.
- Day Sixteen: A short side trip to Muir Ranch to pick up a resupply.
- Day Twenty: Arrive at Reds Meadow north of Mammoth. Here we pick up our re-supply and head north to Johnston Meadow.
- Day Twenty Three: Arrive in Tuolumne Meadows.
THE JMT IN SECTIONS
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 have to access or leave the JMT and this adds additional days when doing the JMT in sections. We also need to add in time for acclimatization so we want to start each segment slowly
Section One: Cottonwood to Bishop Pass, Fourteen Days, 105 Miles
- Day One: Meet at SMC headquarters in Bishop. Do a gear check and shuttle to Horseshoe Meadows
- Day Two: Start on the trail and camp at Chicken Spring Lake.
- Day Eight: Arrive at Bullfrog Lake with a resupply coming in over Kearsarge Pass.
- Day Thirteen: Get to Le Conte Canyon and start hiking out towards Bishop Pass.
- Day Fourteen: Hike out over Bishop Pass and arrive in Bishop.
Section Two: Bishop Pass to Reds Meadow, Nine Days, 77 Miles
- Day One: Meet at SMC headquarters in Bishop. Do a gear check and shuttle to South Lake trailhead.
- Day Two: Descend to Le Conte Canyon and join the JMT. Camp at Little Pete Meadow.
- Day Five: A short side trip to Muir Ranch to pick up a resupply.
- Day Nine: Arrive at Reds Meadow and meet our resupply.
Section Three: Reds Meadow to Tuolumne, Four Days, 34 miles
- Day One: Meet in Mammoth, do a gear check and shuttle to Reds Meadow and hike to Johnston Meadow.
- Day Four: Arrive in Tuolumne Meadows and shuttle back to Mammoth or Bishop.
This is a long, hard trip. You do need to be in appropriate shape for it and you do need to train. Please look at our suggestions for training and do follow through on them. Do not arrive unfit and think that you will “get in shape” during the first few days of the trip. Come prepared both physically and mentally and you will have a good time. The first few days of the trip are a shakedown and the guides will be evaluating hikers and ensuring that they have the stamina to complete the entire journey. If the guide’s assessment is that a participant does not have the necessary physical conditioning to complete the trip we will have to discuss if it is prudent for that person to continue. Make sure you come well prepared and fully trained.
Price includes guiding, permits, group camping gear, tents, porters and resupply logistics, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS and NPS 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 for your trip
- 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.
JMT Map 1
JMT Map 2
JMT Map 3
JMT Map 4
JMT Map 5
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