John Muir Trail
Key information: John Muir Trail
- This famous trail passes through the beautiful, unspoilt wilderness of three of western USA’s National Parks.
- Unbelievable views in places, especially around Yosemite, and inspiring throughout.
- This is the makings of a long, serious adventure – but most people chose to tackle a section of it.
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest17
- Human interest2
- Negative points2
- Total rating87
- Note: Negs: Heavy loads to carry
- Length: 354km
- up to 22 days
- Maximum Altitude: 4,421m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
The John Muir Trail, named after the famous pioneering environmentalist, runs along the spine of the Sierra Nevada range of northern California. Muir took this route, in 1869, some 211 miles from the Happy Isles trailhead at Yosemite south to the summit of Mount Whitney.
The beautiful Sierra Nevada were referred to as the “Range of Light” by Muir, and contain an extraordinary array of the most outstanding scenery. Much of the landscape is granite, so it is harshly beautiful, but with lakes, rivers, forests and meadows to mellow it (perfect it?). This is many peoples’ favourite hike – anywhere.
The trail meanders through three national parks – Yosemite, King’s Canyon and Sequoia – one national monument (the Devil’s Postpile) and two wilderness areas, home to many animals and birds – including black bears, coyotes, wolverine, mule deer, bighorn sheep, marmots, red-tailed hawks, and great horned owls. It is definitely worth taking a pair of binoculars. Beware: the bears can be troublesome and potentially dangerous. Be sure to keep all your food stored in bear-proof containers.
Once away from Yosemite, the trail passes through genuine wilderness for days on end, with no signs of humanity other than walkers, so you will be camping and carrying many days’ food; this is hard work, although at least the trail isn’t excessively tough. That said, it is well walked, both on its own account and because it shares a lot of its way with the endless Pacific Crest Trail [link].
The route is not, however, especially difficult as it was engineered for pack animals, with no real scrambling unless you make the side trip to Yosemite’s Half Dome.
A summary of the route is:
Days 1-2 (24 miles) – Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows
Days 3-5 (34 miles) – Tuolumne Meadows to Reds Meadow
Days 6-8 (32 miles) – Reds Meadow to Quail Meadows and Lake Edison
Days 9-11 (34 miles) – Lake Edison to Evolution Valley
Days 12-14 (37 miles) – Evolution Valley to South Fork Kings River
Days 15-17 (37 miles) – South Fork Kings River to Tyndall Creek
Days 18-20 (25 miles) – Tyndall Creek to Whitney Portal
Note: the trail is often hiked south to north (particularly by those walking it as part of the PCT), but factors such as steady altitude gain and easier resupply can favour starting in the north.
A lot of people don’t have the time (or desire) to walk the entire trail, but take on more digestible sections, mainly in the north, where entry and exit are easiest, exiting on trails to roadheads (at some of which there are seasonal buses). Options include heading out from Yosemite to exit at Tuolumne Meadows, Red Meadows on the Muir Trail Ranch, or from one of these intermediate points onward (note, though, that the northernmost sections, near Yosemite, are the most populated and thus crowded, so, if you want to avoid people head to the remoter areas).
This is a long and demanding trek (354 km in total) of varying heights, for which one must allow approaching 3 weeks to hike the whole trail (although you can do it in a lot less if strong and fit -- research your likely timings). It winds through remote mountains on which you will have to be self-sufficient, camping and carrying all your food (food replenishment needs careful planning). Bears are a big issue. Come prepared – you will need to be physically and mentally up to it, and fit enough.
Permits are required and hard to get. See below. It is possible to make supported expeditions, but this is rarely done.
We strongly recommend the Cicerone [guidebook] which is both inspiring and very practical. And also the excellent https://trailtopeak.com/2018/12/31/a-complete-guide-to-the-john-muir-trail/
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist.
Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk (support us: find books using our Amazon search box)
The John Muir Trail – Cicerone, Alan Castle: as usual, an inspiring book, packed with valuable information, including excellent detail on the route. Recommended.
John Muir Trail – Elizabeth Wenk and Kathy Morey
Hiking in the Sierra Nevada – Lonely Planet
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Other books (support us: find books using our Amazon search box)
Chapters in Trekking Atlas of the World – Ed. Jack Jackson; World’s Great Adventure Treks – Ed. Jack Jackson; Classic Treks – Ed. Bill Birkett and Classic Hikes of the World (very good) – Peter Potterfield.
Bear Aware-Hiking and Camping in Bear Country – Bill Schneider
See also the Cicerone book’s bibliography.
Find these and other books on Amazon.
The John Muir Trail Map Pack – Tom Harrison (www.tomharrisonmaps.com) for the whole trail. Various maps for shorter sections
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Mid-July (can start from June, but the challenges increase) to mid-September – but the timings will vary depending on the previous winter’s snowfall, with deep snow in the passes the potential problem. Expect to be hiking on snow at the highest passes in July and sometimes even in August. Snow melt rivers can be a problem early in the season. Freezing temperatures and heavy snow are possible by late September.
The Sierra Nevada have a generally very benign climate. The summer is usually warm, and gloriously sunny, but thunderstorms can happen, and long periods of rain are possible. At high altitudes one can expect very cold nights.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
AIRPORTS: San Francisco and Los Angeles are the nearest international airports.
TRANSPORT: Trains run from San Francisco to Merced, from where there are buses to Yosemite Valley, which is well served by buses. The finish is 12 miles from Lone Pine, from here there are daily buses to Los Angeles. You can, of course, get to start/finish by car, but there are practical problems if you are not returning to your start point.
Permits are needed to do this walk (or any hike involving a night out in the wilderness) – and should not be avoided. They are painful to obtain due to high demand, and have to be booked a long way in advance (106-170 days ahead of your planned departure date, as at 2019). See more at https://trailtopeak.com/2018/12/31/a-complete-guide-to-the-john-muir-trail/ and https://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/jmt-rolling-lottery-application. The requirements change, so check the current status carefully!
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: can affect some. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope.
- This is a tough walk, and you will need to be physically and mentally up to it and fit enough. Advance preparation needed.
- Mountain weather: while the summer is generally very benign, snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Dangerous animals including bears: come prepared to deal with an encounter and store camp food appropriately (tear-resistant containers are compulsory). There are plenty of websites with advice on hiking in bear country, and a particularly good one is the US National Parks Service site. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is truly remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong. Food replenishment is a big issue; you will need to plan food drops carefully.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
The vast majority do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared – especially important is getting food replenishment right. Despite few signposts at trail junctions, and creeks without bridges, the trail is well-built and well-maintained.
Guided/supported: walking and trekking holidays for John Muir Trail
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, some may prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Organisers can also arrange for permits to be obtained. Expedition organisers include:
- http://www.sierramountaincenter.com/tours/the-john-muir-trail/ , do week-long segments.
Yosemite Valley and Lone Pine have good facilities from campgrounds to hotels to bed and breakfasts. Along the trail however, you will be camping with relatively few restrictions as to where. Any restrictions will be notified with your application for a wilderness permit.
Your choice of tent is significant. As the Sierra Nevada are generally dry in the summer (with occasional storms) you can use a US-style lighter tent or a good quality bivvy bag.
Other information and tips; responsible tourism and charities
As there are very few chances to replenish food along the way, and several days’-worth can get heavy, you will need to plan your food (and replenishment) very carefully. You can post food on ahead to several places on the trail. These include Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP (where there is a store too), Red Meadows Resort (90+ km from Yosemite), the Muir Trail Ranch (roughly half way along, but a few km off the JMT at the Florence Lake Trail, and the Vermilion Lake Resort the far side of Lake Edison, some 142km from Yosemite. Otherwise, you will have to walk out from the trail to replenish your food. The 19km walk out over Bishop Pass to Bishop town, at 137km from the Witney Portal end, is the most used. Also, check out replenishment services using pack animals.
Water purification will be important.
Having the correct gear is essential for a comfortable, safe walk. See our general expedition checklist [link to checklist page]. See also the excellent (and detailed) advice on packing for the TMT at https://trailtopeak.com/2018/12/31/a-complete-guide-to-the-john-muir-trail/.
[Begging and borrowing gear off others is ideal if you’re on a budget, or this is your first long walk, but at some point you may want to invest in some of your own. Some of our favourite equipment and clothing specialists include Surfdome, Britain’s Cotswold Outdoor, and the Utah-based company Campsaver.]
Walkopedia encourages responsible tourism! Have a look at www.stuffyourrucksack.com for projects you can take things for. The Bradt guidebook lists some good local charities.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- The brilliant https://trailtopeak.com/2018/12/31/a-complete-guide-to-the-john-muir-trail/ www.johnmuirtrail.org has a host of information - check it is up-to-date!
- https://www.theoutbound.com/kristen-bor/the-8-step-guide-to-planning-a-thru-hike-on-the-john-muir-trail. Check it is up-to-date!
- www.backpack45.com/johnmuirtrail has some good practicalities
- www.nps.gov/yose (Yosemite National Park)
- www.nps.gov/seki (Wilderness Management Office)
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
- Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you will get good, current views on this walk and area.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more