Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor can the John Muir Trail be trekked in a day. The 211 miles (340km) trail named after the man who pioneered the founding of the US national park system runs between the Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park and the summit of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
Cutting a path through the Sierra Nevada mountain range the hike rarely drops below 8,000 feet (2,400m) and takes three to four weeks to complete through a stunning wilderness of lakes, streams, canyons, meadows and mountain passes. The trail is much more than a leisurely amble through the woods.
The John Muir Trail
The trail can be achieved in one go or managed over a series of separate trips. Most people trek north to south as it allows better acclimatization for altitude and food restocking.
Yosemite National Park
The start of the trail takes hikers northeast to Tuolumne Meadows before heading south to Donohue Pass on a track along the backbone of the Sierra Nevada range.
The trail may seem crowded at first as many day-trippers explore the paved section as part of their sightseeing of Yosemite, but the tourist trail quickly ends. Some of the best sights include Vernal Falls; Nevada Falls, one of the most impressive waterfalls on the trail; Half Dome, an iconic rock formation; spiky Cathedral Peak; Tuolumne Meadows; Lyell Canyon; and Donohue Pass, which affords excellent panoramas of the Sierra Nevada range.
Ansel Adams Wilderness and Devil’s Postpile
The Ansel Adams Wilderness and Devil’s Postpile sections of the trail take hikers through a volcanic area complete with hot springs. Other mesmerizing sights include Rainbow Falls; Rush Creek; and Thousand Island Lake, which is perfect for seeing sunrise and sunset. The trail around Shadow Lake becomes more populated as it is another well-worn trailhead for Ansel Adams Wilderness day-trippers. The Devil’s Postpile National Monument is a staggering sight of columns formed from magma that has cooled.
John Muir Wilderness
Lakes, streams, peaks, meadows and forests define the John Muir Wilderness section of the trail. It also gives hikers the opportunity to access small towns for restocking. Sights of note include fresh forest that has been cultivated following fire; vistas of Mount Ritter and Banner Peaks; red cinder cones, evidence of the area’s volcanic past; Cascade Valley; Purple Lake, named after the purple tinge of the surrounding rocks; Virginia Lake, one of the prettiest in the area; the meadows of Tully Hole; Fish Creek; Silver Pass; Lake Edison, where many hikers leave the trail for supplies; and Seldon Pass, which marks the halfway point of the entire trail.
Kings Canyon National Park
One of the less visited spots in the area, Kings Canyon National Park has many beautiful sights to see including Rae Lakes and the surrounding area; Marie Lake; Upper Basin; Le Conte Canyon; Evolution Valley; and McClure Meadow. Hikers need their strength for this section, which is defined by several passes and valleys, including Forester Pass, the highest point on the trail at 13,153 feet (4,000m).
Sequoia National Park
Known as the land of giants, the Sequoia National Park has some of the biggest trees and mountains along the route but is also one of the shortest stretches of the trail. Hikers enter the park after Forester Pass and prepare for the panoramas at Tawny Point. Mount Whitney is the star of the sights and the peak of accomplishment at completing the trail. However, a final 11 miles (18km) hike along the Whitney Trail is required to reach the trailhead, bringing the grand total of the trail to 220 miles (350km).
Start you trip with a few days exploring Yosemite National Park. End your trip with some time relaxing in Sequoia National Park.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. - John Muir
When To Go
The best time to hike the John Muir Trail is during the summer months (June to September) where there’s less chance for snow on the ground.
The following temperatures are from Yosemite Valley. Keep in mind the temperatures will change dramatically depending on elevation.
From June to September, the average high temperatures range from 89 to 97°F (32 to 36°C), low temperatures range from 57 to 65°F (14 to 18°C), and precipitation remains under 1 inch (0 to 1mm) each month.
Getting There & Around
The John Muir Trail runs for 211 miles (340km), starts in Yosemite National Park and ends at Mount Whitney.
Most people get to Yosemite National Park by driving 211 miles (340km) east from San Francisco or 311 miles (501km) north from Los Angeles, both of which have international airports.
From Yosemite, it’s time to ditch the wheels and head out into the wilderness on foot.
- Camping: $10-15 per night.
- Permit: $5
- Give yourself time to acclimate if you’re not used to high elevations. Drink plenty of water and take it easy.
- Book your reservation/permit in advance (we’re talking 6 months in advance).
- Wear comfortable and worn-in hiking boots. Bring light weight sandals to give your feet a break in the evening.
- Forget to plan your exit date. Your permit dates through out the trip don’t really matter. What’s important is your final day. Be sure to have a firm exit date.
- Worry about carrying your food for the entire journey. There are restocking points along the way.
- Stand on or near a granite boulder during a thunder and lightening storm as the granite attracts electricity. Never sleep on granite.
- John Muirs activism for nature saved Yosemite and Sequoia by protecting them as a National Park.
- John Muir founded the famous Sierra Club.
- In 1884, Theodore Solomons founded the idea of the John Muir Trail in the High Sierras.
Feature Image Credit: SteveD.