The 212 miles of the John Muir Trail create one of the most stunning hiking trails in the world. The entire hike is part of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, but the John Muir Trail starts in Yosemite National Park and winds through Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon National Park and ends at the highest peak in the continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 feet. Along the way, find high granite peaks, wilderness and glacier carved basins along with six passes that take you up at least 11,000 feet. Easy points of access on the east and west sides of the trail mean you can make this into a short three-day hike of a segment of the trail or take 30 days to hike the entire trail.
About 90 percent of hikers travel from north to south on the trail, starting in Yosemite Valley and ending at Mount Whitney. Starting at a lower altitude gives you time to acclimate to the elevations of the trail. For shorter hikes, you can enter the trail from various points from the east and west.
You need a permit to hike the John Muir Trail, which can be obtained from the national park or the forest. Important to know before you go is that Yosemite National Park and Whitney Portal each have a lottery for these highly coveted wilderness permits. Allow at least 24 weeks for your permit application to be processed if you’re planning to hike the entire trail. The parks also reserve about 40 percent of their permits for walkups.
If you’re entering the Sierra Nevada back country on a multi-day trip, you will need to carry your food in an approved hard-sided storage container to prevent black bears from pillaging. You’ll want to plan ahead for food pickups as well if you’re hiking the entire trail. Pick up any supplies in Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort or Muir Trail Ranch.
Plan your menus ahead of time so you know what you’ll need at resupply points. Plan to bring cooking gear, tents, water filters, sleeping bags, pads and clothes.
You only need one wilderness permit if you plan to hike the entire trail. Most hikers start at Happy Isles, the traditional beginning point within Yosemite National Park. You can also start at Lyell Canyon in Tuolumne Meadows, where permits are slightly easier to obtain.
Where to Stay
The John Muir Trail sits in a remote area of California with few towns or highways, so camping is essential along most points along the trail. Most hikers try to take on about 20 miles a day to keep up their food supply with points along the trail. Many of these points permit you to send supplies ahead of time as long as you label them with your name and when you plan to arrive.
Find your first resting spot at Reds Meadows’ Resort in Mammoth, Calif. Your next stop is Vermillion Resort on Lake Thomas A. Edison, where you can find meals, sleeping facilities and a small store. Tuolumne Meadows is the next resupply stop. Muir Trail Ranch south of Vermillion Resort offers overnight accommodations in a log cabin or tent cabin. Your stay there includes three meals along with use of the laundry facilities, showers and hot springs baths.