Long Distance Trails

Hiking the John Muir Trail: Following in the Footsteps of Legendary John Muir

POSTED ON September 27, 2023 BY Ralph S.


Embark on an awe-inspiring journey through the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains—the John Muir Trail, a 211-mile (339 km) thru-hike through some of the most stunning wilderness in the United States. From Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, this famous trail beckons adventurous souls and dedicated thru-hikers. Discover its rich history, challenging mountain passes, and pristine wilderness areas.

Join us as we explore the entire John Muir Trail, from the northern terminus in Yosemite National Park to the southern endpoint at Mount Whitney.

Along the way, we’ll traverse iconic locations like Little Yosemite Valley, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and more. Learn about the importance of JMT permits, the camaraderie of fellow backpackers, and the breathtaking scenery that inspired renowned photographer Ansel Adams.

Whether you’re a seasoned thru-hiker or a day hiker seeking adventure, this comprehensive guide will prepare you for an unforgettable journey along the most famous section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your JMT permit, and get ready to explore the stunning landscapes and mountain passes that make the John Muir Trail a hiker’s paradise.

PCT Trail

History of The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is not just a hiking trail; it’s a walk through history and a testament to the enduring legacy of one of America’s greatest naturalists and conservationists, John Muir himself. This iconic trail, which spans approximately 211 miles (339 km), takes hikers through some of the most pristine and awe-inspiring wilderness in the United States, including the John Muir Wilderness, a pristine and rugged landscape named in honor of the trail’s conservationist namesake.

But before we dive into the natural beauty of the JMT, let’s take a step back and explore its rich history.

The Visionary Behind the Trail

John Muir, often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks,” was a Scottish-American naturalist and writer who played a pivotal role in the conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Muir’s love for the wilderness and his tireless advocacy for its preservation culminated in the establishment of several national parks, including Yosemite National Park.

The John Muir Trail owes much of its existence to Muir’s efforts. Muir’s passion for Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains led him to explore and document the region extensively. His writings and advocacy were instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.

The JMT is also closely intertwined with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), another long-distance hiking route. The PCT stretches from the border of Mexico to Canada and intersects the JMT along its route.

The JMT is often considered a highlight of the PCT due to its stunning scenery and challenging terrain.

The Evolution of the JMT

The concept of a dedicated hiking trail along the Sierra Nevada spine was initially proposed by Theodore Solomons in the early 1900s. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the trail gained momentum and saw significant development.

The JMT we know today largely follows the route initially conceived by Theodore Solomons. Over the years, it has been refined and improved upon by various agencies, including the Pacific Crest Trail Association [1] and the Sierra Club, both of which played crucial roles in its development.

Modern-Day Exploration

Since its establishment, the John Muir Trail has become a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, attracting JMT hikers from around the world. Completing the entire trail has become a rite of passage for many, and obtaining a JMT permit is a coveted opportunity due to its popularity.

In recent years, hikers have been drawn to the JMT not only for its breathtaking vistas but also for the sense of connection to the natural world and to the pioneering spirit of John Muir himself. As we venture along the trail, we’ll discover the challenges and rewards that await those who embark on this remarkable journey through time and nature.

Yosemite Falls John Muir Trail

Key Facts about The John Muir Trail

Location: The Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, USA.

Total Length: Approximately 211 miles (340 kilometers).

Establishment: Proposed in the early 1900s, but officially established in the 1930s.

Elevation Change: Around 47,000 feet (14,000 meters) and a similar elevation loss.

Difficulty: Moderate-to-Strenuous

Time to Complete: Approximately 2 to 4 weeks to finish the entire route. However, this can vary based on individual hiking speeds and the number of rest days taken.

Best Time to Visit: The summer months, from late June to early September.

Lowest Point: At the trailhead in Yosemite Valley, approximately 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above sea level.

Highest Point: Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the contiguous United States) at around 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) above sea level.

A section of John Muir Trail

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a legendary long-distance thru-hike that traverses the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. As you prepare to embark on this iconic journey, it’s crucial to understand the trail’s difficulty levels, various route options, and the breathtaking highlights that await you along the way.

Difficulty Levels

The JMT is renowned for its challenging terrain and demanding elevation changes. Thru-hikers often describe it as both physically and mentally taxing, requiring a high level of endurance and preparedness. The trail’s difficulty can vary depending on factors such as weather conditions and individual hiker experience.

Here’s a general overview of its challenges:

  • Elevation Gain and Loss: Hikers can expect to ascend and descend a total of around 47,000 feet (14,000 meters) during the entire JMT. This means steep climbs and descents, particularly when crossing mountain passes.
  • Altitude: Much of the JMT is at high altitude, with many segments exceeding 10,000 feet (3048 meters), so acclimatization is key.

Route Options

The JMT’s primary route follows a well-established path through pristine wilderness areas and national parks, but there are several popular variations and side trips:

  • Half Dome: A side trip to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a bucket-list experience for many JMT hikers. However, permits, which can be found here, are required for this challenging ascent.
  • Mount Whitney (location): The JMT ends at Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Many thru-hikers continue beyond the JMT terminus to reach this summit.
  • Side Trails: Several side trails and alternate routes connect to the JMT, including the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). These options allow for additional exploration and adventure.

John Muir Wilderness


Popular Highlights

The John Muir Trail is well-signed and relatively easy to follow, but there are several side trails and alternate routes that can make for a more varied experience. This trail is also a showcase of natural beauty, and it’s hard to pinpoint just a few highlights.

Some popular side trips include climbing Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route, taking a detour to visit the stunning Evolution Basin, or exploring the high country around the Muir Hut.

Here are some other must-see attractions along the way:

  • Yosemite Valley: Starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (location), hikers are treated to breathtaking views of iconic granite cliffs and waterfalls.
  • Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks: The JMT takes you through the stunning Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, where you’ll encounter majestic canyons, towering trees, and pristine alpine lakes.
  • Devils Postpile National Monument is a popular attraction along the JMT, featuring an array of basalt columns formed by lava flows. Standing at 6,000 feet (1829 meters), Devil’s Postpile (location) offers a unique perspective on the surrounding landscape. panoramic views and another opportunity to summit Mount Whitney.
  • Muir Pass: Named after John Muir himself, this pass takes you through an otherworldly landscape of alpine meadows and high mountain vistas.
  • Evolution Basin (location): Known for its striking turquoise lakes, Evolution Basin is a highlight that seems to have been plucked from a dream.
  • Forester Pass (location): The highest point in the Sierra Nevada, at over 13,000 feet (4,009 m), offers panoramic views of the close surroundings.

Alternative Routes and Side Trips

Half Dome

Preparing for the Trail

Embarking on a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT) is a monumental undertaking, requiring meticulous planning and preparation.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a newcomer to long-distance backpacking, thorough preparation is the key to a successful journey through this breathtaking wilderness.

Here are the essential aspects of preparing for your JMT adventure.

  • Physical Fitness: Hiking the JMT demands a high level of physical fitness. The trail’s elevation changes, rugged terrain, and long daily mileage can be physically taxing. To prepare, engage in regular cardiovascular and strength training exercises. Additionally, acclimating to high altitudes is crucial, as many segments of the JMT surpass 10,000 feet. Spend time in high-altitude areas to adapt to thinner air and reduce the risk of altitude sickness. You can check out our guide on how to get in shape for hiking to help you plan a successful John Muir Trail thru-hike.
  • Route Selection: Familiarize yourself with the JMT route and its trail junctions, which connect it to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Some hikers choose to include side trips to iconic locations like Half Dome in Yosemite National Park or Mount Whitney. Ensure you have detailed maps and guidebooks to navigate the entire trail and any additional excursions you plan. Luckily, you can find multiple good John Muir Trail maps here.
  • Resupply Strategies: Thru-hikers must strategize their resupply points carefully. Popular options include Muir Trail Ranch, Mammoth Lakes, Tuolumne Meadows Store, Vermillion Valley Resort, and Lone Pine (location). Research the distance between resupply points and calculate your food requirements to avoid carrying excessive weight. You can also ship resupply packages in advance to Muir Trail Ranch or other locations, and check their operating hours and policies.
  • Mental Preparation: Hiking the JMT is not only physically demanding but mentally challenging as well. Be mentally prepared for the solitude and the potential difficulties of navigating through remote wilderness areas. Embrace the journey with a positive attitude and a willingness to adapt to changing conditions.
  • Gear and Equipment: Selecting the right backpacking gear is crucial. Invest in lightweight, high-quality equipment that suits the specific demands of the JMT. Don’t forget bear canisters, as they are required to store food safely in bear-prone areas. Luckily, we have a guide on how to be safe from wildlife encounters to help you know what is required. Also, thoroughly test and familiarize yourself with your gear to minimize unexpected issues on the trail prior to hitting the trail.
  • Wilderness Permits: Securing a wilderness permit is paramount for hiking the JMT. These permits are in high demand, especially for the northern terminus at Yosemite Valley. Plan ahead and apply for your permit well in advance through the National Park Service or other relevant agencies.
  • Altitude Sickness Awareness: Altitude sickness can affect even the most experienced hikers. Learn to recognize its symptoms and acclimatize gradually to high elevations. If symptoms persist or worsen, descend to lower altitudes promptly to prevent severe complications.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Proper hydration and nutrition are vital. Plan your daily water sources and carry a reliable water purification system. You also need to maintain a balanced diet to sustain your energy levels throughout the hike.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Familiarize yourself with the trail’s emergency exit points and communication options. Inform someone about your itinerary and expected return date.

Permits and Regulations

The first step in planning your John Muir Trail thru-hike is to secure a permit. Permits are required and limited in order to protect the fragile wilderness areas through which the trail passes. Proper planning and compliance with these rules are also crucial to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.

Here’s a guide to obtaining permits and understanding the regulations for your JMT journey.

  1. Wilderness Permits:

There are a few different ways to obtain a permit, but most thru-hikers start at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite: If you’re starting your JMT adventure from Yosemite Valley or another trailhead within Yosemite National Park, you’ll need a wilderness permit from the National Park Service. Visit the official Yosemite National Park website here for detailed information on how to obtain a wilderness permit. Be sure to check the procedures, which can vary depending on the entry point.

The application period is open from November 1 through April 30, and permits are awarded via a lottery system. Be sure to do your research on the permit application process so you don’t miss any important deadlines.

Inyo National Forest and Other Entry Points: If you plan to enter the JMT from other entry points, such as those in Inyo National Forest or Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, you’ll need to obtain permits from the respective national forest or park authorities. Here is the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit information to help you secure a permit. For Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, visit the NPS permit information page.

  1. Thru-Hiker Permits:

Some wilderness areas and parks along the JMT offer special thru-hiker permits to streamline the process for those attempting the entire trail. These permits often have specific quotas and application procedures, so be sure to check with the relevant authorities for details. Thru-hiker permits can provide more flexibility and are ideal for those covering the entire JMT.

  1. Permit Application Dates:

Wilderness permit application dates can vary from one issuing authority to another. It’s essential to mark these dates on your calendar and apply as soon as the application period opens, especially if you have specific entry and exit dates in mind. Popular trailheads and dates can fill up quickly.

  1. Permit Quotas and Availability:

Many trailheads along the JMT have limited permits available each day to protect the wilderness and maintain a positive hiking experience. Quotas vary, so it’s essential to be flexible with your start date and trailhead choice. If your preferred entry point is fully booked, consider alternate trailheads.

Kindly check out important information about regulations here.

Planning Your Itinerary: 3 Weeks Along the John Muir Trail

A section of John Muir trail in Yosemite

Once you have your permit in hand, it’s time to start planning your route and itinerary. To successfully complete this epic trek, let’s break down a comprehensive 3-week itinerary with key stopping points.

Week 1: Yosemite Valley to Muir Trail Ranch

Distance: Approximately 88 miles (141 km)

Day 1: Start your journey in Yosemite Valley at the Happy Isles Trailhead. Begin the hike with the Mist Trail (location), which offers fantastic views of Vernal and Nevada Falls. Camp at Little Yosemite Valley or hike further to Sunrise Creek.

Day 2: Continue through Little Yosemite Valley, cross the Merced River, and ascend towards the Vogelsang area. Camp near Evelyn Lake or Vogelsang High Sierra Camp (location).

Day 3: Hike through Lyell Canyon and enjoy expansive meadows and scenic landscapes. Camp near Ireland Creek.

Day 4: Continue through Lyell Canyon and make your way towards Donohue Pass, where you’ll enter the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Camp near the pass or by Rush Creek.

Day 5: Descend to the beautiful Thousand Island Lake area in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Camp by the lake’s stunning shores.

Day 6: Head to Agnew Meadows (location) and the Reds Meadow area, passing by Garnet Lake and Shadow Lake. Make sure to stop at Reds Meadow Resort to resupply. Camp at the Reds Meadow Campground.

Day 7: Reach Muir Trail Ranch, a key resupply point. Rest, resupply, and prepare for the second leg of your journey.

Week 2: Muir Trail Ranch to Kearsarge Pass

Distance: Approximately 69 miles (111 km)

Day 8: Leave Muir Trail Ranch and continue hiking south. Pass through the stunning Evolution Basin (location) and camp near Sapphire Lake.

Day 9: Trek through the picturesque Muir Pass area, home to the iconic Muir Hut. Camp near the pass or Evolution Lake.

Day 10: Continue south and descend towards the enchanting LeConte Canyon. Camp near the Big Pete Meadow area (location).

Day 11: Hike through the stunning Palisades region and make your way to the enchanting Dusy Basin (location). Camp near Dusy Basin or nearby lakes.

Day 12: Reach the South Fork of the Kings River and continue to the beautiful Rae Lakes area. Camp at one of the Rae Lakes or nearby campsites.

Day 13: Make your way to the scenic Glen Pass (location), then descend to the Charlotte Lake area. Camp near Charlotte Lake or Vidette Meadow.

Day 14: Reach the intersection with the Kearsarge Pass Trail and hike up to Kearsarge Pass. This is your exit point if you need to resupply in the town of Independence.

Week 3: Kearsarge Pass to Mount Whitney

Distance: Approximately 54 miles (86 km)

Day 15: Rejoin the JMT after your resupply at Kearsarge Pass. Continue hiking south, cross Forester Pass (the highest point on the JMT), and camp near Tyndall Creek (location).

Day 16: Make your way through picturesque Wright Creek and reach the beautiful Wallace Creek area. Camp near the creek or Guitar Lake (location) for a stunning sunset view of Mount Whitney.

Day 17: Summit Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Descend to Trail Camp or Outpost Camp to camp for the night.

Day 18: Continue your descent to Whitney Portal, where you’ll complete your JMT thru-hike. Arrange transportation to any nearby town of your choice.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Thru-Hike The John Muir Trail and Weather Conditions

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a trail of breathtaking vistas and challenging terrain, but one factor that can significantly impact your journey is the ever-changing weather conditions. Flexibility in your hiking schedule is also essential, as you may need to adjust your plans based on real-time weather conditions.

Here’s a closer look at the weather you can expect in each season to help you prepare for your trek along this iconic trail.

Alpine lake

Spring (March to May)

The average temperature in John Muir Trail in spring is about 4-18°C (40-65°F). However, the Trail can still be covered in snow at higher elevations, making it a challenging time for thru-hikers.

The trail may not be fully accessible until late May or even June in some years.

Expect muddy and wet conditions, especially in lower elevations. Note that wilderness permits may be easier to obtain during this season due to lower demand.

Summer (June to August)

John Muir Trail experiences temperatures averaging 18-32°C (65-90°F) in summer. In addition, it is the most popular season for hiking, and for good reason.

The weather is generally warm and dry, allowing hikers to enjoy the stunning scenery without the obstacles of snow and ice. But it’s important to note that high-elevation areas can still experience sudden temperature drops and afternoon thunderstorms. These storms are common in the Sierra Nevada and can be potentially dangerous, so always be prepared and have a plan in case of inclement weather.

Fall (September to November)

As fall approaches, temperatures begin to drop, and the risk of afternoon thunderstorms decreases.

Fall experiences temperatures averaging 4-18°C (40-65°F), and is also a fantastic time to hike the John Muir Trail. The crowds thin out, and the scenery takes on the golden hues of autumn. Nevertheless, be prepared for colder nights, especially at higher elevations.

Snow can start falling as early as September in some years, particularly at the northern terminus near Yosemite Valley.

Winter (December to February)

Winter in the Sierra Nevada brings heavy snowfall, making the John Muir Trail virtually impassable for most hikers.

Temperatures average -7 to 7°C (20-45°F), and this season is not recommended for thru-hiking. The trail is often closed due to hazardous conditions.

Winter in the Sierra is best enjoyed by experienced snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

Check the weather forecast regularly and be prepared for a wide range of conditions. Thru-hikers should also remember to carry appropriate gear for all seasons.

Resupplying and Refueling: Surviving on the JMT

John Muir Trail

Planning your resupply strategy and understanding the trail sections and logistics are crucial steps in ensuring a successful John Muir Trail (JMT) thru-hike.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate these essential aspects of your JMT adventure.

Resupply Strategy and Logistics

Some hikers choose to carry all their supplies from the start, while others opt for resupplying along the trail.

So, here’s a strategic breakdown:

  • Yosemite Valley: Your journey begins in Yosemite Valley, and this is an excellent place to start with a full load of supplies. You can also find a wide range of outdoor gear in the Yosemite Valley area.
  • Muir Trail Ranch: Around the midpoint of the JMT, Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is a popular resupply point. You can ship a resupply package to MTR in advance. The ranch is known for its hospitality and hiking services, making it a welcome stop.
  • Independence/Kearsarge Pass: Some hikers opt to exit the trail at Kearsarge Pass (location) for a resupply in the town of Independence. From here, you can easily access groceries and other supplies before rejoining the trail.
  • Onion Valley/Independence to Whitney Portal: If you choose to exit at Kearsarge Pass and re-enter at Onion Valley (location), you can resupply in Independence and then hike to Whitney Portal to complete your journey.
  • Mail Drops and Post Offices: Consider sending mail drops to strategic locations along the trail, such as Tuolumne Meadows Store, Vermillion Valley Resort, and Red’s Meadow. But be sure to check the opening hours of post offices and the availability of hiker services.

Logistics and Tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the regulations of each wilderness area and national park you’ll traverse.
  • Check the availability of bear canister rental options (at $3.00 per day) and bear-resistant food storage requirements at the park’s office.
  • Stay informed about trail conditions, weather forecasts, and any trail closures or restrictions.
  • Safety should always be the top priority when exploring this famous trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Essential Gear and Equipment for a Successful JMT Hike

Hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) is a monumental endeavor that requires careful gear selection to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey through the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

Trekking the John Muir Trail

Here are the essential backpacking gears you’ll need for your JMT adventure:

  • Backpack: Choose a comfortable and well-fitted backpack with a capacity of at least 60 liters to accommodate all your gear and supplies. Look for one with adjustable straps and ample pockets for organization.
  • Tent: Select a lightweight and durable tent that offers adequate protection against rain and insects. Consider a freestanding or semi-freestanding design for ease of setup in various terrains.
  • Sleeping Bag: Invest in a high-quality sleeping bag rated for the expected temperature range along the JMT. Down or synthetic insulation options are available, but ensure it’s lightweight and compressible for easier packing.
  • Clothing: Dress in moisture-wicking breathable layers to manage your body temperature. Essential clothing items include moisture-wicking base layers, hiking pants, a warm fleece or down jacket, a waterproof and windproof outer layer, and a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection. Don’t forget comfortable underwear, Silverlight compression socks, and a pair of gloves.
  • Footwear: Choose sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or trail shoes with good ankle support and grip. Ensure they are well broken in before starting your thru-hike to prevent blisters and discomfort.
  • Navigation Tools: Carry topographic maps, a compass, and a GPS device if possible. Familiarize yourself with the trail and its junctions. Most hikers rely on GPS smartphone apps for navigation but remember to have a backup plan in case of battery failure.
  • Shelter: In addition to your tent, pack a lightweight and compact emergency bivy or tarp. This serves as a backup shelter option in case of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Water Filtration: Access to clean water is crucial for the JMT. Carry a water filtration or purification system, such as a pump, gravity filter, or chemical treatment, to ensure safe drinking water from natural sources.
  • Backpacking Stoves and Cookware: Lightweight backpacking stoves and cookware are essential for preparing meals on the trail. Opt for options that are fuel-efficient and packable.
  • Food and Food Storage: Plan your meals and carry lightweight, high-calorie backpacking food. Due to bear activity in some areas, you’ll need an approved bear canister for food storage, which is a mandatory requirement. We have a guide to 25 delicious backpacking food ideas to help you plan a successful trip.
  • Hygiene and Personal Items: Don’t forget personal hygiene items, including a small towel, biodegradable soap, a toothbrush, and a trowel for waste disposal. Pack sunscreen, insect repellent, and a compact first aid kit.
  • Lighting: Carry a headlamp or flashlight with spare batteries for nighttime visibility and camp chores.
  • Wilderness Permit: Secure the necessary JMT permits for your JMT hike. The permitting process varies by entry point, so research and apply well in advance.

Camping and Overnight Stays near John Muir Trail

When hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT), camping is an integral part of the experience. Fortunately, there are numerous campgrounds and backcountry camping spots to choose from.

Night time in John Muir Trail

Here’s a guide to camping options along the JMT.

  1. Yosemite Valley: You’ll start your JMT adventure here. Yosemite Valley offers several campgrounds, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines campgrounds. Reservations are recommended, and you can find more information on camping in Yosemite National Park here.
  2. Little Yosemite Valley: About 5.5 miles (8.8 km) from Yosemite Valley, this Valley offers a backpacker’s campground, which requires a wilderness permit. It’s a popular stop for JMT thru-hikers.
  3. Reds Meadow: Around 2.5 miles (4 km) off the JMT, Reds Meadow Campground provides a convenient place to rest and resupply. You can find more information on camping in the Red Meadow area here.
  4. Vermillion Valley Resort: Approximately 5 miles (8 km) west of the trail, the resort offers campsites along the shores of Edison Lake. It’s a popular resupply point for JMT hikers. More information can be found here.
  5. Muir Trail Ranch: Located along the trail, Muir Trail Ranch is a resupply point that offers camping to thru-hikers who have arranged resupply packages in advance. Visit their website here for more information.
  6. Independence/Kearsarge Pass: About 7 miles from the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead, Independence provides access to lodging options and campgrounds. Kearsarge Pass is an exit and re-entry point, with camping available at Onion Valley Campground.
  7. Whitney Portal: The JMT ends at Whitney Portal. So, Whitney Portal Campground is a great place to rest after completing your JMT journey. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Nearby Towns for Accommodation:

For extended stays or rest days, consider nearby towns such as Lone Pine (location), about 15 miles/24 km) from Whitney Portal, Bishop (location), and Mammoth Lakes (location) for lodging options, restaurants, and resupply points.

Wilderness Safety and Leave No Trace Principles

It’s essential to prioritize wilderness safety and practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve these pristine environments.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to staying safe in the backcountry and being a responsible hiker on the JMT.

Leave No Trace Ethics for Responsible Hiking:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare: Research the trail, obtain permits, and plan for proper gear, clothing, and resupplies. Know and follow all regulations.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to minimize environmental impact. Avoid creating new paths or disturbing vegetation.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Use established restroom facilities when available. In remote areas, use a trowel to bury human waste at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from water sources.
  • Leave What You Find: Do not pick flowers, disturb wildlife, or remove rocks and artifacts. Leave natural and cultural features untouched.
  • Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove for cooking instead of making fires. If fires are permitted, use established fire rings and burn small sticks and twigs.
  • Respect Wildlife: Keep a safe distance from animals and never feed them. Store food securely to prevent wildlife from becoming accustomed to human food.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Keep noise levels low, yield the trail to hikers going uphill, and maintain a friendly and respectful attitude toward fellow hikers.

Wildlife Encounters and Best Practices:

  • Bear Encounters: If you encounter a bear, speak calmly and firmly, back away slowly, and avoid direct eye contact. Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Snake Awareness: Be cautious around snakes, especially rattlesnakes. Give them plenty of space, and do not provoke them.
  • Insect Protection: Protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects by wearing long sleeves and pants and using insect repellent.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Carry a basic first-aid kit, know basic wilderness first-aid, and have a plan for emergencies. Share your itinerary with someone and check in periodically.
  • Group Travel: Hike with a buddy or a group for safety and support. Stay together, especially in challenging or remote sections.

Half Dome John Muir Trail

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Reaching the John Muir Trail (JMT) and navigating its surroundings efficiently are essential parts of your adventure planning.

Whether you’re starting your journey in Yosemite Valley or another entry point, here’s a guide to getting there and getting around:

Nearest Airports:

  1. Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT): Approximately 65 miles (104 km) away, you can rent a car from the airport and drive to Yosemite Valley in about 1.5 to 2 hours. Alternatively, various shuttle services offer transportation to the park. For shuttle options, visit the Yosemite National Park website.
  2. Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH): Located a few miles from Mammoth Lakes, you can access the JMT at several trailheads. Luckily, car rentals are available at the airport.
  3. Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO): Renting a car is the most convenient option for traveling from Reno to Mammoth Lakes. The drive takes around 3 to 3.5 hours to the Park.
  4. Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR): Approximately 175 miles (281 km), Lone Pine is a gateway to the JMT’s southern terminus at Whitney Portal. Renting a car from Burbank and driving to Lone Pine takes approximately 3 to 3.5 hours.

Getting Around the Trailheads:

  1. Yosemite Valley to Trailheads: Yosemite Valley is a central starting point for many John Muir Trail hikers. To reach specific trailheads, use park shuttle services, your own vehicle, or rental cars available in the valley. Shuttle details can be found here.
  2. Mammoth Lakes to Trailheads: Mammoth Lakes is another popular entry point. Most trailheads are accessible by car. But consider carpooling with fellow hikers to reduce the number of vehicles left at trailheads.
  3. Lone Pine to Whitney Portal: If you’re starting your JMT journey at Whitney Portal, Lone Pine (location) is the nearest town. You can drive to Whitney Portal from Lone Pine, but parking is limited, so consider shuttle options if available.
  4. Trailhead Access: The trailheads themselves are usually accessible by car, but parking may be limited. Be sure to check with park authorities or the respective forest service for specific trailhead details and any parking permits or restrictions.
  5. Shuttle Services: Depending on your entry and exit points, shuttle services may be available to transport you to and from trailheads. These services can be a convenient way to reduce the need for multiple vehicles and simplify logistics.


In conclusion, the John Muir Trail is a challenging and rewarding wilderness adventure that’s sure to be a highlight of any avid hiker’s resume. From securing permits to planning your route to packing the right gear, there’s plenty to consider when preparing for a thru-hike.

But with careful planning and preparation, you can set out into the Sierras with confidence, knowing that you’re about to embark on an adventure you’ll never forget. Happy hiking.

We have other interesting locations in our Hikes and Trails Guide.


Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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