Hiking the John Muir Trail

by Juan Melli
Hiking the John Muir Trail
President Teddy Roosevelt & John Muir at Yosemite

Background

The Join Muir Trail (JMT) is a 211-mile trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The trail is named for the naturalist John Muir who co-founded the Sierra Club with the mission to explore and protect the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada.

The trail begins at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite National Park, passes through Inyo National Forest and Sierra National Forest (including the Join Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness), Devils Postpile National Monument, and Kings Canyon National Park, and ends in Sequoia National Park on the summit of Mount Whitney – the highest point in the lower 48 states. It’s an additional 10.6 miles down from the summit along the Mount Whitney Trail to the nearest trailhead, Whitney Portal.

For 170 of the 211 miles, the JMT coincides with and follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,653-mile trail from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border. The JMT deviates from the PCT in three spots: 1. between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, 2) Thousand Island Lake to Red’s Meadow and 3) Crab Tree Meadow to Mt. Whitney.

John Muir Trail overview map

Why the JMT?

Over a series of summers, I had previously hiked Half Dome (three times) and backpacked in Yosemite National Park, climbed Mount Whitney, and hiked the Kearsarage Pass Trail in Inyo National Forest. Having hiked the start and end points of the JMT and with a glimpse of the spectacular scenery of sections in between, I knew that I wanted to hike the entire trail.

For most thru-hikers, the 220-mile walk from Happy Isles to Whitney Portal takes about 3 weeks, but with family and work constraints, I can’t do it all at once. So I’m working towards the next best thing: completing the trail as a series of section hikes over the next few years.

Part 1 (2019): Devils Postpile to Happy Isles

  • Start Trailhead: John Muir Trail North of Devils Postpile (AA10), Devils Postpile National Monument
  • End Trailhead: Happy Isles, Yosemite National Park
  • JMT miles: 0.0 to 56.9 (56.9 miles)
  • Total trail miles: 56.9 miles
  • Read the trip report for Part 1

In 2019, I hiked the first section of the JMT with my dad and the older of my two brothers (see the full trip report). We started at the Devils Postpile National Monument and went north-bound, ending at Happy Isles, the traditional starting point of the JMT (note: the historical starting point is actually about 2 miles west at the former LeConte Memorial Lodge – now the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center).

We went north-bound for two reasons: 1) the permits from Inyo National Forest are much easier to get than those starting from Yosemite, which require winning a lottery; and 2) the trail is easier going northbound, with a net elevation drop, and avoiding the grueling hike out of Yosemite Valley with fully loaded packs.

In all, we covered about 57 miles over 4 days. Unfortunately, I came down with a sinus infection during the hike, but it was still a spectacular experience. See the full trip report.

Part 2 (2020): Red’s Meadow to LeConte Canyon

  • Start Trailhead: John Muir Trail South of Devils Postpile (AA15), Red’s Meadow, Inyo National Forest
  • End Trailhead: Bishop Pass Trailhead, South Lake, Bishop, CA
  • JMT miles: 59.3 (Red’s Meadow) to 136.9 (LeConte Canyon/Bishop Pass Trail junction) (77.6 miles)
  • Total trail miles: 90.1 miles

This section that my dad and I are planning for August, 2020 will cover JMT mile 59.3 to 135.0. We will also be hiking an additional ~13 miles to exit the JMT via the Bishop Pass Trail to South Lake.

Tentative Possible Itinerary

  • Day 1: JMT South of Devils Postpile Trailhead to Lake Virginia (15.1 miles, +4,096′, -1,444′)
  • Day 2: Lake Virginia to Quail Meadows (12.8 miles, +2,026′, -4,495′)
  • Day 3: Quail Meadows to Marie Lake (12.3 miles, +3,884′, -1,194′)
  • Day 4: Marie Lake via Muir Trail Ranch (resupply) to Piute Canyon (10.9 miles, +1402′, -3889′)
  • Day 5: Piute Canyon to Evolution Lake (11.1 miles, +3442′, -660′)
  • Day 6: Evolution Lake to Big Pete Meadow (11.5 miles, +1539′, -3098′)
  • Day 7: Big Pete Meadow to Dusy Basin (6 miles, +2,757′, -715′)
  • Day 8: Dusy Basin to South Lake (5.85 miles, +966′, -2,498′)

Part 3 (2021): LeConte Canyon to Mt. Whitney

  • Start Trailhead: Bishop Pass Trailhead, South Lake, Bishop, CA
  • End Trailhead: Whitney Portal
  • JMT miles: 135.0 (LeConte Canyon/Bishop Pass Trail junction) to Mt. Whitney 211.0 (76.0 miles)
  • Total trail miles: 97.5 miles