Planning our JMT itinerary has been one of the biggest things we’ve done to make this trip finally feel real! After many hours poring over maps, books, and websites, here is our planned itinerary:To strategically plan our our itinerary, we focused on our desired average daily miles, suitable camping areas, resupply opportunities, and elevation profile. We prefer to camp near bodies of water, hence the reason for so many lake end points. We also prefer to summit high passes in the morning, so when possible, we planned to camp at the base of a high climb the night before.
Our resources for mapping out the trip included Elizabeth Wenk’s “John Muir Trail” book, and the National Geographic JMT Map & Guide. The book was very useful for section descriptions, campsite locations/descriptions, and resupply information. The map provided a topographic view as well as elevation profiles and campsite locations.
There are several things to consider when planning an itinerary like this:
JMT hikers can take as few as two weeks to hike the trail, or as long as a month. We have decided to keep a moderate pace, averaging about 10 miles/day and completing the trail in just over 3 weeks. We chose this pace for several reasons:
- Time constraints – This is not a concern for us! We are fortunate that our jobs have given us plenty of time off, and that we have earned the PTO to take it. As a result, we do not feel rushed to complete this trip.
- Ability – Though we are in good shape and prepared for the rigors of this trail, this will be the longest backpacking trip we have taken, by far! In order to avoid injury and keep it fun, we have chosen a pace that is reasonable for us. We expect that, as we continue on the trail, our “trail legs” will get stronger and allow us to do bigger miles, but we will stay mostly on pace due to the next reason…
- Preference – We want to enjoy this adventure! Keeping ourselves at a moderate pace will allow us to enjoy our surroundings without stressing to get to camp by nightfall. We will be able to stop for lunch, go swimming, take plenty of photos, and relax at camp in the evening.
On a hike this length, resupplies are a must. At a resupply, backpackers mail ahead packages of food, fuel, and other necessities to restock along the trail. There are several resupply options within the first half of the JMT, but no on-trail options along the second 100 miles. We chose to take advantage of the many options in the first 100 miles, to keep our pack weight down as much as we can!
- Resupply #1: Tuolumne Meadows Post Office (mile 0)- Since we plan to arrive in Yosemite several days before our JMT start date, we are mailing ourselves a resupply to our official start point, instead of carrying all of that weight our first few days!
- Resupply #2: Red’s Meadow Resort (mile 60)- We will arrive here on day 4 after a short day of hiking. We will stay at the resort that night and continue on the next day with full packs.
- Resupply #3: Muir Trail Ranch (mile 108)- The last on-trail resupply option for the remainder of the trail. This will be our largest (and heaviest!) resupply, as we gear up for the next 8 days on trail without a resupply.
- Resupply #4: Mt. Williamson Motel & Base Camp (mile ~175)- This will require a 13 mile off-trail detour over Kearsarge pass to Onion Valley, where we will be picked up and brought into town for our resupply and night at the Motel. We coordinated this with a zero day (more below).
Other resupply options for the first half of the trail include a shuttle to Mammoth Lakes, and Vermilion Valley Resort; for those who do not wish to hike off-trail in the second half, a pack mule service can arrange a drop-off. Some hikers simply choose to carry the remainder of the trip’s food in their (much heavier) backpack.
Many hikers plan “zero days” into their itinerary, where they can spend a day of rest without hiking any miles. We have worked two of these days into our plans, at roughly the ends of each week:
- Vermilion Valley Resort (day 8) – This is a beautiful backcountry resort located on Edison Lake, just 1 mile off trail from the JMT. It offers a restaurant, grocery store, showers, and various lodging options. We reserved a tent cabin on the lake for our time here. Bonus – we get to take a ferry ride from the trail across the lake to get to the resort (woohoo!).
- Onion Valley/Mt. Williamson Motel & Base Camp (day 18) – We are coordinating this zero day with a resupply. The second half of the JMT has no on-trail resupply options, so many take a 13 mile off-trail detour to Onion Valley, where the Mt. Williamson Motel has a JMT/PCT hiker resupply package. We will arrive at the Onion Valley campground the night before, and on our zero day will be picked up by the Motel staff. That night we will enjoy a free beer, hotel room, opportunity to pick up our resupply and do laundry, and free breakfast the next morning before being brought back to the trailhead.
Now that we have completed this step in the planning process, it is time to build our resupply boxes, and finalize our gear list!