So, we’re hiking the John Muir Trail. Though known to many within the thru-hiking/backpacking scene, many others have never heard of it. Allow us to introduce you!
The John Muir Trail is a 211 mile trek through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California. Starting in Yosemite National Park and traversing through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, John Muir Wilderness, Kings Canyon National Park, and Sequoia National Park, it terminates at 14,505ft on top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States. It roughly follows the same path as the better-known Pacific Crest Trail, through traditionally hiked in the opposite (north to south) direction. The additional trek down from Mt. Whitney makes this journey a total of 220 miles long.
So what is 220 miles, exactly? For Brenda and Jamie – originating from New England – that would equal the distance from Boston to New York City. For Eric – a Colorado native – that is roughly the length from Denver to Grand Junction.
Hiking this trail is no easy feat, as anyone can tell by looking at that elevation profile! However, it is well worth the effort, as it passes through some of the most spectacular scenery this country has to offer. The trail runs through the High Sierra, a land fondly known as “the range of light”, where mild climates combine with rugged granite peaks and pristine alpine lakes to create a hiker’s paradise.
History of the Trail
The John Muir Trail was created in 1915, and was completed in 1938, 100 years after the birth of its namesake, John Muir. John was a naturalist and conservationist who fell in love with the Sierras in his youth, wrote many books about his time spent in nature, and was instrumental in the development of both the National Park System and the Sierra Club. Many of his quotations have become famous, and his writings have inspired many to step out into the wilderness. Muir, along with several others, pioneered the trail’s route through the High Sierras, though he died the year before its official recognition. Over time, this trail has gained tremendous popularity among day hikers and thru hikers alike, due to its reputation for exquisite beauty, favorable weather, and ability to traverse it without technical equipment.
Hiking The Trail
The John Muir Trail’s hiking season spans from May to September, and is limited in the earlier months by the previous winter’s snowpack. Hikers can take as little as two weeks to finish the trail, or as long as a month, with most people averaging about three weeks (the record setter for fastest completion did it in 3 days, 7 hours!).
Hiking this trail requires a permit, a process that we explain in detail here.
Since the trail does not intersect any roads once it leaves Yosemite, resupplies are a must. Hikers can send ahead packages containing food and supplies, and pick them up at locations along the trail such as the Tuolumne Meadows store, Red’s Meadow, Vermilion Valley Resort, and Muir Trail Ranch. The last 100 miles of the trail have no resupply option, unless hikers wish to detour off-trail to the town of Independence, or hire a pack mule team to meet them on-trail. Water is not an issue, as the trail is speckled by hundreds of pristine alpine lakes.
Along the trail, hikers pass through an incredible variety of scenery, from open meadows and lush mountain valleys, to thick forests full of wildlife, to exposed alpine slopes high above treeline. After climbing out of Yosemite (starting at an elevation of 4,000 feet), the trail never falls below 7,000 feet, and crosses six major mountain passes over 11,000 feet, for a total elevation gain of 47,000 feet.
Why Do It?
We have been asked this question more than a couple of times! Spending three weeks in the wilderness, with a 30lb pack strapped to our back, climbing over beautiful – but intense – terrain, wouldn’t exactly be everyone’s cup of tea. However, the three of us have a love for adventure and the outdoors that makes all of the difficulty pale in comparison to the incredible experience of hiking this world-renowned trail. In fact, backpacker.com readers ranked the John Muir Trail “The #1 trek every hiker should do”. But John Muir himself sums it up the best:
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
Want to see more? Watch this short video from The Muir Project, guaranteed to give you goosebumps every time…