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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: John Muir Trail, CA

Step for scenery-packed step, nothing else compares to the John Muir Trail.

by: Kelly Bastone

Get this view of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne. (Greg Russell)
Get this view of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne. (Greg Russell)

trip iconDissenting Opinion 
“You really want to join the JMT parade?” asks Rocky Mountain Editor Steve Howe. “The Sierra High Route is far superior. The 210-mile journey from Kings Canyon through Yosemite to Twin Lakes offers the same scenery, but it’s largely off-trail, which makes it ideal for expert backpackers who want solitude with their scenery.” Trip ID

America’s most beautiful trail. Period. We’ve said it before (on our December 2007 cover, in fact), and we won’t equivocate now. Want to argue? First, you’d better hike the JMT’s 221 miles of granite-rimmed heaven: There’s not a single ho-hum segment along the entire span from Yosemite Valley to 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney. Countless lakes mirror chiseled peaks; waterfalls thunder over rocky cliffs; steep passes challenge the body and nap-awhile meadows soothe the soul; and the whole thing crescendos with an ascent of the highest summit in the Lower 48. Most backpackers take at least two weeks for the JMT (allow three or even four to really savor the trek), but Northwest Editor Michael Lanza hammered it in seven days on an ultralight blitz (“John Muir In a Week,” December 2007). We’ve also covered it on a honeymoon (“How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Marriage,” September 2005), and in winter with avalanche danger and -10°F temperatures (“High Sierra Ski Solo,” November 1979).

Do it
Hike north to south, so you can acclimatize to the latter half’s higher elevations. To keep pack weight low, plan a resupply at Red’s Meadow (760-934-2345; and Muir Trail Ranch (209-966-3195; From iconic Vernal and Nevada Falls at the start, trip through the High Sierra, passing Cathedral Peak and crossing Tuolumne Meadows. Leave Yosemite behind at Donohue Pass (11,056 feet) and enter the Ansel Adams Wilderness before arriving at Devil’s Postpile, a unique rock monument formed by columns of cooled magma. Then slice through the John Muir Wilderness and its throngs of wildflowers before moving on to Kings Canyon National Park and 13,180-foot Forester Pass, the highest on the JMT. Beyond it, the path crosses Sequoia National Park’s roadless east end before climbing Mt. Whitney (camp at Guitar Lake to see its reflection).

High Sierra Transportation ($75-$350 for up to four people,

Get the John Muir Trail Map Pack ($21, and Guide to the John Muir Trail, by Thomas Winnett ($35,

Required; pick up at your planned start (Yosemite NP, 209-372-0740; or Inyo NF, 760-873-2485).


Trip ID 38179

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Dave in California
Feb 22, 2014

I did this hike in late August, 2010(excellent time of year). An absolutely first class hike. Do it North to South, keep your pack weight low(under 30lbs), bring a first class digital camera w/ plenty of memory. MTR will let you recharge your 110Volt stuff, gratis.

For resupply, get off the trail @ Devils Postpile Nat'l Monument/Mammoth Lakes. Nice alpine tourist town. Also, definately resupply @ Muir Trail Ranch from your 5gallon bucket. The $65 they charge is cheap compared to horse packer-resupply operations, and is money Well Spent. After the fact, you'll be glad you spent that money to resupply @ MTR. I was.

If you overnight on top of Mt. Whitney, be CERTAIN you get up before 5 am to see the sunrise. High altitude sunrise is very interesting, and not to be missed.

I saw mainly Golden Trouts on this hike. If they are present, they bite on any old Kastmaster or Spinner w/ 4-6lb line. I don't think bait or barbed hooks are kosher for this hike.

High altitude sun is brutal. Bring fresh 50 SPF sunscreen. Late August means no bugs. I was snowed(slightly) on once, but otherwise I could have slept in a plain old sleeping bag. You may or may not be that lucky.

"Butane" stoves are the bomb for this trip. I used Snow Peak's cheapest one and was extremely pleased.

If the Mammoth Lakes cops catch you drinking beer in front of Vons Supermarket on a Sunday morning as you organize your resupply at the picnic table, you can get out of a ticket by telling them I said it was OK. :) "These are not the hikers you are looking for." Good luck with that.

Star Star Star Star Star
May 10, 2013

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Jan 09, 2011


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