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The John Muir Trail is an epic 211 mile trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains that extends from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney — the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. The JMT is named after naturalist John Muir, founding member and original president of the Sierra Club. Muir. Construction on the trail began in 1915 – a year after Muir’s death – and took 46 years to complete.

JMT At-a-Glance
Distance: 211 miles
Elevation gain: 46,700 ft.
Mountain passes: 7
High point: 14,505 ft.
When to go: July – Sept.

The primary hiking season is July – September, and an overwhelming majority hike from north to south, allowing a more gradual acclimatization to the higher altitude.

Hiking the JMT requires considerable planning and training. Most thru-hikers cover the distance in about three weeks or longer. Though the trail does not cross any roads, there are several resupply points near the trail. And the fact that the southern terminus is the top of Mt. Whitney means you need to add at least 11 more miles to reach the nearest trailhead (Whitney Portal).

Permits are required for hiking the John Muir Trail, and assuming you start at the north end, they need to be requested exactly six months prior to your start date. Currently the best practice is to fax your permit application to the ranger station at Yosemite National Park before 7am exactly 26 weeks before your requested start date. Getting the entry trailhead and date you want can require a bit of luck and persistence. My initial request was denied (including two alternatives), but I tried again the next day and got my first choice.

If you feel lucky, or don’t mind staying up all night, 40% of the permits are reserved for walk-ins on the day of departure on a first-come, first-serve basis. I’ve heard that the line forms about 9pm the night beforehand, and the ranger station opens at 7am. Not my choice, but it may be yours.

What to Expect on the JMT

Prepare to be amazed. The John Muir Trail covers some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, from stunning, glacier-chiseled Yosemite, to the jagged spires of the Minarets, to the highest mountain peak in the contiguous United States. You’ll hike over numerous high mountain passes, pass ancient glaciers, cross fast-moving mountain streams while surrounded by giant peaks.

The JMT is truly a wilderness trail, coming close to civilization at only a few points. Being out on the trail with only your skill, your equipment and your wit to survive will sharpen your perspective on life.

At the same time, you’re not ever really alone. Many people travel the trail, or a portion of it, every year. While you may go all day without seeing a soul, stop for a while and you soon find there are others making the trek.

I first hiked the John Muir Trail in 1980. I had just graduated from high school, and had planned the trip with some fellow backpackers. Our group ranged in age from 13-50, and we completed the hike over 25 days in August. It was a memorable trip.

This August, almost 30 years later to the day, I’ll be back on the JMT.

Resources to Inspire

If you’re interested in hiking the John Muir Trail, there are a several great resources I’d like to share. They can help inspire you to start planning your own epic backpacking trip.

Ron Pepper’s John Muir Trail web site provides an excellent overview of the trail and what it takes to hike it. His site is devoted exclusively to the JMT and has extensive resources and links that will make preparation much easier.

To connect with other JMT hikers, check out the John Muir Trail group on Yahoo. This is a very active community with many members who have hiked the JMT multiple times. It’s a place to ask questions about the JMT, preparing, planning, equipment or even finding partners to hike with.

There are three JMT guidebooks that I highly recommend:

Apart from these, you also want to get the Tom Harrison JMT map pack. It comes with 13 8.5″ x 11″ shaded relief topo map pages that cover the entire JMT and surrounding areas.

Photos from the John Muir Trail

Just a small taste of the sights on the trail to whet your appetite. If you’ve got JMT photos to share, leave a link in a comment.

34 Responses

  1. Awesome writeup. Great resource. I have bookmarked this page for when I finally get around to do this trip.

    I also have the tiny version of the Winnett book.

    Actual torches may come in handy with bears, though!

    I can’t wait to read about your travels. I’ll be hiking towards Whitney early-mid-July, will you be nearby?

    1. Hey Derek, we won’t be starting the JMT until July 27th, and won’t be near Whitney until 20 days later. Here’s the complete itinerary:

      We now have both the Tom Harrison JMT map pack and the new Blackwoods Press JMT Atlas. We will probably take both, though I really like the JMT Atlas. Very concise, lightweight (2 oz) and compact. I’ll be posting a more detailed review soon.

    1. Thanks, Hiking Lady! I’m really looking forward to this trip. Having hiked it 30 years ago — almost to the day — I’m excited to see how this experience differs. Aside from the fact that I’m 30 years older, of course.

  2. thanks for sharing your great history of 30 years ago Jeff. Love the photos, the only one I can recognize is Devil’s Postpile. Your website is excellent…just realize you’ll be in Yosemite just few days before the group, 2 more great peaks and you’ll be on your way to your long wait for trip. Have a great time and hope for less snow on San Jacinto and San Gorgonio coming weekends 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lily! I’ve been enjoying the on-trail and off-trail camaraderie of the Hiking OC group. I’m so glad you got it started.

      If anyone in the group is interested in joining us a few days earlier, perhaps hiking from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne, I have room for one more on my permit!

  3. Hey there, my friends and I are hiking JMT this June/July. Due to the downpour of snow in Yosemite this March, we are worrying about what to expect as far as temperature and snowpack goes. We are all from Texas, so we don’t deal with snow too much 😉 and we have definitely never camped on snow. We plan on keeping up with the conditions in the park for the next few months, but if there is going to be a lot of snow, what extra gear would you suggest we bring?
    Thanks for any info!

    1. Hey Andrea! I’m from Southern California, and for the most part don’t get snow except when I head up into the mountains.

      You will encounter snow, but you won’t need to camp on it. Mainly the impact will be more snow on the passes and higher water in the creek crossings. It will still get nice and warm during the day, and downright chilly (freezing, even) at night, so you’ll need to have appropriate layers. Nothing additional due to the snow though.

      The only thing I would see as essential would be trekking poles, but then I’d recommend those anyway. I used them on my last JMT trek most (but not all) days. They saved my knees on some of the giant steps and gave me some insurance on creek crossing or in snow.

    1. Kristen, it really depends on the snow conditions. Even in late July, you would normally hit snow on many of the passes. Of course, this year could be an exception. Someone recently hiked to Forester Pass last month and there were only 8″ of snow — VERY low snow for this time of year.

      I would say it depends on what happens between now and June, but watch the snow levels. The snow slows down travel and can make route-finding skills much more important (no trail to follow).

  4. Thanks Jeff! I was also thinking that this year the snow levels will likely be atypical, but that’s good to know that there’s typically snow into July. Either way, I’m thinking I’ll apply for a permit for August then. The warmer temps will make swimming in those beautiful glacial lakes much more pleasant. Really love your blog. You are an awesome resource!

  5. In the midst of planning and have been piecing together information from multiple sites. This page was extremely comprehensive and now my go to, thanks!

  6. I’m thinking of getting on the trail from Mt. Whitney or Bishop around May 4th and hiking to Yosemite by May 16th, which may be ridiculous? How do I find out the Snow Levels for Forester Pass? What temps should I expect and what snow gear is mandatory? Is there any trick to getting a permit from either of those entry point around then? Thanks, Brady aka Captain Funby!

  7. Hi.. Looks like I am way to late to think about doing this hike in 2014, but I am new to US and came to know about this recently. I do regular hikes and consider myself fit for this trail and was looking for some group who are going this time.

    Do you think I still any possibility to join or do it in this short notice. I have not got the permits too 🙁
    Please help me with information to get started. Thank you

  8. Does the Yosemite permit office process applications on the weekends or do I have to wait until Monday to hear if we got one? My brother and my first request were denied yesterday, trying to get a reservation before the new quota tightens the noose on 2/2/15.

  9. Has anyone calculated the odds of getting your permit for 2 hikers leaving from Yosemite Valley to Little Yosemite Valley for a date in late July? We got permits two years ago and it took us three tries. We couldn’t finish due to injury. (We went off over Bishop Pass). We would like to try again this year but have a narrow window of dates which will allow for a finish of a 21-23 day hike.

    1. Terry: The odds are long. Permit applications for the JMT are up significantly, and Yosemite recently changed the rules to throttle the number of thru-hikers exiting over Donohue Pass (ostensibly JMT hikers). That shouldn’t discourage you from trying, but you might want to consider a Plan B.

      I’m looking at an option that goes over Fernandez Pass into Ansel Adams Wilderness (not impacted by the Donohue quota limits). You could then cut across and rejoin the JMT at Devil’s Postpile. Almost identical mileage to the “real” JMT. You might consider making that your alternate in case you don’t get one a permit for Happy Isles.

  10. Just got my permit reservation a couple of hours ago for mid August after 8 days of trying (the last one I faxed over 70 times). Going to start at GP and if anyone is frustrated at the permit process, especially cause of the Donahue quota, I can just encourage you to keep trying, because persistence pays off. MMAAH was a huge inspiration to go for this adventure and now with this blog I’m hoping to be as prepared and well-trained for the experience of a lifetime. Thank you Jeff for some great information for first-time JMT thru-hikers. Will be using your site a lot (especially for SoCal training hikes) in the coming months!

  11. It says you need a permit to hike the John Muir trail.
    Does that only apply for long hikes that include overnight? Or do you now need a permit for the cpl mile hike to Vernal and Nevada falls?

  12. @Jose: No, we did not. We had trekking poles, though, and those were invaluable. There were some stretches with snow, but nothing by July/August there is a good path worn into it so it’s pretty stable and easy to follow.

  13. I’ve got about seven days at the end of May for a possible section hike on the John Muir Trail. I assume there will be substantial snow left at that time? I’d like to hike later in the summer but schedule will not allow, so I’m looking for recommendations on what I can get done in a week on the trail. I am from Vermont and snowshoe daily, but I’m curious on high altitude snow conditions in CA. Also can I get a permit for a section hike, possibly hitting the trail in the middle and hiking south to Mt. Whitney. Thanks very much!

  14. So my son had to give up his permit to hike the JMT for August 17 2018 due to the fire and closure of Yosemite. He’d waited 2 years to get his permit.
    Is there a way his name could be re-set for next year??
    All the folks who had starting dates this August are not able to start the trail this year!

    1. Unfortunately, no. There is no way to get a “rain check” for a permit from year to year. He might try talking to the ranger in Yosemite and see if they will offer any preference for his permit for next year, but they don’t have any official policy or even a way of doing this automatically.

  15. Loved reading about your trip. My dad did the JMT over a few years with his friends back in the 70’s. My sister and I are planning to do it August 2019 in memory of him. He passed in 2016 from a stroke he had on the way to his what he had planned as his last backpacking trip.

  16. How about my trip with husband…two mules carried equipment for a planed 3+ week trek. It was in September of 1951. No fancy equipment, all was purchased at Army surplus including the paratrooper boots needed to protect my feet when working with animals and rough terrain. High top basketball shoes were an alternative when rappelling and other diversions along the way, without animals. Honoring tradition we dutifully brought wood and left non perishable food behind when we left the 10 thousand plus Muir Hut. The Sierra club provided dried veggies and when a stream was available did some fishing, no convince store then.

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