Hiking the John Muir Trail

by Juan Melli
Hiking the John Muir Trail

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.

President Teddy Roosevelt & John Muir at Yosemite

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.

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

Cathedral Peak and Lower Cathedral Lake
Lower Cathedral Lake & Cathedral Peak at dawn
  • 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): Duck Pass to Bishop Pass

View from Selden Pass
View from Selden Pass
  • Start Trailhead: Duck Pass Trailhead, Inyo National Forest
  • End Trailhead: Bishop Pass Trailhead, South Lake, Bishop, CA
  • JMT miles: 70.5 (Duck Pass Trail) to 136.9 (LeConte Canyon/Bishop Pass Trail junction) (66.4 miles)
  • Total trail miles: 83 miles
  • Read the trip report for Part 2.

Over 6 days in early August of 2020, my dad and I hiked a total of 83 miles as part 2 of our 3-section effort to hike the entire John Muir Trail. Starting from the Duck Pass Trailhead in Mammoth Lakes, we hiked 5.5 miles to the John Muir Trail, followed the JMT south for 66.4 miles (from mile 70.5 to 136.9), and hiked out via the 10.9-mile Bishop Pass Trail to South Lake in Bishop. Our hike took us through Inyo National Forest, Sierra National Forest, and Kings Canyon National Park.

* Technically, we skipped about a dozen miles of the JMT between Devils Postpile and Duck Pass. We’ve heard this was one of the least interesting section, and given time constraints, decided to skip it.

Part 3 (2021): Bishop Pass 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