John Muir Trail

Th John Muir Trail (JMT) is a 211 mile stretch of trail running north/south in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.  The northern terminus starts in Yosemite National Park and at the southern end lies near Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 at 14,505 ft.  The John Muir Trail is named in honor of environmentalist and Yosemite activist, John Muir.

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History of the John Muir Trail

The idea of a trail heading along the High Sierra began in 1884 with Theodore Solomons.  He recalls of the idea, “The idea of a crest-parallel trail came to me one day while herding my uncle’s cattle in an immense unfenced alfalfa field near Fresno.”  Theodore began to advocate for such a trail shortly after the foundation of the Sierra Club in 1892 for which John Muir was the founder and first president.  In 1914, the Sierra Club appointed a committee to coordinate with California State to begin construction of the trail.  John Muir died later that year, and the proposed “High Sierra” trail was to be renamed in his honor.  Construction of the trail started in 1915 and due to lack of funding didn’t finish until 1938.

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3 Best Day Hikes on the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail runs 211 miles north/south along the high Sierra Nevada peaks.  In Yosemite National Park, the trail stretches from Tuolumne meadows in the north to Yosemite Valley in the south.  You could hike from one end to the other or break it up into smaller day hikes.  Either way your sure to see some of the country’s most beautiful landscape along this famous trail.

Below are the primary options for day hiking the John Muir Trail:

Destination Miles Elev Difficulty Style
Vernal Falls 2.4 mi 1200 ft Moderate Loop
Nevada Falls 5.4 mi 2000 ft Strenuous Loop
Lyell Canyon 9.4 mi <100 ft Moderate Out and Back

1. John Muir Trail to Vernal Falls

This moderate level hike begins and ends in Half Dome village, Yosemite Valley.  Follow the Southside drive southeast past the campgrounds toward Happy Isles.  Cross the bridge over the Merced river and take a hard right turn, you will see a brown sign pointing toward the John Muir Trail.  The trail starts out flat for less than a 1/4 mile and then begins a tough accent up a paved trail toward the Vernal Falls footbridge.  Once you reach the footbridge after about 1.5 miles you’ll get your first view of Vernal Falls.  Choose to turn around here if your looking for a short day or continue on to the top of the falls.  After the footbridge follow the trail directly toward the falls.  At this point you are exiting the JMT and starting up the aptly named Mist Trail.  Going this way you will get in your face views of Vernal Falls but be prepared to get wet.  After another mile and 1000ft climb you reach the top of Vernal Falls.  Pause here for a quick snack and take in the views.  Continuing on, climb up another 200 ft past the Emerald Pool to Clark Point where you will catch the JMT on the way back down.  This is a much more gradual trail than the Mist and will bring you right back down to the footbridge where you started.  Follow the JMT along the Merced river back to the road.

2. John Muir Trail to Nevada Falls

This option begins the same as above to Vernal Falls.  From the top of Vernal falls follow the Mist Trail past the Emerald Pool for another 1000 ft accent up to the top of Nevada Falls.  Along the way you’ll get great views of Nevada Falls and Glacier Point to the west.  Once you reach the top of the accent take a right turn past the pit toilets and you’ll follow the creek to the top of the falls.  At the top of Nevada Falls is a perfect spot to have lunch and take in the sweeping view.  Continue on by heading the opposite way you came from down the JMT.  Stop within the first 1/4 mile for a great panorama of the falls, Liberty Cap and the south face of Half Dome.  This will loop you back around past Clark Point and take you all the way back to the beginning of the trail.  The JMT is a much more gradual decent then heading back down the Mist.

3. Lyell Canyon via John Muir Trail

Lyell Canyon is one of the best day hikes in the park.  Views of the Cathedral Range and Donahue peak dominate the view down this sub-alpine meadow that follows the Tuolumne river.  Its truly breathtaking and often pretty quiet with the exception of a few backpackers.  The trail is also pretty flat and easy to follow.  The trail starts at the Ranger station in Tuolumne Meadows near the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.  There is parking at the ranger station or in a free lot just west of the trailhead by the lodge.  Head south from the parking lot following signs toward the John Muir Trail for about .6 miles, stay to your left at the fork.  You will cross over the Dana fork of the Tuolumne river and pass another fork in the road at Rafferty Creek, again stay left.  As long as you continue to follow signs toward the John Muir Trail or Donahue Pass you’ll be on the right track.  From here the trail continues on down the canyon for 4.2 miles to the junction of Ireland Creek.  This makes for a great turnaround point.  Given this trail is an out and back you are free to turn around whenever but its worth the longer milage.  From here, enjoy some lunch and solitude along the Tuolumne river, and head back exactly the way you came.  This completes the suggested 9.4 mile hike along the JMT in Lyell Canyon.

Maximize Your Visit to Yosemite National Park on Hiking Tour

Guided day hike tours and multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Yosemite National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Yosemite hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own. Read more about Yosemite Hiking Tours.


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3 John Muir Trail Backpacking Trips

The John Muir Trail runs 211 miles north/south along the high Sierra Nevada peaks.  In Yosemite National Park, the trail stretches from Tuolumne meadows in the north to Yosemite Valley in the south.  You could hike from one end to the other or break it up into smaller backpacking trips.  Either way your sure to see some of the country’s most beautiful landscape along this famous trail.

Below are suggestions for Backpacking along the John Muir Trail.

Route Miles Difficulty Campgrounds
High Sierra Loop 18.4 Moderate Ireland Creek, Vogelsang
Yosemite to Tuolumne 19.8 Strenuous Little Yosemite Valley, Sunrise, Tuolumne Meadows
Half Dome 15.6 Moderate Little Yosemite Valley

1. High Sierra Loop Backpacking Trip ( 3-4 days)

The High Sierra Loop is a great way to explore one of the most beautiful sections of the JMT, Lyell Canyon.  With break taking views of the surrounding peaks and a nice walk along the Tuolumne river, Lyell Canyon is a great way to start off a backpacking trip.  We suggest parking at the Tuolumne Meadows lodge and hiking the first 5.3 miles to the junction of Ireland Creek.  Right before you hit the junction you will hit a nice cascade in the Tuolumne river, look to your left as your headed south and there is a nice camping area next to the cascade.  After a hearty breakfast in your riverside camp, pack up and start your accent up Ireland Creek.  After 6.3 miles and over 1000ft of elevation gain you will hit the stunning High Sierra camp of Vogelsang.  Backpackers camp is just to the right of the High Sierra camp before you hit the junction of Rafferty Creek.  Here you will enjoy views of Vogelsang Peak, Fletcher Peak and the surrounding high country meadows.  If your feeling good set up your tent and then head up for a short hike to Vogelsang Pass, its worth it.  If you have an extra day we suggest you leave your camp set up at Vogelsang and do a day hike in the surrounding area.  A 5.2 mile hike to the crystal clear Emeric lake is a perfect way to spend the day.  Whether you took the extra day or are on a tight schedule the last day is all down hill.  After you pack up and enjoy one last view, head down to the junction of Rafferty Creek, you are now headed north back toward Tuolumne Meadows.  The trail cuts steeply downhill for the first few miles but then levels out.  The High Sierra Loop is one of the best backpacking trips you can take in Yosemite and a great first trip for beginners.

2. Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows Backpacking Trip (4 days)

This backpacking trip is by far one of the best in Yosemite.  It’s a great way to see the most popular areas of the park all in one.  The trip starts in Yosemite valley, park your car at Half Dome Village.  You will start by climbing up the John Muir Trail past Vernal and Nevada falls.   This is a 2000ft accent sure to get the legs warmed up.  Once you hit the top of Nevada falls stop to take in the view down below and then head northeast along the Merced River toward your first campsite at Little Yosemite Valley.  This is a busy little campground with a bathroom and a small beach area along the river.  Your next day is just as strenuous as the first, another 2000ft climb along Sunrise creek toward the aptly named Sunrise campground.  Be sure to wake up early and catch the amazing sunrise that gives this area it’s name.  Today you only have about 5 miles to hike and its mostly down hill.  Once you get to Tuolumne Meadows head toward the backpackers camp behind the Tuolumne Meadows campground and settle in for a hot meal and some cold drinks.  From there your going to have to hop on the YARTS bus to get back to your car at Yosemite Valley.  Its super easy to do and the bus stop is right by the campground at the grocery store.  For some info about that shuttle click here.  Cheers to an amazing backpacking trip in Yosemite!

3. Half Dome Backpacking Trip (3 days)

Ahh, the quintessential backpacking trip of Yosemite.  First of all, this is an amazing trip but these days the permits are getting harder to secure.  Make sure you do your research beforehand.  For some Half Dome permit info click here.  If you have your permit and are ready to rock then let’s hit the JMT starting in Yosemite Valley at Half Dome Village.  You can park your car for free in the parking lot and the trail pretty much starts here.  You will ascend 2000ft up the JMT to the top of Nevada falls and then another 3/4 miles to the campground at Little Yosemite Valley.  Our suggestion is that you set up camp and prepare for an early start toward the dome the next morning.  A super early wake up means that less people will be on the Half Dome Cables when you are, this is a good thing.  The two metal cables allow you to climb up the last 400 ft of the dome without any rock climbing equipment and is often the “coolest” part of the hike.  The reward at the top is unparalleled and has some of the best views in the valley, not to mention you made it to the top of Half Dome!  To end this trip simply head back down from the dome, catch a restful nights sleep in LYV and head right back down the trail you came from.  For some more info on hiking the Half Dome Cables, click here.

Join a Guided Yosemite Backpacking Trip

Joining a  Yosemite National Park backpacking tour is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience Yosemite. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided Yosemite backpacking trips.


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When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is anytime.  The month’s of May-Oct are ideal for weather.  The days can be hot (70-90F) with cool nights (40-50F).  There is little rain in the summer months although the Sierra Nevada is known for unpredictable weather so best to always be prepared.  Winter is cold and temps during the day can range from 10-30 degrees F.   Sierra Nevada translates to the “Snowy Range” in Spanish, so you can expect there to be snow if visiting in wintertime.  Despite the cold and the wet, winter is a lot quieter than the busy summer months with a lot less people.  For information on Yosemite National Park weather, click here

Necessary Permits

Day Hike Permits

You do not need a permit to Day Hike in Yosemite National Park.

Backpacking Permits

You will need to secure a permit to backpack in Yosemite National Park.  Permits are reservable 6 months in advance to the date you wish to start hiking.  You can also try and secure a permit the day before your trek in person at any wilderness permit center before 11 am.  For more information on Yosemite’s permit system, click here.

Suggested Packing List

Day Hike Packing List (edit)

  • 3-6 liters of water (more in summer)
  • Salty, calorie-rich snacks
  • lunch
  • backpack
  • trekking poles
  • crampons (in winter)
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen, sunglasses
  • cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
  • non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
  • rain jacket
  • warm non-cotton layer
  • 1st-aid kit

Backpacking Packing List (edit)

  • all items listed for day hikes PLUS
  • multi-day backpack
  • 3-season tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • backpacking stove and fuel
  • backpacking meals
  • 3 pairs wool socks
  • extra t-shirts

Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace

We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

About WildlandTrekking

Wildland Trekking, a home-grown USA adventure travel company started in 2005, has become one of the world’s leading trekking companies. Learn about the origins, mission and people of Wildland, America’s #1 source for Unforgettable Hiking Vacations!

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