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John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is considered to be the premier hiking trail in the USA with many backpackers saying that it provides the best mountain scenery in the country. From Yosemite National Park, Ansel Adam Wilderness, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Parks, and the tallest mountain in the continental USA; Mount Whitney, the John Muir Trail promises to amaze. 

Those interested in hiking the John Muir Trail should know that there is a lot of planning and training involved. The full length of the trail is only open from July to September and it is one of the most popular trails in the USA. 

The location: 

The John Muir Trail runs from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney in California, USA. The trail runs a length of 339.5 km or 211 miles long. 


The trail passes through a series of peaks, ranging from 3962m (13,000 feet) to 4267m (14,000 feet). The highest point of the trail is Mount Whitney at 4421m (14505 feet).  


Most people plan on taking about three weeks to hike the John Muir Trail. This is an average of 16km (10 miles) per day. More experienced hikers prefer to do it in about two weeks, averaging 24km (15 miles) per day. The reason why some people choose to do it faster is so that they don’t have to carry as much food and supplies. 

Trail conditions: 

Due to the fact that the entire stretch of the John Muir Trail isn’t open until July, the paths are generally snow-free. However, some can be slippery and muddy. Hikers spend most of their time at an altitude of 3000-4000m (10,000-13,000 feet) so take it slow and steady to acclimatize. 

Difficulty rating: Challenging 

Previous trekking experience is highly recommended as the days will feature, at minimum, 5 hours hiking at a higher altitude. At some points, you will be hiking at an altitude of over 3500m. You need complete confidence in your ability to trek for many days over what can be a difficult terrain. Extremes of altitude and weather may be encountered. A degree of physical and mental stamina will be essential to complete the hike as the days will be tiring. 

Climbing requirements: 

If you plan on hiking the John Muir Trail you will need to arrange permits well ahead of time. As one of the most popular hiking trails in the USA, there are more people interested in hiking than there are permits to go around. The earlier you plan the better.
What permits you require depends on where you plan on starting the trail. If you are starting in Yosemite, you will need a Yosemite Wilderness Permit. Reservations for the Yosemite Wilderness Permits are available 24 weeks in advance.

If you are starting from the south, you will need a Whitney Portal Permit from Inyo National Forest. They are issued by a lottery system that accepts applications from February 1 to March 15th. 


  • The best time of year to hike the John Muir trail is in September. The temperatures aren’t as hot, the mosquitos are gone, crowds are low, and it’s one of the driest months in the mountains. You can go in both directions, but it is recommended to go north to south. It is the most popular direction to go in because it’s easiest to acclimatize to. The highest point in the trail, Mount Whitney, is in the south end of the trail.
  • Consider spending a night camping at Cottonwood Meadows in Yosemite before you start the trail to help yourself acclimate to the elevation. 
  • A bear canister is a requirement when hiking the John Muir Trail. Rangers do check. 
  • Train plenty ahead of time. You will be spending most of your time hiking at an elevation of 3000m to 4000m (approximately 10,000 to 13,000 feet). The air is thin and it can get very warm. The better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy it. 
  • Food planning is considered to be one of the hardest aspects of hiking the John Muir Trail. To save on weight, consider going the dehydrated route and ship yourself packages to re-stock along the way.