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Trek the John Muir Trail through California's High Sierra with a Cicerone guidebook - Maps and Photos

Cover of The John Muir Trail
5 Mar 2015
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.3cm
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The John Muir Trail

Through the Californian Sierra Nevada

by Alan Castle
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook to walking the John Muir Trail through California's High Sierra from Yosemite (El Capitan and Half Dome) to the summit of Mount Witney. The 216 mile hike is split into 21 daily stages, with full information on preparation, permits, wilderness, bears, water and trekking skills. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a world-famous trek and North America's best known walking trail. It runs for 216 miles through California's Sierra Nevada mountains, from Yosemite Valley (El Capitan and Half-Dome) to the summit of Mount Whitney (14,496ft), the highest peak in the US outside Alaska. It also makes up part of the epic Pacific Crest Trail which runs the length of the Rockies through Canada and the US.

All you need to know to plan and prepare for your trip is contained within this guide, from obtaining trekking permits to buying trek food and forwarding food caches along the trail. Abundant advice is given on such topics as dealing with inquisitive bears, coping with altitude, negotiating river crossings, as well as tips on booking transport to and from the trailheads and on what equipment to take. In addition there is a detailed description of the flora and fauna of this remarkable region.

The walking trail, which is named after the great 19th-century Scottish naturalist, conservationist and writer John Muir, is entirely through the unspoilt wilderness of the American West and passes through three national parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Information includes:

  • advice on preparation, including trekking permits, food caches along the trail and how to deal with bears and river crossings
  • variants and escape routes, camp sites, bear box locations and resupply points
  • ascent, descent and distance tables for all stages
  • Activities
    long-distance trekking
  • Seasons
    August is best, July normally fine but late snow may be a problem
  • Centres
    Starts Yosemite and finishes at Whitney Portal; Tuolmmne, Vermilion Resort and Muir Trail Range along the way; access through San Francisco or Los Angeles
  • Difficulty
    spectacular, remote and risks of poor weather; backpacking throughout, carrying all required food; tough trekking but no route-finding difficulties; beware of bears!
  • Must See
    Yosemite (rock walls of El Capitan, Half Dome etc), King's Canyon and Sequoia national parks, Anselm Adams wilderness, Mount Whitney
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John Muir
Parks along the JMT
The Pacific Crest Trail
Using this Guide
Planning your Trip
Flights to California
Public Transport to and from the Trailhead
Booking Accommodation
Food Supplies
General Fitness and Trail Fitness
Health and Medical Considerations
Water Purification
Coping with Altitude
Dealing with Bears
River Crossings
Other Natural Hazards
Low-Impact Trekking and National Park/Wilderness Regulations
Camp Routine
Time Difference
Public Holidays in the US
The Natural World by Dr Charles Aitchison
Geology of the Sierra Nevada
Vegetation and Flowers on the John Muir Trail
Birds of the John Muir Trail
Mammals along the Trail
Day 1 Yosemite Valley (Happy Isles) to Half Dome Trail Junction/Sunrise Creek and the Ascent of Half Dome
Day 2 Half Dome Trail Junction/Sunrise Creek to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
Day 3 Sunrise High Sierra Camp via Cathedral Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
Day 4 Tuolumne Meadows to Upper Lyell Canyon
Day 5 Upper Lyell Canyon via Donohue Pass and Island Pass to Thousand Island Lake
Day 6 Thousand Island Lake to the Devil’s Postpile
Day 7 The Devil’s Postpile via Reds Meadow to Deer Creek
Day 8 Deer Creek to Tully Hole/Cascade Valley Junction
Day 9 Tully Hole/Cascade Valley Junction via Silver Pass to Edison Lake
Day 10 Edison Lake to Rosemarie Meadow
Day 11 Rosemarie Meadow via Seldon Pass to the Muir Trail Ranch
Day 12 Muir Trail Ranch to McClure Meadow
Day 13 McClure Meadow via Muir Pass to Unnamed Lake North-East of Helen Lake
Day 14 Unnamed Lake North-East of Helen Lake to Deer Meadow
Day 15 Deer Meadow via Mather Pass to Kings River
Day 16 Kings River via Pinchot Pass to Woods Creek
Day 17 Woods Creek via Glen Pass to Vidette Meadow
Day 18 Vidette Meadow via Forester Pass to Tyndall Creek
Day 19 Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake
Day 20 Guitar Lake via Mount Whitney and Trail Crest to Trail Camp; and the ascent of Mount Whitney
Day 21 Trail Camp to Whitney Portal
Appendix A Camping Areas on the JMT
Appendix B Ranger Stations along the JMT
Appendix C Escape Routes on the JMT
Appendix D Bear Box Locations on the JMT
Appendix E Mountain Passes and Peaks on the JMT
Appendix F Useful Addresses and Websites in the UK and US
Appendix G Bibliography
Appendix H Trail Summary Table


Front Cover The Edison Queen approaching Mono Creek ferry pick-up point (Day 9) Hikers on the JMT climbing towards the Pinchot Pass (Day 16) On the JMT in Yosemite en route to Nevada Falls (Day 1) Breakfast in camp on the JMT Horses kicking up the  dust on the Trail in Lyell  Canyon (Day 4) Banner Peak and Mount Ritter seen from Island Pass (Day 5) Looking back towards the north-west down to Lake Majorie  during the ascent to the Pinchot Pass (Day 16) Fisherman at Purple Lake (Day 8) High mountain country near Woods Creek (Day 17) Evolution Lake is passed en route to Muir Pass (Day 13)

There are several maps that cover all or part of the John Muir Trail. The United States Forestry Service produces a number of ‘Wilderness Maps’ which are useful, covering the JMT outside Yosemite. The John Muir/Sequoia–Kings Canyon Wilderness Map and the Ansel Adams Wilderness Map are the most useful sheets.

There are several maps available locally which cover the Yosemite National Park. The Inyo National Forest Map is another possible map, and covers the whole area through which the Trail passes. These maps are easily obtainable in the US, but less so outside the country.

The best maps both for planning in the UK and use on the JMT in America are contained within the John Muir Trail Map-Pack: Tom Harrison’s Maps. The Map-Pack consists of 13 colour topographical, shaded-relief maps depicting the John Muir Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and numerous side-trails. Campgrounds, ranger stations and information centres are also shown. The maps run from Whitney to Yosemite Valley (sheet numbers 1 to 13), so walkers following the route in this guidebook will use them in the order Sheet 13 to Sheet 1. The sheets required for each stage of the hike are given at the beginning of each daily stage in the route guide section of this book. For further information on Tom Harrison’s maps go to

Tom Harrison’s John Muir Trail Map-Pack is usually obtainable in Britain from retailers such as The Map Shop in Upton-upon-Severn and Stanford’s in London, Bristol and Manchester (see Appendix F). The Map-Pack is rather expensive, particularly when purchased in the UK, but it is the author’s recommended map for the JMT. The maps are clear and easy to use – although the contour lines are at 80ft intervals.

Navigation along the John Muir Trail is generally easy, far more so than a route across the Scottish Highlands, for example, and more straightforward than many long-distance routes in Europe. With use of the Tom Harrison maps and this guidebook the trail of the JMT should never be in doubt.

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