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Trek the John Muir Trail through California's High Sierra with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

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

Sample Route

Half Dome Trail Junction/Sunrise Creek to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
StartHalf Dome Trail Junction/Sunrise Creek
FinishSunrise High Sierra Camp
Distance7.6 miles
Cumulative distance19.9 miles
Total Ascent2600ft
Total Descent400ft
Map(s)Harrison Map Sheet 13
Cumulative ascent/descent from Yosemite7600ft/2250ft

A short day, in fact the shortest on the whole of the JMT apart from the very last day after Whitney. This will give your body time to recover from the exertions of yesterday’s Half Dome climb and to savour this truly remarkable area. There is one fairly steep climb though, so all is not relaxation.


Location Height (ft) Distance (miles): Sectional Distance (miles): Cumulative
Camping area east of JMT/Half Dome Junction 7160 0 0
JMT/Merced Lake Trail Junction 7940 2.3 2.3
Viewpoint (top of ascent) 9700 3.3 5.6
Sunrise High Sierra Camp 9360 2.0 7.6

From the camping area continue along the trail to reach the stream which you have been using as a source of water for your overnight camp. Immediately after crossing the stream turn right to climb on the John Muir Trail following the line of Sunrise Creek. Follow the path until you reach a trail junction: straight on leads to Merced Lake, but for the JMT turn left, signposted to Tuolumne Meadows (15.6 miles). Within less than ¼ mile the junction with the Forsyth Trail is encountered. This heads off to the left signposted to Tenaya Lake in 7.8 miles. Ignore this path and continue ahead on the JMT, which is coincident with the Sunrise Trail from this point: trail markings here give Cathedral Lake as 9.5 miles and Tuolumne Meadows as 14.7 miles.


The stage terminates at Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Sunrise Camp caters mainly for fee-paying guests who stay in hut-style accommodation while on walking holidays in the Yosemite area. The camp usually has a limited quantity of tinned and dehydrated food for sale, but it is best not to rely on this. They may also provide you with dinner and breakfast for a fee, but it is important to note that they are often full up with guests and so have no extra food available. If you would like to stay in their accommodation and eat the meals then you would be advised to book with the camp (tel. 559-252-4848) before you leave Yosemite Valley (or even earlier if possible). There are five or six of these ‘camps’ in the Yosemite area, all owned by the High Sierra Camps organisation: clients go on short walking holidays in the park and link these camps for nightly accommodation. You may well feel envious of these hikers, as they are unburdened with the heavy pack that you are no doubt beginning to loath – despair not, as your sac will probably seem more manageable as the days progress.

Continue along the well-defined path, eventually drawing near to the stream on the left, Sunrise Creek again. After crossing this creek you begin a major ascent. The climbing path is a good one, zig-zagging through the pine trees and granite boulders. After what may seem like an eternity the gradient eases as the trail reaches a high point. A much needed rest here provides a stunning view to the north of Cathedral Peak and Pass. It is just over a mile from here easily downhill to Long Meadows, where there is a dramatic change in the scenery. Amble along the flat plain to reach the campsite up among the rocks on the left. This is the backpackers’ area of Sunrise Camp. Here there are bear boxes, a water tap (but better to treat or filter the water before drinking) and toilets.

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