Hiking the John Muir Trail

Planning your Hike
Ritter and Banner Mountains over Garnet Lake
Ritter and Banner Mountains over Garnet Lake

The Muir Trail is not a place to hike on impulse. Its length, its remoteness, and its great changes in altitude mean that you must plan your hike if you are going to enjoy it, or even to complete it. Before you can even do the planning, you need considerable experience backpacking in order to find out how your appetite behaves on long hikes, how much your body can take without rebelling, andparticularlyhow your emotions react in various backpacking situations. For example, you will have your own typical reactions to solitude (if you go alone), enforced togetherness (if you don't go alone), cold, hunger and injury.


Almost no one hikes the whole Muir Trail without resupplying. You don't need to, since there are two places with stores almost exactly en route: Reds Meadow and Tuolumne Meadows. However, these stores don't carry much food that's really suitable for backpacking. At Tuolumne Meadows, that doesn't matter much, because you can eat a couple of satisfying meals on store-bought food or at the coffee shop or in the lodge, and then, in about two days, be in Yosemite Valley at the end of your trek. So the real problem is the roughly 200 miles from Whitney Portal to Tuolumne Meadows. If you hike very strenuously, you might average 17+ miles a day. Then you could finish in 12 days, if you hiked every day. If you need two pounds of food per day, and your non-food pack weighs 30 pounds, you will start with 54 pounds, a fairly manageable pack.

However, most people will average more like 8-12 miles a day, will layover for a couple of days, and will therefore take perhaps 19-30 days. Based on the same assumptions, a pack for that trip would at the start weigh almost 70 pounds, which for at least some of us is quite a load to carry up the 5300 vertical feet from Whitney Portal to Trail Crest.

The answer to this problem is one of three: cache some food in the wilderness beforehand; mail some food to yourself at a post office near the route, or go out to a town to resupply. The best town to resupply is in Bishop. From a junction 79 miles from Whitney Portal, you can hike northeast 12 miles to South Lake, which has nothing but a parking lot, and hitchhike 22 miles to Bishop. From a junction 24 miles farther, you can hike northeast 18 miles to North Lake, similarly undeveloped, and hitchhike 20 miles to Bishop. If you choose to mail, the nearest mail place is Vermilion Valley Resort, at the foot of Lake Thomas Edison. Leave the Muir Trail beside the Mono Creek bridge and walk 6 miles west to the resort, which has a small store plus meals, showers and a package-holding service. They also operate a boat-taxi the length of Lake Edison, which can save you much walking. Write ahead to confirm the services and the conditions. (Enclose a SASE.)

Vermilion Valley Resort
C/o Rancheria Garage
Huntington Lake Road
Lakeshore, CA 93634

In terms of elapsed time from the Muir Trail to a post office, the nearest one is Mammoth Lakes (93546), reached by an hour's hitchhike (if you're lucky) from Reds Meadow, or an hour's bus ride from there plus time waiting for the busif it is in service. The town of Mammoth Lakes has plenty of supplies.

When mailing your package to any of these places, address it to:

General Delivery
P.O., state ZIP

Before you leave home, write the post office you will be sending mail to, to make sure they will hold your mail for your arrival. They are legally required to hold it only 10 days. Also find out what hours they are open. Finally, don't mail perishables.

Wilderness Permits

If you are walking north, you can get a permit for the whole John Muir Trail from the Forest Service. Write to the following address:

Mt. Whitney District Ranger
P.O. Box 8
Lone Pine, CA 93545

If you are walking south, you can get a permit for the whole trail from Yosemite. Write between Feb. 1 and May 31 to the Yosemite National Park Headquarters. After May 31, obtain it in person in Yosemite Valley at the Park headquarters.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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