The John Muir Trail is a short but adventurous trail that wins the hearts of all its visitors. Most hikers take up to 4 weeks to thru-hike the trail, though some tough and highly fit people have braved it in around 14 – 18 days. (You must be sure that you can push the limits).
John Muir Trail is home to the highest point in the United States, the summit of Mount Whitney, with a peak elevation of 14,505 ft. the trail stretches 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to the magnificent Mount Whitney, running parallel to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The JMT is a dream trail for most hikers who have different motivations for wanting to be part of the experience. Most hikers, however, visit this place for training as they prepare for longer thru-hiking adventures on the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. It is also a common place for hiking, camping, and backpacking beginners.
Planning for a thru-hike on the John Muir Trail
Planning for a hiking experience on the John Muir Trail is not as demanding because of the short time it takes to complete the journey, right? Wrong.
The John Muir Trail might be short, but it is incredibly challenging. Thru-hiking here requires immense commitment and radical planning. Proper planning and scheduling will reduce hiccups along the way and help you complete the trail within the intended time.
Get all the permits in advance.
How to apply for the permits
Hikers’ most significant challenge when planning to visit the John Muir Trail is obtaining the highly coveted permits. Owing to the high demand, the management uses a lottery system to give out the permits.
Your starting point determines the permit that you will apply for. If you are hiking Southbound, you need the Yosemite Wilderness permit. After submitting your application with your itinerary dates, you wait for the lottery dates. If you are successful, you are given 14 days to remit the payment failure, to which it gets canceled.
On the other hand, Northbound hikers have two options; Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit or the Mount Whitney permit. For the former, you have to apply six months in advance. This is not a lottery; hence you will immediately know whether you have been successful.
Schedule Early Morning Starts
Every hiker dreams of completing their journey within the scheduled time, if not ahead. How you time your day’s trek will determine whether you will be successful.
Plan to start your journey at dawn and move fast within the first few hours when you still have the energy. Minimize stopovers unless it is extremely necessary so that you can cover a considerable distance before the sun comes out.
After this first leg of your day’s trip, take a break to re-energize. The next phase might be less productive but push yourself as much as possible to cover a reasonable distance before retiring in the evening.
Train well (Be fit)
Training tips for hiking
As we have stated before, the John Muir Trail is short but quite difficult, and you need to be in good shape before getting on track. Climbing up 14,000 ft. to Mount Whitney is not child’s play. You will give up midway if you lack stamina.
Start working out at least six months before the hiking so your body gets acclimatized. Early morning jogging is the best and most manageable exercise for hikers, though you can also enroll in a gym.
Other non-conventional ways of preparing your body for a thru-hike include taking the staircase instead of the elevator, carrying your shopping instead of pushing it in a trolley, and walking around town instead of driving or catching a cab.
In addition to your regular jogging or gym sessions, all these will leave you fit and ready for the thru-hiking adventure.
Get the right gear
Good quality gear is the best investment you can make for your hiking hobby (Get them here). This includes a good quality but lightweight tent, a well-padded backpack, and a sleeping bag with a pad, among the other camping necessities.
Your hiking clothes should be lightweight and comfortable, but pack some warm pajamas because the nights can get chilly.
We recommend synthetic fabrics that have wick properties since they dry up faster, ensuring your body does not remain wet when you sweat. You can layer up your clothes on a chilly morning and reduce them as the day gets warmer.
Get the timing right.
When to go hiking is a crucial decision mainly dictated by the weather conditions. You already know the John Muir Trail runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The snow here can be too much during winter and the few weeks before and after.
The best time to go to the John Muir Trail is between early July and late September. Some brave hikers attempt hiking in July and October, but there are higher chances of encountering snow in the mountains.
While planning on the start date, remember to apply for the lottery permit early enough so that if you miss out the first time, you can still have the time to try again.
Have a map
Being the most popular hiking trail, the John Muir Trail is well-marked, making it easy to navigate. However, a map is still necessary because of the wilderness, where you can easily get lost. Harsh weather conditions can also render some places impassable, and you find yourself in need of re-routing.
You can upload a GPX file on your GPS device to replace a physical map. You can always refer to be sure you are on the right path. Smart navigation skills are mandatory for every hiker in this era of technology.
Any successful thru-hiker will tell you the importance of keeping your luggage at minimal weight. Plan your itinerary with resupply stations in mind so you do not have to carry any extra and unnecessary baggage.
An ultra-light backpack will allow you to expend your energy on trekking and consequently enable you to cover more daily miles. It would help if you planned to have low-weight luggage without compromising on necessities such as food and water.
The recommended time for hiking the John Muir Trail is during summer, and you will not need to carry heavy clothes. This is an added advantage since summer hiking clothes are lightweight.
Amazing Attractions along the John Muir Trail
#1. Mount Whitney
Located on the Southern end of the John Muir Trail, Mount Whitney is the highest point in the United States, standing at an elevation of 14,500 feet. Permits to climb this mountain are given on a lottery basis because of the high demand experienced each year. The management restricts access to try and preserve its glory.
If you are lucky enough to succeed in the lottery, you can plan camping for a night or two in one of the campsites along the elevation. Camping is necessary because ascending and descending the mountain is a huge challenge.
#2. Woods Creek Suspension Bridge
Crossing the Woods Creek Bridge
Woods creek suspension bridge is a man-made feature that provides hikers access across Woods Creek. You will come across this bridge in the Kings Canyon National Park and marvel at the architecture.
Crossing the Woods Creek Bridge is an adventure because it looks feeble and shaky and can get slippery when it rains. It is a thrilling experience where you can only cross one person at a time.
You can spend some more time around here to enjoy the beauty that the bridge adds to the surrounding nature and take lots of photos.
#3. Lake Virginia
Lake Virginia will offer a serene environment for setting up your camp after a tough climb. Here you will find warmth and some good sunshine on the shores of the lake. It goes without saying that you can enjoy a swim in the lake.
The granite rocks along the shores of Lake Virginia will provide you with the best basking places after swimming. When planning your hiking itinerary, make sure you allocate considerable time to this location to enjoy the sun and fun.
You can also fish in the lake and get a special dinner meal. The fish here are massive.
#4. Smithsonian Institution Shelter
The Smithsonian Institution Shelter is a small stone structure at Mount Whitney’s summit, built more than 100 years ago. This historic shelter was initially meant to be a storage space for items used in scientific studies of astronomy as well as to provide hikers with cover.
The shelter offers a spectacular spot where you can have a magnificent view of the snow-peaked Sierra ranges, the expansive Dessert below, the Owens Valley, and Inyo Mountains.
If you do not have any other motivation for going up to the Mount Whitney summit, let this be it, and you will not regret the effort.
#5. Skelton Lake
If your idea of hiking is for adventure, you should set aside time and enjoy a picnic at Skelton Lake. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges creating a beautiful view that attracts painters, anglers, and photographers.
We also encourage solo hikers to take a detour and spend some time in solitude. It is the best place for resting and meditating while capturing the best shots you will ever get in the wilderness.
#6. Iva Bell Hot Springs
This is one of those places you must visit while hiking on the John Muir Trail. The path to the hot springs is challenging, but the serenity is unmatched. The weather is warm, and the sights of the springs and lakes are breathtaking.
Note that you will have to hike off the track to get to the hot springs with the help of some navigation. At some point, you will need to get your shoes and socks off to cross a river. At times the waters can go as high as groin level, making it almost impossible to travel on foot.
#7. Fish Creek
Pack your fishing gear and head to Fish Creek for the most fantastic fishing experience. This creek flows through cascade valley and is the best place for sport fishing.
Expect an encounter with dry flies but the sights of the clear water with fish swimming underneath beats any trouble.
You are restricted from fishing for consumption since the management requires the fish to be returned to the creek. This means that you can only use barbless hooks and artificial baits that will not harm the Trout.
#8. Kings Canyon National Park
The John Muir National Park runs through the astounding Kings Canyon National Park. The park is home to giant mountains, foothills, canyons, caverns, and trees. It is even dubbed the land of giants with all the massive features exemplifying amazing landscapes and beauty.
Some of the adventures you can engage in while visiting this national park include hiking to the granite summit, walking through the giant sequoias, and enjoying the views from the raging waters of the rivers and waterfalls.
Kings Canyon National Park is home to hundreds of bird species and animals, such as bighorn sheep, yellow-legged frogs, black bears, foxes, mule deer, and Turtles. As you hike through the John Muir Trail, make sure you pass this fantastic place. It is worth every effort.
#9. Bighorn Plateau
It would help if you camped at the Bighorn plateau while hiking on the John Muir Trail to get the best views of the skies at night. You will also catch a glorious glimpse of Mount Whitney. This is one of the places where you can capture the best photos of the areas surrounding JMT.
However, note that you can only camp here when the skies are clear since there is the danger of being caught up in a thunderstorm.
The John Muir Trail is a unique but unforgiving trail that every hiker should visit. We hope that after reading this, you will start planning for the trip and actualize the plan in the near future.
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