Ask Me: How Early in the Season Can I Hike the John Muir Trail?

Hi Michael,

I hope you’re doing great. I had a quick question for you regarding the JMT. I’ve read in Backpacker Magazine that you recommend late August/early September as the best time of the year to hike the trail. What’s the earliest in the season one could do the trail?

Last year I became a Registered Maine Guide and am now devoting time to guiding wilderness canoe expeditions in Maine (and soon in Canada!). So I’m looking for ways to strategically get my personal trips in, between my “professional” river trips. Any advice would be welcome.

Jaffrey, N.H.


Mark Fenton hiking to Glen Pass on the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park.
Mark Fenton hiking to Glen Pass on the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park.

Hi Marc,

Congrats on the registered guide and canoe expeditions. I occasionally seek the services of a guide for a story/trip I want to take, so tell me about your coolest trips.

Advice on fitting in personal and work trips??? You tell me! I’ve been walking that high wire for years and still seem to fall off once in a while. I just have to plan months in advance to work around the home/family schedule, and drag my family along whenever I can. It’s always challenging. But I tell people that without long advance planning, trips wouldn’t happen for me, and I think that’s a big reason a lot of people don’t get out more—it requires planning ahead.

On the JMT south of Forester Pass, Sequoia National Park.
On the JMT south of Forester Pass, Sequoia National Park.

I would strongly recommend doing the John Muir Trail between late August and the first half of September, for nice weather and few mosquitoes. Thru-hikers do it in June, of course, but there’s a lot of snow then, so it’s slow and wet, or the snow can be frozen and treacherous. One benefit of going early season is there are fewer hikers; it’s a busy trail once the snow mostly melts out. Usually by early July, lasting well into August, the mosquitoes can make Maine’s black flies look tame (well, almost). Summer afternoons are also brutally hot in the High Sierra, but temps are more tolerable by late August. (Mornings and evenings are pleasant for hiking.)

If you have to go early season, I’d personally rather deal with walking through snow (carry microspikes) than with mosquitoes, and I would try to hit the window of encountering the least snow before the mosquitoes come out—which is around the time the lakes melt out and nighttime lows stay regularly above freezing. Not having done it at that time of year, I’d guess that means starting around mid-June, but the amount of snow on the ground can vary a lot from year to year.


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In fact, the High Sierra shattered its record for lowest recorded snowfall this past winter and spring, with only six percent of an average year, so by mid- or late June this summer (2015) you may be seeing snow conditions more typical of late July or early August. Try to find info about current snowpack levels in the High Sierra from national park and national forest backcountry rangers.

You’ll find all my stories about the JMT at this tag. Let me know if you do the JMT early season, I’d like to hear how it goes.

Good luck. It’s a great hike.


Hi Michael,

Thanks for the insight. It’s super helpful.



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3 thoughts on “Ask Me: How Early in the Season Can I Hike the John Muir Trail?”

  1. I’d suggest checking the JMT group on Yahoo. The regulars on their practically live and breath the JMT. There are even a couple of outfitters that post conditions they see themselves or hear from clients coming off the trail. We have had several feet if snow fall in the high Sierras this past May, and the word is that there is though deep powder on Forester and Glenn passes right now as well as Trail Crest on Whitney. It could either melt fast with rising temps or we could continue with the strange weather. Who knows?