By Michael Lanza
It’s known as “America’s Most Beautiful Trail” for good reason: There may be no long backpacking trip that’s more spectacular, step for step, than a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail through California’s High Sierra. From Yosemite Valley to the 14,505-foot summit of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park, you walk 211 miles past jagged peaks of golden granite, through a constellation of sparkling mountain lakes and more waterfalls than anyone could name, and over numerous passes from 11,000 to over 13,000 feet.
Haven’t hiked the JMT yet? Check out the photos below. They just might convince you that it’s time to move it to the top of your list.
The John Muir Trail has become one of the most sought-after long-distance hikes among serious backpackers. Late summer is the best time for a JMT thru-hike (as well as backpacking anywhere in the High Sierra, or many other Western mountain ranges, for that matter), for many reasons: The bugs, heat, thunderstorms, and crowds of July and August have largely dissipated, and the high passes are snow-free, while dry weather often lingers well into September, with mild daytime temperatures and pleasantly cool nights.
And if you hope to make this your year for a JMT thru-hike, the time to start planning, picking dates, and preparing to apply for a wilderness permit is now.
Get a sampler of this classic, incomparable backpacking trip in the photo gallery below. Scroll past the gallery to find links to stories at this blog about the JMT, including my feature story about thru-hiking it in a week with friends, and other stories offering expert tips on how to plan and execute a JMT thru-hike.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail.
Want my help with yours? Find out more here.
Read read my feature story “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail in 7 Days: Amazing Experience, or Certifiably Insane?” about my (admittedly somewhat insane) seven-day JMT thru-hike, which includes more photos, a video, and lots of tips on pulling off your own trek on “America’s Most Beautiful Trail.” Please note that reading that full story, as with most stories about trips at The Big Outside, requires a paid subscription.
See also these stories: “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: What You Need to Know,” “How to Get a John Muir Trail Wilderness Permit,” “10 Great John Muir Trail Section Hikes,” “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: The Ultimate, 10-Day, Ultralight Plan,” and all stories about backpacking the John Muir Trail at The Big Outside.
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One key to finishing and enjoying the 211-mile JMT (221 miles including the descent off Mount Whitney, which is not part of the JMT) is keeping your pack weight as light as possible. See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.