“America’s most beautiful trail. Period.” is what hiker and author Kelly Bastone called the John Muir Trail in the October 28th, 2010 issue of Backpacker Magazine. The trail was built beginning in 1915 after the death of John Muir one of the most influential conservationist and environmentalist in American history. It was completed in 1938. See an interactive John Muir Trail Guide Map
The John Muir trail starts in Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and extends 210.4 miles south through California’s High Sierras to the top of Mount Whitney the highest peak in the lower 48 states. It passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks. Approximately 160 miles of the trail’s 211 miles follows the same path as the 2,654-mile Pacific Crest Trail. From the southern terminus of the trail at the top of Mount Whitney an additional 10.6-mile hike on the Mount Whitney Trail in required to reach the nearest trailhead at Whitney Portal making the actual walking distance on the trail 221 miles. Almost all of the trail lies above 8,000 feet and a third of it above 10,000 feet, including all of the last 30 miles.
The best time to hike the trail is mid-June to mid-September.
Pick a Professional John Muir Trail Guide
If you are contemplating hiking all or part of the John Muir Trail, consider doing it with a guide or outfitter with years of experience on the trail. This drastically reduces the time required for planning and obtaining permits. A professional John Muir Trail guide will greatly enhance your experience on the trail by taking care of details and giving you more time and freedom for the enjoyment of the experience. Generally, a professional guide provides all camping gear except for personal gear you choose to bring for yourself. They plan and cook meals. Food is packed in several times during the trip thereby lightening your pack. They provide shuttle coordination and transportation where required. Specifics vary from outfitter to outfitter.
Here are the top professional outfitters who provide guided hiking and horsepacking trips on all or portions of the John Muir Trail.
Based in Santa Cruz, California, with a field office in Oakhurst, CA, Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides has been guiding outdoor trips in Yosemite and the High Sierra since 1991. In addition to the John Muir Trail, adventure other SYMG experiences include backpacking, hiking with pack stock, adventure camping, day hiking, and family adventures. The outfitter was named one of the “Best Outfitters on Earth: by National Geographic Adventure Magazine
Read more about Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides John Muir Hike
Based in Bishop, California, Sierra Mountain Center has been guiding in the Eastern Sierra for over 30 years. The outfitter specializes in rock climbing, summer mountaineering, waterfall ice climbing, backcountry skiing and custom guiding in the Eastern Sierra. This John Muir Trail guide works in conjunction with Rock Creek Pack Station (see below) to provide pack supported trips from late August to early September.
Read more about Sierra Mountain Center’s John Muir Trail Guide
Based in June Lake, California, International Alpine Guides, also known as California Alpine Guides, is a 12-year-old company that provides mountaineering expeditions, ski touring, rock climbing and trekking trips worldwide and in its home state of California. Based near Yosemite National Park, the California division of the company, California Alpine Guides, provides mountain climbing and ice climbing classes, rock climbing instruction, backcountry skiing and Yosemite hiking tours, including the 23-day John Muir expedition.
Rock Creek Pack Station is an outfitter that specializes in day and multi-day horse packing trips throughout the Sierras including rides such as Hilton Lakes Trail Ride (4 days); Mustang Ride for Kids (3 days); Parent / Child Trail Ride in the John Muir Wilderness (3 days) and the 30-day John Muir / Pacific Crest Trail Trip. The outfitter partners with the Sierra Club to provide supported trekking trips in the John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Yosemite Wilderness. Rock Creek offers that best opportunity of any outfitter listed here to test your compatibility for a 3-or-4 day trip in the Sierras before committing to an extended trip on the John Muir Trail.
Read more about Rock Creek Pack Station’s John Muir Trail horse packing trip
Other Long Distance Trails in the United States
- Appalachian Trail 2,178 miles Maine to Georgia
- Pacific Crest Trail 2,654 miles Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington
- Continental Divide Trail 3,100 miles Mexico to Canada through the Rockies
- Colorado Trail 483 miles Denver to Durango
- Wonderland Trail 93 miles Circumnavigates Mount Rainier
- The Long Trail 272 miles Located in Vermont. The oldest long distance hike in the U.S.
When is a Hike Too Long?
Think a month may be too long to devote to a single hiking experience?. Here’s what John Muir had to say about the time spent hiking in the part of the country that eventually became Yosemite National Park and the John Muir Trail.
“Wander a whole summer if you can… time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”
View a 2-minute video showing some of the spectacular scenery along the John Muir Trail. It’s not hard to see why hiker and Backpacker Magazine writer Kelly Bastone called it, “America’s most beautiful trail. Period.”