Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

Nicknamed “John of the Mountains” and also regarded as the “Father of the National Parks”, John Muir was a philosopher, author, and pioneer for the environmental conservationist movement of the United States. And there’s a good reason this trail of epic proportions and even more epic beauty is named after him.

Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail

The John Muir trail was actually known and named Nüümü Poyo by the Paiute tribe long before he discovered it, but his work to establish it as a protected national trail was part of a lasting American environmental legacy. Now, consider that this trail has his namesake – must be worth a visit, right?

Here are just a few of the countless reasons why:

It crosses three national parks through the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range; It is home to the highest peak in the continental U.S. across, which offers a 360-degree view across miles of granite stones and snowcapped peaks; Its 211 miles and 14,000-foot altitudes will challenge every part of your body but distract every part of your mind so that you don’t even notice.

Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail

Whether you’re starting at the northern trailhead of Yosemite National Park or the southern point at the Mt. Whitney Portal, here are some tips for the adventure of a lifetime:

Who to go with: Whether 
you want to go with good friends or complete strangers, one thing’s for sure: don’t go on this hike alone. There are always people waiting to go on this hike – literally, on the waiting list for a permit.

What gear to bring:

  • A backpack with several liters of space
  • warm and lightweight sleeping bag & sleeping pad
  • three-season tent
  • water purifier
  • ideal clothes: rain gear, down jacket, base layers, waterproof or resistant hiking boots, hat, sunglasses, lots of thermal socks
  • bug spray
  • camp stove
  • sun screen
  • bear canister (to protect your food)
  • ice ax
  • and, of course, a camera are all necessary.
Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail

Packing light is of the utmost importance, as a heavy weighted bag will slow you down. 

It’s possible and many people do carry enough food for the whole hike, but it’s not actually necessary: there are nearby towns with grocery stores where you can re-stock!

What weather to expect: expect the unexpected, but definitely expect thunder and lightning – which are always looming.
 It’s recommended to stay at lower elevations from 3 to 6 PM – and essentially, never trust the weather forecast, which proves wrong more often than right. That’s why they have a local saying, “There are two seasons ­– winter and July.”

Where to sleep:
 Any flat surface with dirt thick enough to pitch a stable tent will do, but feel free to take advantage of the accommodations in the towns along the way when you can!

Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail

How to get a permit:
 This depends on where you’ll start your trip. For the northern entrance, apply for your wilderness permit at recreation.gov; for the southern Yosemite entrance, at NPS.gov. Applications are accepted 168 days before your hike for Yosemite, and between Feb. 1 and March 15 for the start in the south.

And most importantly: don’t forget to go! John Muir once likened the importance of nature to that of food, saying “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

Hiking Guide: California’s Legendary John Muir Trail