For the heartiest of hikers and those who like to set big goals, the John Muir Trail awaits. This legendary trail named after the visionary John Muir offers the finest scenery the California Sierra Nevada has to share along its 211 mile route. With five resupplies, we aim to keep the pack weight light so we can travel through the wilderness and still enjoy a little time for swimming, identifying the wildflowers, and viewing some the United States most remarkable mountain scenery. We’ll travel from south to north, summiting Mt. Whitney before heading north along the spine of the California Sierra Nevada.
We’ve designed this itinerary for women who are fit, committed, and understand that this trip is about the journey, made up of one remarkable but challenging day after another. You’ll finish this once in a lifetime journey with a sense of accomplishment, but also an appreciation for what John Muir’s passion for the wilderness truly was about.
Day 1~ Arrival into Fresno, CA
This morning we meet at 9 AM for introductions, gear review, and some last minute organizational items. From here, we travel to our trailhead on the eastern side of the California Sierra Mountains. Tonight we camp in Horseshoe Meadows and start the acclimatization process.
Day 2 ~ Upper Rock Creek via Cottonwood Pass
Today we start with an early breakfast and then begin our hike. We’ll stop for lunch at scenic Chicken Spring Lake after crossing Cottonwood Pass. From here, we’ll enter into Sequoia National Park and walk through a forest of ancient Bristlecone Pine trees. Tonight we’ll camp in Upper Rock Creek Campground.
Day 3 ~ Rock Creek to Upper Crabtree Meadows
Today we’ll descend down along Rock Creek, before starting our climb into Crabtree Meadows. We’ll cross numerous streams and walk through mountain meadows before arriving at our scenic campsite along the stream. After dinner, we’ll walk past the break in the trees to watch the sunset over tomorrow’s goal – Mt. Whitney.
Day 4 ~ Mt Whitney Summit
We’ll get an early start from camp to summit Mt Whitney without our full packs. From camp, we’ll travel 5.5 miles to the Trailcrest Pass (13,500') and then walk our final 2 miles to the summit (14,495'). At the summit (weather permitting), we'll have lunch, sign the guest register, take photos, and then retrace our steps back down to Upper Crabtree Meadows. This hike has some of the finest views in the California Sierra Mountains.
Day 5 ~ Tyndall Creek
We’ll break camp and follow along the trail that goes up and down all day, mostly through arid landscapes. Climbing out of Crabtree Meadows, the trail crests at the top of a barren plateau with a strangely isolated feel and a pristine blue and green lake that seems out of place ringed by golden daisies. The vista is our last view of Mt. Whitney.
Day 6 ~ Forester Pass to Lower Bubb’s Creek
The 5 mile assent toward Forester Pass is gradual but steady until we reach the base itself, when we climb steeply to our highest pass at 13,200 feet. The descent is shale and gravel and we may cross snow along Bubb’s Creek into the valley below. The waterfalls in the valley are worth a dip if it’s not too cold.
Day 7 ~ Rae Lakes
The climb up to Glen Pass is strenuous, first through the wooded hillsides above Bubb’s Creek, and then over the steep rocky canyons passed Charlotte Lake, but with grand vistas of granite domes in Kings Canyon below. The pass itself is a saddle between two worlds, and Rae Lakes is a phenomenal bowl of beauty and splendor. There is a lot of frog research in the area by park rangers, so keep your eyes and your ears open for these small native green wonders. Today we pickup our food resupplies for the next leg of journey.
Day 8 ~ Twin Lakes
With our packs full again, we descend through the Rae Lakes watershed of granite and glacial runoff, before traversing up along Woods Creek, a sheer-sided deserty canyon along a rushing river that resembles a waterfall. The contrast between the dry dusty trail and the occasional stream, feels like a fairytale as for a few brief paces we enter a moist cool ferny glen, before reemerging into the hot sunshine and the dry landscape that dominate the terrain.
Day 9 ~ Pinchot Pass
We will do less miles today, resting our legs, but still going over the formidable Pinchot Pass at 12,130’. Switch backs front and back of the pass leave us with time to swim and relax at the sweet granite lined lakes below Mt. Pinchot. Oh, the Sierra
Day 10 ~ Dear Meadow
Today’s trail takes us up to Mather Pass through the upper basin of the South Fork of the Kings River in a steady but gradual climb of intermittent desert and lush river crossings. The climb of the pass itself is steep, like the other passes along the JMT, but the view is spectacular and worth the scramble on the shear-sided path. The meadows provide our first glimpse of the abundance of wildflowers in the coming days as we head north out of the desert. Head-height violet-blue monkshood, shooting star, rein orchids, wild roses and pink monkey flowers are just some of the bouquet in this meadow. Keep your eyes open for the elusive giant golden mushrooms at the base of burnt tree stumps.
Day 11 ~ Le Conte Canyon
We continue down along Palisade Creek through the burnt remains of an ancient forest until we hit the confluence of the Middle Fork of the King’s River and begin climbing through Le Conte Canyon. The meadows and vistas of Citadel Peak, Rambaud Peak, and Langille Peak with the first glimpses of The Black Giant are the backdrop for this rushing river which draws crazy kayakers who hike in 13 miles over Bishop pass with their kayaks on their backs, to then kayak 12 miles downstream and take out in time to reach Road’s End before night falls. The Pete’s Meadows are our lush resting place for the night, after picking up our second resupply.
Day 12 ~ Muir Pass to Evolution Lake
Today we hike up out of the lush meadows of Le Conte Canyon to the stark granite crags of an alien moonscape with an Incan pyramid towering above us, between a snowfield and a rushing river gorge, with the swollen lake at our head. The last push passed Helen Lake to the top of Muir Pass is a steep gorge and we may have to skirt where the river snowmelt takes over our trail. Our descent will be sweet and gradual, coming into the spectacularly infamous Evolution Valley, passing Wanda Lake with views of The Black Giant and the Goddard Divide. The craggy peaks and icy blue of Evolution Lake will take your breath away if the elevation does not. This is California at its finest.
Day 13 ~ Evolution Canyon to Aspen Meadows
Listen for the constant sound of water rushing, and the phenomenal amount of waterfalls as we traverse down Evolution Valley, down, down, down to the confluence of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. If you are familiar with the lazy sluggish brown murky waters of the San Joaquin in the Central Valley of California, you will be awed to meet this bubbling rushing river gorge at its headwaters. We will camp along its wooded banks in Aspen Meadows in our last night in Kings Canyon National Park, before crossing in the morning into the Sierra National Forest and John Muir Wilderness.
Day 14 ~ Blayney Meadow Hot Springs
Today we depart on a mission for hot springs and resupplies. We’ll head for the hot springs to soak our sore bodies and pass by meadows, lakes filled with lily pads, and many rocky outcroppings. We’ll take the afternoon to enjoy the hard work so far on the trail, preparing for the days climb ahead.
Day 15 ~ Selden Pass
The climb out of Blayney Meadows begins with a couple of miles of exposed switch backs in dense chaparral of Ceanothus, Manzanita, California Sage Brush, and Deer Brush, with the occasional twisted Red Cedar, burned more often than not. In this dramatically distinct landscape the greens pop out and the mix of earthy spicy smells waft pleasantly in the air. We pass Sally Keys Lakes and the sweet Heart Lake before summiting Selden Pass at 10,880. After a full day of climbing we will happily descend to Rosemarie Meadows, only three miles from the peak.
Day 16 ~ Pocket Meadows
Our trail takes us down along Bear Creek today, with a 1000’ climb just to keep us on our toes, before we continue down to Quail Meadows, a good 2000’ below the wooded plateau where we will see the least amount of running water in one stretch of trail the entire trip. Four separate stream crossings keep our toes cool and wet before we traverse the dense wildflower covered hillsides above the meadows. There is much beautiful camping along the river in among the butterscotch-smelling Puzzle Firs that line the river near Quail Meadows that will also keep us hungry for dinner tonight!
Day 17 ~ Purple Lake
The ascent out of Pocket Meadows passes 2 gigantic waterfalls before reaching Silver Pass, leaving behind the forested green slopes once again for dramatic granite crags and vistas of far off volcanic craters. From there we descend to Tully Hole to begin our climb in earnest up to Lake Virginia and finally to Purple Lake. The climb out of Tully Hole is awe-inspiringly spectacular, alternating between dry gravely hillsides dotted with sagebrush and sunset colored wildflowers, to lush corridors of willows and wildflowers so numerous it is hard to keep track. More than 60 varieties of wildflowers can be identified on this stretch alone, which is good because the climb itself may need some distraction.
Day 18 ~ Red’s Meadow
Today is another long day but mostly downhill with rewards at the bottom. After a brief climb out of Purple Lake, we head on our steady decline for 7 ½ miles, through dry fir and cedar forests, with grand views of the valley far below, snow covered crags across, and lush alpine meadows cut through by snaking rivers that leave green swatches across the granite barrenness. Every so often a trickling stream crosses our path, only present because of the late snow melt, and a wake of bright alert yellow arnica flowers positioned so they have a view of the canyon as well. The walking is relatively easy; a sandy dusty path with few boulders but a hot sun. Red Cones is our last stop before we drop into Red’s Meadow and Resort on the back side of Mammoth Mountain. This burnt bowl is the home of Rainbow Falls, Minaret Falls, and Devil’s Postpile National Monument, which is of volcanic proportions. There is a small store and a café in the valley that boasts cold beer, showers, and burgers, of which all the long distance hikers take advantage of. We’ll pickup resupplies here for the next leg of our journey.
Day 19 ~ Shadow Creek
We have crossed out of the Sierra National Forest into the Inyo National Forest as we ascend back up the valley wall into the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the spectacular Ritter Range drainage. Shadow Creek where we will camp, finds its headwaters at Ediza Lake, John Muir’s professed “favorite” of these hidden alpine lakes. It is worth a weekend trip to come back and explore the myriad side trails and gem lakes that dot this region just off the JMT.
Day 20 ~ Donohue Creek
Today we cross below the imposing Ritter Range, a dark façade made up of glacier lined Mt Ritter, Banner Peak, and Mt Davis. Lakes, such as Garnet Lake, Ruby Lake, Emerald Lake, and Thousand Island Lake, live up to their names and will keep our tired feet walking up and over the short craggy passes between to see the next beauty. Over Island Pass at 10,205, we once again descend and then gently climb to our camp site among the enchanting turquoise clear pools below rocky Donohue Pass.
Day 21 ~ Lyell Canyon & Yosemite National Park
Cresting Donohue Pass, our final big pass, gives us our first glimpse of Yosemite and the highest peak in the park Mt. Dana, before the descent into the valley out of Inyo National Forest. Waterfalls cascade over the trail along the descent, giving the impression of walking through babbling brooks. We enter Yosemite National Park steeply at first along a rushing river, before evening out in Lyell Canyon’s meandering stream and lush meadows teaming with abundant wildlife.
Day 22 ~ Tuolumne Meadows & Cathedral Peak
This morning we’ll hike down Lyell Canyon, likely seeing deer while passing many streams and ponds before arriving in Tuolumne Meadows and having lunch at the snack bar. After picking up just a few supplies and enjoying our ice cream cones, we’ll get back on the trail heading for majestic Cathedral Lakes. The jagged granite peaks and mirror reflections are what draw many visitors year after year.
Day 23 ~ Yosemite Valley
Today our long journey comes to an end as we descend steeply through the Yosemite High Country into Little Yosemite Valley before joining the steep granite staircases that announce our arrival into Yosemite Valley. We’ll pass the scenic Nevada and Vernal Falls, catching the mist to cool us off as soaring temperatures tell us the end is near. Once off the trail, we’ll celebrate at the snack stand with treats and cool beverages before exiting the park for our hotel where showers, soft beds, and our celebratory dinner awaits!
Day 24 ~ Departure from Fresno, CA
After saying goodbye, today you are free to depart anytime. The hotel shuttle will return you back to the airport. Hotel check out is 12 noon.
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