The John Muir Trail

Notes by piero scaruffi | Other California destinations | California hikes
The John Muir Trail is a famous 357 km trail that runs from Yosemite (Happy Isles) to Mt Whitney (Whitney Portal).

It is not a favorite of mine: it misses most of the great natural wonders of California and the hikers you meet are often not exactly the nicest (i nicknamed it "Just a Million of Tourists" = JMT).

The JMT was built to connect point A to point B, not to provide an overview of California's best places. Thus it misses Darwin Canyon, the Sphinx lakes, Shepherd Pass, the Palisades, Bishop Pass, and of course all the great summits of the Eastern Sierra except for (overcrowded) Whitney. In Yosemite it misses both Half Dome and Clouds Rest. The highlights of the trail (such as Evolution Lake and the Rae Lakes) are not particularly exciting compared with similar attractions that are further inland or sometimes even closer to trailheads. It is also a very crowded trail. On an average summer day you are likely to meet people every 15 minutes. A far cry from what i call "wilderness".

The trail crosses these major passes: Donohue Pass (but misses Mt Lyell), Muir Pass, Mather Pass, Pinchot Pass, Glen Pass (great views of Rae Lakes, but misses the Sixty-lake Basin), Forester Pass (the highest pass at 4,009 m).

What is the opposite of a highlight? A lowlight? Well, the lowlight of any hike that uses a section of the John Muir trail is the JMT.

  • Donohue Pass (57 km)
  • Thousand Island Lake (68 km)
  • Devil's Postpile (90 km)
  • Silver Pass (128 km)
  • Selden Pass (160 km)
  • Piute Pass (176 km)
  • Evolution Lake (194 km)
  • Palisade Lake (232 km)
  • Rae Lakes (275 km)
  • Glen Pass (280 km)
  • Forester Pass (299 km)
  • Mt Whitney (338 km)

Notes of 2007:
  • There are natural springs along the trail. Check their locations.
  • Ranger stations have extra food/drinks left behind by hikers
  • Muir Ranch: lots of food left behind
  • No satellite phone coverage
  • Muir Ranch: satellite phone
  • There are bear boxes in Kings Canyon/Sequoia Park

Pictures of the main sections that i have hiked:
A Modest Proposal for the JMT

This scene repeats itself every time our route encompasses a section of the John Muir trail. The moment we hit the JMT the crowds start coming from all directions. You take a campsite, then hike a mountain, and, when you come back, you find out that a large group has taken your spot. Once they had even taken all my food but then returned it... without even apologizing too much. A friend left her stuff at Forester Pass while we hiked Junction Peak and four hours later found out that someone had stolen her sunscreen and her headlight. So this is just a touristy tourist attraction of no wilderness value (not even ethical value).

Hence my suggestion: why not just pave it? Yes, "pave" as in "asphalt". It is de facto a highway, and it is mostly paved (with little rocks). So why not just turn it into a biking trail? Hikers could still hike it (an incredibly boring experience) but they could also bike it (a very pleasant experience) or rollerskate it or skateboard it or whatever.

I also suggest to place a nice guesthouse and cafe every 100 kms or so, and, why not, an attached souvenir shop and Wi-Fi? Why pretend that this overcrowded well-paved highway has anything to do with the wilderness?