I began my JMT thru- hike with a basic itinerary, based on the expectation that I’d take around 23 days to complete the trail; 20 days walking, one day for Half Dome and probably two rest days. I included only my resupply points, the breakdown of mileage between them and my anticipated end date.
I was quite happy with this as I was flexible in how long I could take and liked the idea of seeing how I felt each day. I usually planned where I would camp two or three nights ahead, considering things like:
- Not falling too far short of my average mileage, or setting myself up for too long a walk on subsequent days.
- Camping near the passes so I could do them the next morning, with more energy for the climb and plenty of light.
- Finding a good camp spot (ideally by a lake – love those alpine lakes!). Generally you can camp every mile or two, but there are some longer stretches where you can’t, due to things like restricted areas.
- Being able to cross large river and creek crossings in the morning, although this is usually less important later in the season.
- How much food I had left.
On reflection, whilst this worked fine for me, it might have been better to have gone with a clearer idea of where I would be each night, especially as I’d mistakenly not given myself enough time to get from Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) to my planned stay and resupply at the Mont Williamson Motel. I was lucky to realise this whilst I was still at MTR and not half way into that stretch and was able to change my plan!
Many people had more detailed itineraries than me, although everybody seemed to be making some changes along the way, whether to daily mileage, or something more significant, like losing or adding a day.
In the end, I took a total of 21 days to complete the JMT; 19 days hiking (just under 12 mile per day average) and two rest days. The difference in days from my original plan came from not climbing Half Dome and cancelling my final resupply. I would not make any major changes to what I actually did, although I have made a couple of notes about potential alternatives, along with information about each spot.
|0||Backpackers Campsite Yosemite||0||Rubbish bins||Bear bins||Compost toilets||Walk or shuttle to Yosemite village (post office, shop etc.)||$6 per person||I saw a bear!|
|1||Little Yosemite Valley||5.5 (including walk to trail-head)||Compost toilets||Bear bins||Quite large and sociable||Signs about cougar sightings!||Sunrise Lakes with a view to climbing Clouds Rest first thing in the morning|
|2||Sunrise High Sierra Camp||9||Great views||Compost toilets||Bear bins||I originally intended to stay another night at Little Yosemite Valley and Climb Half Dome on my second day.|
|3||Tuolumne Meadows||11||Very big||Restaurant||Shop||Post office||Bear bins||Flushing toilets||$8 person||Accept hiker resupply buckets|
|4||Lyell Bridge||10.5||Great views for sunset||Lots of spots at different levels.||About a third of the way up Donahue Pass||Lyell Fork Crossing – a little further up Donahue Pass. Very beautiful although perhaps too close to water.|
|5||Garnet Lake||13||Beautiful spots near the lake||Ruby Lake was very pretty and quiet (you pass it on the way). Lots of people also camp at Thousand Island Lakes, but this would have meant a long walk to Red’s the next day.|
|6||Red’s Meadow Campsite||12||$26 a pitch which can be split by up to 6 people. There is one large pitch that lots of backpackers can use and split the cost by more people.||Shop||Restaurant||Showers ($5) and flushing toilets||Laundry ($7)||Shuttle to Mammoth (post office in Mammoth only).||Accept hiker resupply buckets||Note that the main facilities are a ten minute walk uphill from the campsite|
|7||Zero day: Red’s Meadow Hiker Hut||0||Proper bed, little porch, lush!||Electricity||Shower fee included||I could have camped another night, or not had a zero and continued on.|
|8||Purple Lake||13.5||Very pretty||Campsites a little hard to find and you can’t camp near the lake outlet – head up||If we’d had more energy I’d have loved to carry on to Virginia Lake (about another 2.5 miles).|
|9||Mono Creek||12||Large campsite with great view across the valley||About half a mile from water where I was, although you can camp nearer (too many mossies when I was there)||I could have carried on down the hill towards Mono Creek Crossing.|
|10||Marie Lake||15||Absolutely beautiful – one of my favourites||Good spot for swimming||So glad that I stayed here, but it was a long day. Some people stop along Bear Creek.|
|11||Muir Trail Ranch – Hiker Hut||8||Book as far ahead as possible if you want to stay. It’s pricey but felt worth it! As a guest you get:||Great food||Hot springs/showers||Massages ($60+)||Cute cabins (I stayed in the most basic one, but it was really nice).||They accept hiker resupply buckets (amazing hiker bins!)||Unfortunately the hot springs are only for people staying there.||There isn’t a public restaurant.||Hikers can use the shop (limited non food supplies, including fuel), computer (email only) and may post things home.||I could have camped at the backpackers’ site, although I’d recommend carrying on up the trail for about half a mile – nice quiet spots.|
|12||Zero day: Muir Trail Ranch – Hiker Hut||0||As above||I was glad to have the rest day, but could have carried on if I was short of time.|
|13||About a mile beyond Colby Meadow||12||Quite buggy spot near a creek||Peaceful, there was only two of us there||I’d have continued on to Evolution Lake (2/3 miles), but was too tired! That would have set me up better to do Muir Pass earlier in the day (although I was fine).|
|14||Somewhere along Upper Le Conte Canyon||12||Nice spot in the trees and uphill from a beautiful creek||Good view of the sunset in the canyon||I think I’d originally planned to make it to Big Pete’s Meadow, around a mile further.|
|15||Lower Palisade Lake||12||Absolutely gorgeous!||Lots of camping||Good spot to do Mather Pass the next morning|
|16||Lake Marjorie||13||One of my favourites – the bluest of blue lakes||Quite popular, I was lucky to find a spot arriving later on||Good spot to do Pinchot Pass the next morning (although that’s not such a hard one)|
|17||Lower Rae Lake||14.5||Lots of spots near the different lakes||Bear bins at a couple of sites||Good spot for Glenn Pass the next morning|
|18||Bubbs Creek||11||Lovely campsite with bear bins alongside the creek, before the crossing||Good for Forester Pass the next morning (a toughie!)||We could have carried on further to the creek crossing|
|19||About a mile before Wallace Creek Crossing||13||OK campsite, bit buggy||We could have carried on to the creek crossing, but we’d already fallen in the previous creek crossing, so were done for the day.||We had also been keen to stay on Bighorn Plateau, but it was too stormy (lightning risk).||I’d initially planned to hike out for my resupply over Kearsage Pass, which we passed on day 19. In my original plan I would have needed to arrive here by day 18, which was too quick for me.|
|20||Guitar Lake||10||We carried on along the trail and up a ridge about a mile or so from the lake.||It was a beautiful spot with an amazing sunset. Best camp spot of the whole trip.||We awoke at 1.30 to summit Mount Whitney.||I wouldn’t have changed what we did, but some people camped a little further up towards the summit (take water).||You can of course sleep the full night and go up in the morning, rather than getting up early for sunrise.|
|21||Whitney Portal||17||Switchback hell||Café and toilets||Approx. 12 mile drive into Lone Pine.||It’s a long walk down after getting up so early. If you wanted to break it up there are camping spots along the way.|
Need more information?
There are plenty of other resources available to help you look at this in more detail:
- Many sample itineraries are available online.
- You can look at topographical maps (ones that show the terrain) as part of your planning, and it’s a good idea to have one on the trail. I bought the Tom Harrison maps and the HalfMile maps are also highly recommended.
- The National Geographic guide has a good sample 21 day itinerary (not including rest days) and topographical maps.
- I found the ‘JMT Hiker’ app really useful, but other people also used the Guthook’s and HalfMile apps. All include details about campsites, water sources and key features of the trail.
- John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail is good if you want a proper book. I found it a useful at home and as an introduction but it was too chunky to take with me.