Passing through the most scenic mountains in the Continental US, the John Muir Trail follows a rugged 211 mile route with stunning high alpine peaks and countless lakes. Ringed by 13,000 foot peaks and granite towers, the JMT has an elevation gain of over 50,000 feet along its length. Taking most backpackers 4 weeks, it is typically hiked north to south from the Yosemite Valley to Mt Whitney with increasing elevations appreciated with lightening packs. The best time of year for backpacking the John Muir Trail is from July to September to avoid remnant winter snow and the incoming winter snows.
The John Muir Trail mostly follows the well-established Pacific Crest Trail for over 170 miles. The are only three sections where the JMT varies from the PCT. First, the JMT follows its own route from the start at Happy Isles trailhead in the Yosemite Valley up to Tuoluame Meadows. Second, the route varies from Thousand Island Lake to Red Meadow. Lastly, there is a variance from Crab Tree Meadow to Mt Whitney (14,505 feet).
If you are looking for just a sampler, one of the best stretches is accessible from Yosemite. From the Happy Isle Loop Road in Yosemite Village, it’s a 17 mile round trip backpack up Half Dome (8,800 feet). A good place to stay overnight is in Little Yosemite Valley.
To protect the John Muir Trail and the wilderness experience, all hikers are required to obtain a wildness permit well in advance. The permits are required by all users and are limited by quotas. The main limitation is to restrict the traffic over Donahue Pass to 45 hikers per day. Keep in mind that campfires are generally discouraged along the JMT and, in most cases, it would be very difficult to find any fire wood.
Overall, John Muir Trail is the 9th most popular hiking trail of all 88 hikes in California.