A John Muir Trail thru-hiker on the summit of Mt. Whitney. Photo by Jack Haskel

A John Muir Trail thru-hiker striking a pose at sunrise on the summit of Mt. Whitney.

What’s the best time of year to hike the JMT?

Generally the trail is accessible from July through September. It varies from year to year, depending on the previous winter’s snowfall. It’s also a matter of risk tolerance, skill and the specific conditions of that season. Some people hike the JMT with snow on the ground and raging water in the creeks. Some ski in the middle of winter. Those aren’t conditions suitable for most “summer” backpackers.

Most years one can plan a trip beginning the first week in July, and only hike on snow near the tops of the passes. The first substantial snow usually comes sometime in October. A trip that extends into October will have cold nights, closed resupply locations and a sharply increased risk of dangerous amounts of snowfall.

Visit our PCT page for snow information.

Should I hike the JMT north or south?

Both ways are great. North to south is the more popular option. That is partly for cultural reasons: other people are doing it and we tend to follow trends. Southbound brings you to the highest and most rugged stretches at the end of your hike instead of the beginning. Northbound, you’re faced with climbing to the summit of Mt. Whitney with a heavy pack at the start of your hike.

Is a wilderness permit required?

Yes, wilderness permits are required. Quotas are in place to ensure that your experience isn’t hampered by large crowds and that the fragile environment isn’t unduly damaged.

Can I have a fire?

It depends where you are. Each park has restrictions around certain lakes and high use areas. There are also elevation restrictions above which fires are not allowed. These are in place to protect the fragile environment and the wildness of the region. They should be followed strictly. Temporary restrictions are also common during periods of drought and in the late summer. JMT travelers should consider camping without fires. Firewood stocks are already depleted due to the high use this section of trail receives and the low productivity of many of the Sierra’s forests. Please read our pages about fire information and Leave No Trace travel.

Where can I get trail condition information?

For most of its length, the JMT travels along the Pacific Crest Trail. Visit our trail conditions page and look at the reports from Section H. Help those behind you: please contribute your own when you return.

Do I need to protect my food from animals?

Black bears and other wild animals seeking out hiker’s food is a significant problem along the John Muir Trail. You are required to properly protect your food while on the trail. Bears that obtain human food frequently need to be killed. If you choose to enjoy the JMT, it is imperative that you keep all of your food properly protected from animals.

Where are the PCT and JMT different?

For most of its length, the John Muir Trail uses the Pacific Crest Trail. There are three places where the JMT and PCT are different: Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, Thousand Island Lake to Reds Meadow and Crab Tree Meadow to Mt. Whitney. For approximately 170 miles, the JMT travels the Pacific Crest Trail.

I am traveling from another country. Is there anything that I should know?

The John Muir section of the Pacific Crest Trail is truly world famous. It’s fantastic! This is one of the top trekking destinations on Earth. Beyond obtaining visas, we recommend that you learn about U.S.-style trekking. The JMT is designed for independent wilderness travelers. You’ll sleep in tents, purify water and keep yourself safe while leaving no trace of your travels. In some respects, it is different from the often guided, and lodge-speckled great treks in the Himalayas, Andes, and the Alps.

Where do people go online to talk about the JMT?

We recommend the JMT Facebook Group as an active hub for discussion related to the John Muir Trail.

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