Overview: What is the John Muir Trail

As my the spring semester of my freshman year of college rolled to a close, questions of summer became more and more frequent. “So, Sam, what are YOU doing this summer? Internship? Co-Op? Job?” My answer: “I am hiking 220 miles of the High Sierra backcountry for three straight weeks with only three opportunities to shower.” You can imagine the response that came after.


The John Muir Trail is a hiking trail officially stretching 210.4 miles through 3 national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. The trail was created in memory of the man who bears its name, John Muir, a Scottish conservationist and adventurer who wrote extensively on his love of the Sierra Nevada. Construction of the trail began in 1915, one year after the death of Muir, and was completed in 1938.

The trail has not always been of fame, however. Over the past 10 or so years the trail has seen a magnificent rise in foot traffic, largely due to a spike in publication and press about the breathtaking beauty of the area. Books, such as Wild by Sheryl Strayed, recounting a trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as films, such as Mile, Mile and a Half, have led to a significant rise in the number of visitors to the area. To protect the area from over-usage, strict permitting requirements have been enacted by wilderness management, making the hike much more planning intensive.

Some interesting numbers on the John Muir Trail. . .

  • 47,000′ of elevation change throughout the entire trail
  • follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for 160 miles
  • 35% of the trail lies above 10,000′
  • after the trail exits Yosemite Valley it NEVER again dips below 7,000′
  • spans 10 mountain passes (in sequence from N to S):
    1. Cathedral (9,700′)
    2. Donohue (11,050′)
    3. Island (10,200′)
    4. Silver (10,900′)
    5. Seldon (10,870′)
    6. Muir (11,955′)
    7. Mather (12,080′)
    8. Pinchot (12,100′)
    9. Glen (11,980′)
    10. Forester (13,200′)
  • fastest recorded completion of the trail was 3 days, 10 hours, 59 minutes by Andrew Bentz in 2014