John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources

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In this post I’ll outline how to plan and prepare for your John Muir Trail itinerary to custom fit your needs and goals. I’ll also share which resources I used to help plan my itinerary and keep myself on pace each day on the trail. As a hiker that finished the JMT in 11 days, this post is going to be focused on helping those of you who are interested in finishing the John Muir Trail in a similar number of days.

John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources


My quest for knowledge and resources on the John Muir Trail began like most, with a few searches on Google. I would recommend you do the same and try to find a few blogs and accounts of fellow adventurers that have hiked the JMT in the number of days that matches your goals. When Julia and I first started planning, we had the ambitious idea of hiking the JMT in 7 days! I found a great deal of inspiration from one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Lanza of The Big Outside, and his accounts of a 7 day John Muir Trail thru-hike. I also found this 9-day fastpacking guide useful.

After reading through numerous accounts of varying John Muir Trail itineraries, Julia and I settled on an 11 day plan. We found 11 days to be the perfect balance of being able to enjoy the best of hiking and the best of camping without feeling to hurried or rushed. Below in my Creating An Itinerary section, I’ll go into great detail on how we factored in mileage, elevation change, pack weight, desired campsites, and many other factors before arriving at this 11 day itinerary. Before I get to that, I’ll share a few references and resources that will be useful to have while you design your own itinerary.

Elizabeth Wenk’s Comprehensive John Muir Trail Guide – If you’re only going to purchase one resource to aid in your planning, this is the one to get. This book covers everything under the sun in regards to John Muir Trail prep.

Tom Harrison John Muir Trail Maps – This is the second most important resource for putting together you John Muir Trail plans and itinerary. Being able to see

Halfmile’s PCT Maps – These are some nice free online resources for PCT hikers. JMT hikers can reference the JMT section of the PCT.

Blackwoods Press JMT Pocket Atlas – Blackwoods Press is run by Erik Asorson. Erik runs an incredible blog and offers a lot of very useful resources. – Make sure to check out these detailed topo maps for planning.

Guthook Hike App – I used this app more on the JMT than I did in the planning stages, but it’s nice to have a phone based JMT map reference on the go.

Yahoo and Facebook Groups – These groups can be valuable at their best, but do take a bit of weeding out.

Creating An Itinerary

Before you get into planning your exact itinerary, it’s important to note the characteristics of the John Muir Trail and how many miles you plan to walk each day. Take some time to think about your desired itinerary, and what each day on the trail will be like. Are you the kind of person that is going for a speed record? Do you like to hang out at camp until late morning and take long breaks? The John Muir Trail can be the trip of a lifetime, make sure your itinerary meets your needs and desires. Below, you’ll find a few topic areas that will help you organize your thoughts before putting your itinerary together.

  • Mileage And Elevation: How far do you plan on walking each day? How much elevation will you gain each day? — When Julia and I first started planning for the John Muir Trail, we knew we wanted to finish in less than two weeks. We both felt that anything more than that would require us to haul around too much food and move at far too slow a pace to be considered enjoyable for our preferences. Given that starting point, we knew we had to cover around 20 miles a day. Once we decided on that, we looked at a few maps and elevation charts, and started plotting our daily itinerary with campsites. Broken down into 10-12 days, we expected to cover around 20 miles with around 4,000ft of climbing each day. Looking at an elevation chart with mileage listed helped me a lot. To help plan, I printed out a few copies of the map below and drew in campsites for each night, with options for different trip lengths and campsites. The final itinerary we settled on was very close to the JMT we actually hiked.
    John Muir Trail Hiking Training Guide 16 Weeks Plan
    Elevation Profile By: Brian O’Kelley (LostHillsGuy)

    The John Muir Trail is 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney plus 11 more miles from Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal. The total distance is 221 miles. Here is a breakdown of average daily mileage:

    7 Days- 31.5 miles per day

    10 Days-22.1 miles per day

    14 Days-15.7 miles per day

    20 Days-11 miles per day

    25 Days-8.8 miles per day

    It’s important to reference the elevation profile above when planning your days in regards to when you’ll be hiking over the passes. Thunderstorms are just a part of life in the Sierra on the JMT, so expect to encounter them most afternoons. It’s wise to stay off passes in a thunderstorm, so plan to hit these sections early in the morning if possible.

  • Acclimatization And Elevation: What is the max elevation for each day? What is the elevation gain for each day?  How will you acclimatize during training and upon arrival to the JMT? — I’m very fortunate to live in Southern California where I have 10,000ft mountain peaks with lots of prominence within an hour’s drive. The mountains here are hot, rocky, and dry. The conditions here are tough, which is why I think the John Muir Trail felt so easy. If you can’t train at elevation, try to arrive in Yosemite a little early and get a few days at elevation. It’s harder to breathe at higher elevations, so don’t take this lightly. I think it’s a bigger problem if you can’t train for elevation gain, as legs trained on flat land usually have a tough time adjusting to the up and down nature of mountain trails. Make sure to factor in elevation when you’re planning your itinerary.

    John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources
    Plan For The Elevation
  • Trail Conditions: How rocky or steep is each daily section? — Much like your preparation for the elevation and trail grade, the trail conditions are something else to consider when putting an itinerary together. There is a lot of dirt single track in the first half of the JMT. The JMT turns a bit more rugged in the second half as you enter the higher elevations found in the Southern Sierra. I was ready and had trained for all of that. There was one trail condition that I was not ready for though…mosquitos! My home mountains are either bone dry or frozen most of the year, so I almost never have to deal with mosquitos. These made us skip a few breaks we had planned, which got us to our desired campsites ahead of schedule. There were a few sections on the JMT that had me hacking through clouds of mozzies. I was very glad to be in possession of a head net and bug spray.

    John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources
    That Smooth Single Track
  • Pack Weight: Are you going “lightweight”? How much food will you carry? — Julia and I are what most would consider “lightweight” backpackers with pack base weights around 15 lbs. On the JMT, I packed more than I usually do, mostly with additional electronics and food. My base weight was 24 lbs for the JMT! This definitely was an important factor in stretching our itinerary to 11 days.  We probably could have shaved our weight down a little more, but the marginal cost to start shedding base weight starts to become a little expensive when you reach 15-20lbs. Some people are willing to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to shave a few ounces…to each their own. I’m not here to tell anyone how to pack, but I can tell you what has worked for me and many others. Edit ruthlessly, but not stupidly. I’ve dedicated an entire post just for gear on the John Muir Trail. It’s not important that you have your entire gear lineup ready to go when you begin planning, but you should start to think light and train to live without luxuries. Only pack what you need. The same goes for food. Pack enough food to sustain yourself and maintain your energy. This isn’t a Carnival Cruise with all you can eat buffets. Finally, make sure your final training hikes include everything that you plan to carry, including water. If you only train with a light day pack, your muscles and joints will not take kindly to the sudden jolt of a full pack.
  • Overnight Camping: Do you prefer to sleep low or high? Tarp tent, full tent, or cowboy camping? — Julia and I brought a Tarp Tent Double Rainbow and camped at high elevations as much as possible. We like to camp at high elevations to avoid bugs, bears, and condensation. It may be a little colder, but much more enjoyable for our tastes. To prepare for this, we spent the night on top of Mt. Baldy (10,064ft) and Cucamonga Peak (8998ft) a few times. This was a great way for us to train physically, but also to do a dry run on our shelter, food, and gear.

    John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources
    Camping At Elevation
  • Food Resupply Locations: This is one of the most important factors in planning your itinerary. I have an entire post dedicated to food and resupplies. Check out my post and look at your resupply options, you’ll wan’t to build your itinerary around these locations. The most important is Muir Trail Ranch, the last on trail resupply point for SOBO hikers.

Once you’ve taken the time to think about all of the topics above, you’ll have a better idea of what your itinerary will look like. Start with a spreadsheet or work with pencil and paper if you prefer. It will take some time to get a good feel for your desired itinerary. Most importantly, plan on things to not go according to plan and build in contingency plans for the surprise thunderstorm, gear failure, injury, etc. I had our original 11 day itinerary, but I also had contingency plans in the event of an emergency. This meant planning a 13 day and 15 day trip, even though I knew full well they weren’t likely scenarios. Know where and when you can exit the trail if need be, and have all of these marked on your itinerary plan (Wenk’s book is great for this). Hopefully you’ll be able to go with plan A, but it never hurts to have a plan B and C.

I hope this post helped, feel free to leave a comment below with thoughts or questions.

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John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources


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8 thoughts on “John Muir Trail Itinerary Planning And Resources”

  1. Awesome article! We aren’t quite the rock stars that you and Julia are, but we completed the JMT in 13 days. I worked hard on getting my base weight lower, but I worked harder on making sure I was physically prepared for the trek and it made all the difference in the world. People struggle to complete thru-hikes as-is. To complete the JMT in less than 2 weeks is no small feat. What I related to more than anything in this article is the consistent theme of training and preparation. Without it, I would have been screwed. I trained relentlessly before our trek, including 3 high altitude hikes in the two weeks leading up to setting foot on the JMT. Pack weight makes a difference, but nothing makes more of a difference than being properly prepared!

    • Thanks, Robb! I agree 100%. I often read forums with people talking about buying lighter gear, and some spend crazy amounts of money to do so. Nothing beats physical preparation. I’m playing around with idea of doing a 7 day JMT this summer, and the training schedule is going to be intense!

  2. Not sure if I am missing seeing this information on your blog, but I am wondering what electronics you had with you on the trail and how you kept them running (solar?). What brand camera (s), GPS, location beacons, etc., if any? Loved watching your video; the vistas are so breathtaking through your eyes–can’t wait to experience them myself this summer. Thanks for putting all of this information out there for all of us future JMTers.

    • Hello, I have my electronics added to my gear page. I used a Sony a6000 for photos and packed a bunch of extra batteries and lipstick chargers. It added considerable weight, but I love photo and video enough to not care. I also used a Delorme inReach as an SOS and tracking device. On my smartphone, I used Guthooks JMT app. Enjoy the JMT!

  3. Thanks, Drew. I especially like the reserve/cautions perspective you attach. Some writers shy away from it, or don’t get to it. We thru-hikers know we’re best planning with contingencies in mind … they can come up no matter how planned and prepared we are. For example, always carry 1 day, each person (at least) of extra food to each resupply point. There’s plenty of water along JMT, but unless one is able to get their necessary carbs from rock ….

    Two quick points:
    1) “4,000 feet a day” it is of “climbing” for 10-12 days thru hike of the 210 miles. That’s about 1/2 up and 1/2 down, so about 2,000 feet of each, on the average day. Every day is not like a first day hike out of Yosemite Valley, from Happy Isles; and
    2) “hundreds to thousands of dollars to save a few ounces” is a bit of overstatement on lightpacking. Upgrades to save pounds (not ounces) can be achieved with $500 to $2,000, depending where you are starting from with your packed pack. And unless one is planning to retire from any and all backpacking and thru hikes after completing the JMT …. the pounds-days’ savings will be adding up for years to come using the same light equipment.

    • Thanks for reading, Trevor. I hear what you’re saying on point one. On point two I said “hundreds to thousands of dollars” and then you said “$500 to $2,000”, so I’m not sure where the overstatement is. I get your point though, as the cost can be spread out over many years and miles for avid hikers and backpackers. Many prospective JMT thru-hikers are not that though and are purchasing much of their gear to tick a “bucket list” item.


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