John Muir Trail Itinerary

Everyone has their own methods of planning out their daily distances for the trail. I’ve heard of some methods such as 2 hours per mile and 1 extra hour per 1,000 ft elevation gain. In my opinion, that’s too much planning, and it takes away from the purpose of enjoying your surroundings. There will be moments where you want to stop for a while, bathe in a swimming hole, or gaze out into the valley.

Having only experienced limited portions of the trail prior to actually doing the entire trail, it was hard for me to grasp the locations that we would be covering. What helped greatly is grabbing a physical map to lay out each section. We used the Tom Harrison John Muir Trail Map because it comes in several pages. This made it easy to take on the trail with us, so we can keep one or two sheets ready available at a time—eliminating unnecessary book openings and big map folding/re-folding.

Our planning was rather simple. While we could do 15-mile days, why would we? We wanted to enjoy the trip, and not run by it. We opted for a range of  of 10-15 miles per day. We came up with an 18-days itinerary that would suit our distance ranges. However, these distances changed slightly, and we ended up completing the trail in 17 days.

I’ve provided our itinerary for others to use as a guideline to plan out their mileage. I don’t want, or expect everyone to follow this itinerary, but this can provide a baseline/example for others to use.

We used Sierra Mapper to help map out our trail distances when planning.

Things to note that affected our itinerary.

  • We estimated an average of 1.5 miles per hour; we started at 7:30AM every day, and ended our day between 4-5PM.
  • Our permit was for Sunrise Lakes to Mount Whitney, hence, cutting out the Happy Isle to Sunrise Lakes portion. This wasn’t a bummer to us, since we did Happy Isle to Cloud’s Rest in one day for our JMT training hikes.
  • We finished in 17 days.
  • We had half a rest day at Muir Trail Ranch.


Day 1: Sunrise Lakes Trailhead to Tuolumne Meadows
Distance: 13.19 miles | Pass: Cathedral Pass (9,700 ft)
Notes: We took a day pack and left our main packs at the backpackers’ campground since we will be hitting road to road. Take some time to relax at Cathedral Lakes

View from Cathedral Pass (L to R): Cathedral Peak, Echo Peaks, and Matthes Crest

DAY 2: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Footbridge
Distance: 10.2 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Easy incline for the first 8 miles. I highly suggest to go higher than the footbridge and camp at the lake.

Lyell Fork Crossing

DAY 3: Lyell Fork Footbridge to Garnet Lake
Distance: 12.46 miles | Pass: Donohue Pass (11,056 ft), Island Pass (10,205 ft)
Notes: Stunning views of Banner Peak

View of Banner Peak from Garnet Lake

DAY 4: Garnet Lake to Reds Meadow
Distance: 12.8 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: The Minarets come into view before you reach Reds Meadow. Reds Meadow is a re-supply point, and a bail point if you need to. You have signal after Donohue Pass, so give a call to Reds Meadow before 3pm to reserve their plated dinners if you want more than just burgers.

Sign at Reds Meadow

DAY 5: Reds Meadow to Purple Lake
Distance: 14.6 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: This includes a 5.5 miles section known to be the driest part of the JMT. If you’re up for it, make the extra 2 miles to camp at Virginia Lakes instead.

Purple Lake

DAY 6: Purple Lake to Quail Meadow
Distance: 15.7 miles | Pass: Silver Pass (10,895 ft)
Notes: You pass a beautiful series of lake before reaching Silver Pass. Quail Meadows is close to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), a re-supply town area.

Descending from Silver Pass

DAY 7: Quail Meadow to Marie Lake
Distance: 12.57 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Definitely camp at Marie Lake

Mahesh overlooking Marie Lake

DAY 8: Marie Lake to Muir Trail Ranch
Distance: 8.17 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Camp at and enjoy the Blayney Hot Springs. When you walk pass the campground towards the hot springs, you will run into a muddy hot spring on the ground—this is not the one to go to! The clean and hotter hot spring is at the base of the rock with a tree to your right, located within the fence of the private property.

Buckets with free items donated by other backpackers at Muir Trail Ranch

DAY 9: Muir Trail Ranch to Base of North Evolution Lake before the uphill
Distance: Est. 13 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Make the trek to continue another 2 miles and camp at Evolution Lake. We had decided at MTR to skip our Onion Valley re-supply, and carry 10 days of food with us, so making the extra distance up the mountain to North Evolution Lake was not going to happen.

The Hermit sits the Evolution Valley in Kings Canyon National Park

DAY 10: Base of North Evolution Lake before the uphill to Le Conte Ranger Station
Distance: Estimated 16 miles | Pass: Muir Pass (11.955 ft)
Notes: Going Southbound, after Muir Pass, you will pass by alpine lakes where the endangered yellow-legged mountain frogs live. These frogs take 3 years to fully grow from tadpole to frog. Thus, when the alpine lakes were stocked with fish, these frogs became highly endangered.

When you reach the tree-line on the southern side of the pass, Rock Monster is located to your right.

Muir Hut sitting at the top of Muir Pass

DAY 11: Le Conte Ranger Station to Palisades Lake (upper)
Distance: Estimated 12 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Prepare yourself for going up the Golden Staircase in order to reach Palisades Lake.

The Citadel in Le Conte Canyon

DAY 12: Palisades Lake (upper) to Random lake above Twin Lakes
Distance: Estimated 14 miles | Pass: Mather Pass (12,100 ft), Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft)
Notes: Coming down from Mather Pass feels like you’re walking on the moon.

This pika followed me for some time as I trudged up to Mather Pass, dashing in and out of the rocks before popping up with a blade of grass in its mouth.

DAY 13: Random lake above Twin Lakes to Rae Lakes
Distance: 9.71 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Use the toilet at Woods Creek Crossing; it feels weird to sit on a toilet now. Fin Dome is a spectacular sight to see!

Fin Dome

DAY 14: Rae Lakes to Campsite around 11,200 ft. at the base of Forester Pass
Distance: Estimated 13 miles | Pass: Glen Pass (11,926 ft)
Notes: Glen Pass is the hardest pass, in my opinion.

View from the southern side of Pinchot Pass

DAY 15: Campsite around 11,200 ft. at the base of Forester Pass
End: Kern River/High Sierra Trail Junction
Distance: 10.3 miles | Pass: Forester Pass (13,000 ft)
Notes: Realizing that Forrester Pass is typically the height of skydiving…

Morning on the northern side of Forester Pass

DAY 16: High Sierra Trail/John Muir Trail Junction to Lake above Guitar Lake
Distance: Estimated 8 miles | Pass: N/A
Notes: Don’t camp at Guitar Lake because it’s too crowded. Continue a little higher to a smaller lake that oversees Guitar Lake.

Timber Lake with Mt. Whitney in the backdrop

DAY 17: Lake above Guitar Lake to Mount Whitney Summit
Distance: 14 (Est. 4 miles to Whitney, and 11 miles to Whitney Portal) | Pass: N/A
Notes: Run down the mountain in search of burgers

The friends we make along the way…

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