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Difficulty descriptions are by nature very subjective. The categories below represent generalized distinctions in terrain, level of commitment, time spent at elevation and overall trip duration. Level of commitment refers to the ability to opt out of activities such as peak ascents from a base camp. A committing trip requires a daily mileage to be completed each day.
These trips typically travel on groomed trails at a leisurely pace. You can expect maintained trails, gentle grades and more flexibility in terms of your destination for the day. Hikers will carry mainly the essentials in a light daypack and travel anywhere from 3 to 8 miles depending on the trip or preference.
These include hiking, backpacking, or stock-supported trips that take place mostly on maintained trails to get to camp. These trips hike into a set basecamp and then offer optional destinations with varying degrees of challenge. You can expect modest climbs on uneven terrain. Total distances are often 4-7 miles of hiking per day over 3-4 days of hiking.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking or backpacking or stock-supported trips. The trails can consist of uneven terrain with modest to difficult climbs and some steep passes (gains of 1000-2000’). These trips are typically 3-5 days in duration but can be longer. For backpacking trips, they can include carrying a fully weighted pack (30-42lbs) and travel 6-10 miles per day.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking, backpacking or stock-supported trips with uneven terrain and steep grades and passes. These trips are more physically and mentally challenging and usually 7-8 days in duration. For backpacking trips, pack weight will consist of (30-40lbs). Because these types of trips have a required mileage to complete each day, the level of commitment is high. Trips in this category spend significant time at higher elevations and often cover 8-12+ miles per day with average gains/losses of 1,500-3,000’ per day. The most successful people on these trips have some prior overnight backcountry experience.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking or backpacking on uneven terrain with steep grades. These trips travel 10-12+ miles per day and can vary from 8-21 days in length. Given the mileage and duration, there is an increased amount of physical and mental challenge throughout the trip. Pack weights will consist of 35-45lbs depending on the resupply schedule. Because these types of trips have a required mileage to complete each day, the level of commitment to reach your destination is high. The most successful people on these trips have extensive overnight backcountry experience.
The John Muir Trail is one of the most classic backpacking trails in the world and what better way to experience it than with National Geographic's pick of “The Best Outfitter On Earth”! Following the rugged spine of California’s High Sierra, we climb 8 high-mountain passes, traverse 3 national parks and attempt the summit of Mt Whitney, (14,500’) the highest point in the contiguous US. Expert guides, seamless logistics and world-class scenery make hiking the John Muir Trail the true “trip of a lifetime”.
Accommodations: We provide 21-24 nights of tent camping (depending on itinerary) and the last night’s lodging (pricing based on double room occupancy).
Equipment: We supply all group camping gear (stoves, cookware, water filters, group first aid kit, etc). We can also supply personal camping equipment (backpacks, sleeping bags, ground pads, trekking poles, and tents) upon request with no additional fee. You are welcome to bring your own personal camping equipment if you prefer. A detailed gear list will be sent to you upon registration.
Meals: We provide all backcountry meals starting with dinner on Day 1. Front country meals are not provided (more specifics can be found on individual trip itineraries). Our "Backcountry Gourmet" meals have been acclaimed in Sunset Magazine and we take pride in providing excellent meals even in remote surroundings. If you have a specific dietary need or allergy, let us know and we will do our best to accommodate your request. Due to the nature of this rigorous and long expeditionary trip, there may be some limitations to what we can accommodate. Please reach out to our friendly office staff if you have any questions or concerns about this.
Your Cost Includes: Meals (as noted above), group camping gear (as noted above), personal camping equipment (as listed above), 4-5 remote food drops (depending on itinerary), accommodations (as listed above), transportation to and from the remote trailheads, applicable permits, professional mountain guide(s), pre-trip planning packet, redundant emergency communication devices, and trip support from our friendly, knowledgeable office staff.
Not Included: Personal clothing and footwear, personal gear not listed under “Equipment” above, meals in the front country (including dinner at the end of the trip), tips for guides (10-20% of trip cost is customary), transportation except as noted above, and optional but highly recommended trip cancellation insurance.
Prior Experience: We strongly encourage having recent backpacking experience or practice before embarking on the JMT. The most successful people on these trips have completed several backcountry trips carrying a fully weighted pack (35-40lbs) for at least 5 days. If you do not have this experience, we recommend joining us on a "shake-out" trip prior to joining the John Muir Trail trip.
Preparation: The JMT is our most difficult trip. It travels long distances over high mountain passes with uneven terrain for 21-24 trail days. Not only do we want you to complete the trail with us, but we want you to have fun doing it! Training is paramount to the success and enjoyment of your trip. On the JMT, it’s not a question of whether you can climb a high mountain pass, but if you can get up the next morning and climb another... and then another... In addition to the physicality of the John Muir Trail, long sustained periods in a remote wilderness setting require a unique mental toughness.
We strongly recommend rigorous exercise in the months prior to your trip to bolster sustained cardiovascular/aerobic activities as well as core and leg strength. Day hikes with a weighted backpack, preferably on hilly, off road terrain, is the best way to train for our trips. Activities such as cycling and step-master type machines (or stadium stairs) are excellent for training as well and are preferable to a routine comprised solely of running. Be sure to include hill and steep climbs wherever possible on all training. More detailed information about training will be sent to you upon registration.
26-Day Southbound: (NEW) This version of the itinerary begins at the southern boundary of Yosemite National Park and includes a 5th resupply to support the journey. By joining the 26-day trip, you will complete additional miles of the coveted John Muir Trail route including the stunning section from Yosemite to Tuolumne Meadows. Our first two days help to acclimatize as we travel below the Clark Range. Arriving at Little Yosemite Valley, we join the John Muir Trail just 5 miles from its northern terminus and continue the journey into Yosemite’s High Country. After a resupply in Tuolumne Meadows, we’ll ascend the glacially-carved Lyell Canyon and continue the itinerary as described below in the 23-day version.
23-Day Southbound: This version of the trip begins in Tuolumne Meadows*, the high country of Yosemite National Park. On the first half of our journey we’ll travel beneath the Ritter Range, passing through Ansel Adam's and John Muir Wildernesses and making our way toward the heart of the trail: Evolution Valley. During this first section, we’ll receive two resupplies, one at Red's Meadow and the other at Vermillion Valley Resort. The second half of our journey will take us up the Golden Staircase and through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We’ll receive two more remote resupplies brought to us by mule train in LeConte Canyon and Vidette Meadow. After loading up our final resupply, we’ll continue hiking south and ultimately make our way to the summit of Mt. Whitney, before exiting along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Why hiking the JMT Southbound matters: The direction of travel on the John Muir Trail is a BIG deal. Starting in Yosemite and ending at the summit of Mt. Whitney is the classic way to complete this journey. Having provided this experience for over 25 years, we've found that hiking Southbound offers guests a better overall hiking experience and sets them up for success later in the expedition. This way provides a better chance to acclimatize and work up to the biggest passes. To quote the Pacific Crest Trail Association, “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.” When considering all your options, direction of travel should be an important factor in the decision.
(26-Day Only) We’ll begin our trip heading at the southern border of the Yosemite Wilderness, crossing the South Fork of the Merced River and making our way over the gentle Merced Pass to our first night’s camp at Lower Merced Pass Lake. We’ll then descend along Illilouette Creek toward Little Yosemite Valley where we will arrive near the northern terminus of the John Muir Trail! Our first miles along the JMT travel northeast toward the high country of Yosemite for a scenic campsite at Cathedral Lakes.
(23 & 26-Day) After passing through Tuolumne Meadows, we’ll enter the dramatic canyon of the Lyell Fork. With views of glaciated Mt. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park, we climb up and over Donahue Pass (11,056'). The trail then passes beneath Mt. Ritter, Mt. Banner, and Devil's Postpile on our way to Reds Meadow where cold beverages and a resupply drop await us.
In this section we will pass by the volcanic Red Cones, lovely Virginia lake and down into Tully Hole. After climbing over Silver Pass (10,900'), we will reach Edison Lake and the Vermillion Valley Resort, where we will spend the night, enjoy hot showers, and pick up our resupply.
Leaving Edison Lake, we make the steep climb over Bear Ridge, pass by the wildflower-strewn RoseMarie Meadow, and then to the top of Pass (10,900'). From there, we descend to the roaring South Fork of the San Joaquin River. A bridge over Piute Creek and a few switchbacks lead us to McClure Meadow and Evolution Lake, one of the most spectacular sections of the trail. We then climb over Muir Pass (11,955') and descend deep into LeConte Canyon for another resupply drop.
Our next milestone is ascending the Golden Staircase to our high camp at Palisade Lake. We then trek over Mather Pass (12,100') before dropping once again, this time to the South Fork of the Kings River. From there we climb over Pinchot Pass (12,130') and drop down to Woods Creek, which we’ll cross via a grand suspension bridge. We pass by Rae Lakes, Fin Dome, and The Painted Lady before climbing over Glen Pass (11,978'). We will have our last resupply drop at Vidette Meadow below Forester Pass.
Our final section of trail is just as spectacular as the rest. We begin by crossing the superlative Forester Pass (13,200), the highest pass on the trail and the entrance to Sequoia National Park. From there we’ll make our way directly to Mt Whitney, which steadily grows taller as we approach it. The culmination of our trip is an attempt at Mt. Whitney (14,495') the highest peak in the Continental U.S. After the peak, we’ll make our way to our comfortable camp at Crabtree Meadow. After connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail we’ll reach our camp along Rock Creek in the shadow of the Major General.
We’ll rise early for our final stretch of trail among the picturesque Foxtail Pines. We’ll exit the high country via Cottonwood Pass in the Golden Trout Wilderness. Our private shuttle will meet us at the trailhead to bring us into the desert town of Lone Pine. A well-earned hot shower will be followed by a farewell dinner together. On our final day we will take our private shuttle back to the Fresno airport. (approx. a 6 hour drive). Don't plan a flight before 3:00 PM.
A more detailed day-by-day itinerary will be included in your trip information packet upon registration
*Actual Permit starts can vary for the 23-day Southbound Itinerary. You will be notified before departure.
Katie and Riley are professional, respectful, intelligent, calm, supportive and patient. They are wise beyond their years, genuinely, with great knowledge of biology, geology, backcountry skills, and history, which I find critical in this type of adventure. Katie's urge to run ahead, and Riley's ability to hike mindfully along the tracks make a nice combination in guiding. Their love of the outdoors was palpable and very real, which helped to thoroughly engage all of us!
Great snacks and meals and excellent timing on celebration beverages was a plus! Decisions about wake up times and ending our hikes at the end of the day were appropriate, without too much grumbling from the group. Both Katie and Riley were flexible and fair, which was difficult at times with this particular group. Their group management skills and communication were excellent, even in the face of challenges.
In any case, just thought I would take a second to give a shout out to Katie and Riley. I feel like I have made friends for life with these guys. Thank you, Ian, and SYMG for a formidable, epic, well planned back country experience, again.
-Sarah Harrison Cragg, 2018
I wanted to make sure that you all know how truly grateful I am for the superb job of guiding you did. The thorough preparation, the seamless execution, the compassion, support and concern for safety and comfort were apparent every step of the way. As I shared, I had wanted to undertake the JMT for over 6 years, but I was truly nervous as the departure date approached. Your leadership and genuine care made the trip achievable and super enjoyable. This trip made a significant impact on my life, and the personal reward of completing the goal has been huge; I thank each of you for helping make this happen.
-Karen Gilbert, 2017
Hi Ian. It's been almost 4 weeks since the JMT and a great big thank you to you and your SYMG team is overdue. Each and every one - yourself, Andrea, Mike, Fred and most especially Alex and Brendan - were in their own way, brilliant ambassadors for SYMG. For someone such as me who committed a lot to be on the trip of a lifetime, I can't speak too highly of the great job SYMG did to help make that happen and more!
From the very beginning, SYMG (you!) helped me with the wilderness permit application, Andrea then helped me with the logistics of sending a parcel early so that it could meet me in Tuolumne, Mike did a great job quietly and effectively supporting Alex and Brendan 'in the background' and Fred was a welcome sight with his picnic table at the end!
Ultimately though, Alex and Brendan put in the hard yards through the days and quite frankly they were amazing and an absolute pleasure to hike with. Real gems and I have them to thank for the fact that my JMT really did turn out to be the trip of a lifetime!
Many many thanks (from sunny Scotland)
-Paul Curran - August 2014
Ian- Thank you for checking in about the rest of the trip. It really was everything we had hoped for originally. Both Alex and Carlos were so adept at not only safely guiding us but also making the journey enjoyable. The two of them worked together well and offered so much expertise along the way. Even though our packs were still heavy and the mountain passes unforgivably steep, we both knew that with their guidance we could do it. I learned so much from Alex's knowledge of the Sierra's, of the plants, trees and geographically. And of course, we will always carry Carlo's infectious smile with us that usually convinced everyone that all is well and that each step along the way is to be truly savored. So, we truly did have a trip of a lifetime and would recommend it to anyone (who knows, maybe we'll get the chance to hike the JMT again) Happy trails,
-Karen and Russ Swinehart JMT Backpack 2013
The whole trip was everything I could have wished for. Booking a trip from the internet with a company of which I had no knowledge incurred some risk but your organization worked perfectly. Your information sheet and responses to my questions had me well prepared for the hike. Your staff are great ambassadors for SYMG, demonstrating a commitment and enthusiasm for their jobs and lifestyle. Csuri was the dream guide and her efforts ensured that we all had a successful and enjoyable trip. To hike the JMT had been a dream of mine since my first visit to Yosemite in 1970. Thanks to SYMG the dream came true and it was better than I could have imagined. Special thanks to Csuri- for a great job well done, Albert- especially for the food and drinks. To Sam for her enthusiasm and navigational skills, and Katie and Joel- for their enthusiasm, help, and good company. Regards,
- Viv Dore, Australia, July 2007