Mammoth Lakes, California

Backpack from Mammoth Mountain to Yosemite Valley via the John Muir Trail

52 Miles Total - 6300 ft gain - Point-to-Point Trail

Originally added by Evver Gonzalez

The John Muir Trail is 210 miles in length, and it usually takes people 2-3 weeks to complete. Most people cannot take 3 weeks off of their daily lives to do a cross country hike, so instead do this hike in 4-7 days and enjoy the High Sierra.

Cross country hiking can be a daunting idea. There are so many things to plan for, and such a long distance to cover. If you are an experienced backpacker, and you want to get a taste of hiking on the John Muir Trail this hike might interest you. 


GPS Map (Caltopo): (GPX file available)

Plan to hike this from mid July - until late September (Winter snow levels may change this). This is a point to point hike that will require a ride back from the Yosemite Valley to Mammoth Lakes. Book a YARTS public transit shuttle from Yosemite Valley to Mammoth Lakes, California for $19. Get a wilderness permit from the Recreation.Gov website for the Inyo National Forest with the Shadow Creek Trailhead with a cross country travel setting. Make sure to read the rules and regulations, and practice Leave No Trace Principles. 

Getting There

The town of Mammoth Lakes, California is a mountain resort famous for skiing and snowboarding during the winter. However in the summer it is a fantastic starting point to reach the John Muir Trail, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Go pick up your wilderness permit from the ranger station in Mammoth Lakes. Then park your car at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, then walk over to the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile Shuttle ($7) and get off on the Agnew Meadows exit. Now you are at the trailhead and ready for adventures. 

The Hike

The first part of the hike is about getting to the John Muir Trail. At Agnew Meadows (8300 feet elevation), you will hike on the Shadow Creek Trail for about 5 miles. Right after reaching Shadow Lake you will join up with the John Muir Trail (go right, north). You will climb steadily until you get to Garnet Lake (9600 feet), stop and enjoy the view of this majestic lake. Some might want to set up camp at this lake after hiking 7.5 miles, but those who want to keep going can head over to Thousand Island Lake. Thousand Island Lake (9800 feet) is a High Sierra landmark, made famous by Ansel Adams' photography. The views of the lake with Banner Peak towering over it is something truly special. 

From Thousand Island Lake you will continue to climb first to Island pass (10,200 feet). Stop here and enjoy the tarns, and the meadows with a Banner Peak backdrop. From Island Pass you will continue to climb up to Donahue Pass (11,000 feet) which will be the highest point of this hike. The summit of Donahue Pass is also the entrance into Yosemite National Park. The next part of the hike will be hiking alongside the Lyell Creek in a deep granite canyon. This part of the hike will have more trees and more vegetation than the previous parts. This is a fantastic place to set up camp after climbing over Donahue Pass. As you continue, the next major point of interest will be the Tuolomne Meadows (8,600 feet), this is a place with the Tiogra Road, a backpacking campground, a store, and places to get lunch. From Tuolomne Meadows the next main landmark is the Cathedral Lakes. The Upper Cathedral Lake (9,300 feet) offers a fantastic view of Cathedral Peak, and it is another great place to setup camp. 

The hike from Cathedral Lakes will take you through many beautiful meadows until you reach Sunrise Camp. Sunrise High Sierra Camp (9,400 feet) is a very pretty place and its worth a visit. Afterwards a visit to Clouds Rest or Half Dome (separate permit required) are optional detours. On this part of the trail, you will hike towards the back of half dome, and if you look very closely, you may be able to see some hikers climbing the cables from the trail. Next you will cross the Merced River on a wooden bridge at the top of Nevada Falls. Take a rest here and enjoy the views down towards the Yosemite Valley. 

From here take either the John Muir Trail (gentle switchbacks) or the Mist Trail (often wet, steep stairs) down towards the end of this hike. You will feel very accomplished to have traveled all that way. You will have a memorable collection of memories and photographs. Now get some pizza, and get ready for your return shuttle back to your car. 

About me: I love to hike, and I also love to do Landscape Photography. I will carry upwards of 10 pounds of camera gear deep into the wilderness to take high quality photographs. You can see more of my work here

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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