John Muir Trail: Southbound to Mount Whitney

Fresno, California

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Venture out on this exclusive trekking expedition set in the high Sierra Nevada, covering the southern half of the 212-mile-long John Muir Trail, from Lake Florence southward Mount Whitney (14,505'), the highest peak in the continental United States. On this fully supported epic trip along what National Geographic Adventure claims as one of the "top ten trails on the planet," camp along mountain lakes, traverse mountain passes, and marvel at wildflower-dotted meadows. Once you've hiked the trail's southern part, be inspired to come back to tackle the northern half!


Arrive in Fresno, California

Arrive in Fresno, California, to check in at the DoubleTree by Hilton near the Fresno air terminal by 5pm. At 6pm, join the guides for a welcome dinner and orientation talk; do the final gear check and discuss the details of the trip.

Follow the South Fork of the San Joaquin River

Meet at 7am after breakfast, then drive about three hours to Florence Lake where you meet the horse-packer and mules to offload the gear. Then begin the first leg of the trip, which starts with a ferry ride across Florence Lake (7,325'). Today's mild acclimatizing hike goes 6.3 miles through lush meadows following the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. There is a 500-foot elevation gain along the way to the camp on the San Joaquin River.

Hike from Piute Creek to Goddard Canyon

Continue the acclimatization process with another "easy" day on the trail. From Piute Creek, hike 6.2 miles of relatively flat terrain to the junction of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and Goddard Canyon. Get a good night's sleep here in preparation for the ascent into the famous Evolution Canyon.

Reach Evolution Lake

Today's hike is approximately seven miles with an elevation gain of 2,400 feet into what some call the most spectacular portion of the trail. After a climb out of the river canyon, enter Evolution and then McClure Meadows. In this section the trail parallels Evolution Creek, which teems with golden trout. Camp at the spectacular Evolution Lake (10,852'), a gorgeous deep-blue lake that's one of the prettiest spots in the Sierra.

Descend into LeConte Canyon

From your camp at the very edge of the tree line, climb over Muir Pass (11,955'), taking a rest at the 75-year-old stone hut at the crest of the pass. Then descend on rocky terrain into LeConte Canyon (8,735'), with its impressive vertical walls of granite. Here, meet the first food drop on the trip.

Head for Mather Pass & Camp at Palisades Lakes

On the way out of LeConte canyon, pass through Grouse Meadow and follow the Middle Fork of the Kings River. At the junction with Palisades Creek, turn east and begin the climb toward Mather Pass (12,100'). After tackling the Golden Staircase, camp short of the pass at Palisades Lakes (10,600') after approximately 9.5 miles.

Climb Mather Pass & Reach South Fork of the Kings River

From Palisades Lakes tackle Mather Pass (12,100') and then descend through the Upper Basin, losing some 2,000 feet before reaching the South Fork of the Kings River. Stay on the Kings River tonight, enjoying the sounds of the gurgling river.

Tackle Pinchot Pass & Descend to Crater Mountain Plateau

Today hike up to the Marjorie Lakes area, a glacier-scoured basin of stark beauty. Enjoy the dazzling scenery of pristine mountain lakes before tackling Pinchot Pass (12,130'). Descend to the Crater Mountain plateau for the night.

Hike Up to Arrowhead Lake

Today head down into the Woods Creek basin (8,500'), across the "Golden Gate of the Sierra" suspension bridge, and then back up to Arrowhead Lake (10,300'), where you camp.

Ascend Glenn Pass and Hike to Center Basin

Continue the journey by passing through the Rae Lakes Basin. Next ascend the rocky switchbacks of Glenn Pass (11,978'), followed by a descent to Vidette Meadow where you meet the second food drop. Continue to Center Basin, hiking amidst the stark beauty of huge precipitous ridges.

Face Forester Pass, the Highest On the JMT

At first light, head up the highest pass on the JMT (as well as the entire Pacific Crest Trail, for that matter) — the Forester Pass at 13,180'. From Forester descend to Tyndall Creek, passing the Diamond Mesa on the way. Make camp below the awesome Mount Whitney Massif.

Hike to Wallace Creek

Today is a shorter day, featuring a hike that goes 5 miles from Tyndall Creek to Wallace Creek. At this scenic spot, enjoy a lazy afternoon resting in a meadow and playing in the creek.

Ascend to Guitar Lake Camp

Today hike past Crabtree Meadow before ascending gradually to the campsite at Guitar Lake below the Mount Whitney Massif. Once at Guitar Lake, you realize you are now truly at the base of the Eastern Sierra with Mt. Whitney looming over you. You are given ample time to prepare and relax for your summit bid early tomorrow morning.

Attempt the Summit of Mount Whitney

Today take off early (at 4am) for the "high" point of the entire trip: a walk-up summit attempt of Mount Whitney (14,495'), the highest peak in the contiguous United States. You have worked hard to get on top, and now is the time to enjoy the 360 degree view that the highest peak in the Continental US affords you. The day's hike is 13 miles roundtrip back to Lower Crabtree Meadow.

Meander Crabtree Meadows to Rock Creek

Today is a leisurely day in terms of terrain: lose 2,000 feet in elevation and then gain 1,900 feet (net gain of only 100 feet) as you meander through Crabtree Meadows on the way to the last night's camp at Rock Creek.

Pass Golden Trout Wilderness & Rest in Lone Pine

The last day on the trail is a long one. Head up from Rock Creek over Cottonwood Pass (11,200'). Have a snack around Chicken Spring Lake on the way out of the Sequoia National Park for the last few miles through the Golden Trout Wilderness. It's 10 miles to the trailhead where picnic lunch awaits, as does the shuttle for a short drive to the nearby Eastern Sierra town of Lone Pine, California, home for the night. After a well-deserved shower, rendezvous for a final dinner.

Travel Home

After a good night's rest and breakfast on your own, depart early with the private shuttle back around the Sierra. The drive back to the starting point, Fresno airport, takes 5 to 6 hours. To build in any unforeseen road delays, plan your flights for the early afternoon, starting after 3pm.

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Starting From


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17 Days


Fresno, California


Fresno, California

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