Start planning now! If you are going in August, look back on your calendar 24 weeks and make a note to fax in your application. Also be sure to reserve hotel or campgrounds for your entry and exit strategy.
The basic rule is that you get your permit at the entry trailhead, and it is honored throughout all the other "jurisdictions" that you pass through. If you are starting in a national forest, be sure to include if you are passing through a National Park, and then your permit will be valid.
Plan your entry and exit trailheads, and calculate your days before applying for the permits.
These "segments" relate to how we planned our resupply points and meal planning.
Yosemite Trailheads (Happy Isles, Lyell Canyon)
Segments 1 and 2
One of the great things about the John Muir Trail is that you can start in Yosemite National Park, and get your permit for the whole trip.
Here are some tips for getting the permit at Yosemite. First of all, set a reminder for yourself 24 weeks in advance, if possible. You may reserve a permit for $5.00 per person. The reservation is what costs you, the permit is free. If you are on a schedule, we suggest having the reservation. The reservation is not the permit. You have to show up in person to get the permit.
Here is another tip: When we got ours, the Ranger just randomly put in dates we would be in the different areas. The only critical spot is on the exit date, that you have 1 night in the John Muir Wilderness if you want to stay overnight on your way down from Mt. Whitney. We met several hikers who had not paid attention to this detail, and they were worried they would be fined for staying at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp. We didn't see any Forest Service personnel in the area, but it could happen.
The Yosemite Conservancy is the agency that makes reservations for trailheads in Yosemite National Park.
Mammoth Lakes Trailheads (Devil's Postpile, Reds Meadow)
The agency regulating these trailheads is Inyo National Forest.
A hike from Yosemite to Mammoth is a great week's hike, whether from Yosemite Valley or Lyell Canyon, of course, one being about 60 miles, the other being 34 miles. The advantage is that adequate transportation is available by bus between Mammoth and Yosemite, so you don't need two cars for the one way hike. There are several other trailheads that will meet up with the JMT, including Rush Creek, Shadow lake, Devil's Postpile, Reds Meadow Resort, Mammoth Pass Trail, and Duck Lake Trail. The most direct are the Devil's Postpile and Reds Meadow, since you can take the bus from Mammoth Ski Resort down to the trailhead. There is a Forest Service Information Station as you are driving into Mammoth, where you can pick up your permit.
Edison Lake(Vermillion Valley Resort)and Muir Ranch Trailheads
Segments 4 and 5
The agency regulating these trailheads is Sierra National Forest http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sierra/passes/getwildpermit.shtml
The road to Vermillion Valley Resort has the reputation of being REALLY rough, and long. From the "resort" you can take a ferry to the end of Lake Edison, and the trail through Quail Meadows meets up with the JMT/PCT in about a mile, depending on the water level of the lake.
This same road forks to head to Florence Lake, where you can hike 10 miles to Muir Trail Ranch to catch the JMT/PCT, or cut the distance in half by taking the ferry across the lake.
There are loads of good hikes out of this area. An excellent resource is Sierra South, by Winnett et al. Follow the Amazon Link on the "equipment/store" section.
Bishop Pass Trailheads
The North lake/South Lake loop hike is one that we heard about from backpackers on the JMT, and it is in some spectacular country. We had a resupply by friends who came from South Lake over Bishop Pass, and before they volunteered for this, we had planned to pack in a cache from here. The trail drops you right at the Ranger Station in beautiful Le Conte Canyon. If you continue north on this loop you will tun off the JMT at Piute Creek and head to North Lake.
Here is a description of the trail over Bishop Pass. In August 2010 we'll let you know how Piute Pass is.
Again, the agency for these trailheads is Inyo National Forest.
Onion Valley Trailhead (Kearsarge Pass)
Leaving from Independence on the eastern Sierra, the Onion Valley Trailhead is a popular alternative to Whitney Portal as a means to get to the summit of Whitney. Others just like to camp at the trailhead to acclimate, as it is at 9200.' This is a good place to have a resupply, as it is only 8 miles to reach the JMT from Onion Valley.
The permit agency is Inyo National Forest.
The End or the Beginning?
There are some brave souls who will start here, and head north. There are limited permits available, and even though it is in the Inyo National Forest, it is a separate process. Details can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo/recreation/wild/whitneyavail.shtml
Of course, you have the option of going into the John Muir Trail on many other routes. Check out the books, Sierra North and Sierra South for some great hikes that cover parts of the JMT.
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