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Ultimate Guide to Planning a JMT Thru Hike – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Planning a JMT Thru Hike, where we discuss everyones least favorite thing in the world…

Logistics… the four letter word of planning

Ultimate Guide to Planning a JMT Thru Hike

Brock on a bus to PCT

So you have your gear pretty well dialed in, but you still don’t know how you’re going to get to the trail, how the hell your going to get home, what you’re going to eat along the way… the list goes on. Fear not! You can learn from all of my planning woes and mistakes that I have made along the way.


The transportation side of things seems fairly impossible at first. However, it’s not all that difficult if you just follow these simple steps. I am going to assume that you want to start in Yosemite and head south. Traditionally thats the direction almost all thru hikers go.

So get your butt to the San Fran airport already!  You can book at ticket through AmTrak that will take you all the way into Yosemite!  There is a myriad of bus stops with the park so you can choose pretty much exactly where you want to get off.  The trip will include a bus/train combination, but it is all booked through and operated by AmTrak!

Mail drops

So you know how to get to the trail. What about food… it’s kinda important right? Well, there are tons of options for resupplying along the way. You will never be more than a few day out from the next town until you get to King’s Canyon.

Ultimate Guide to Planning a JMT Thru Hike

Getting a mail drop!

I am opting for a mix of mail drops and resupplying in towns along the way. Tuolumne Meadows, Mammoth Lakes, Reds Meadow, even VVR, have ample resupply options. You will have to send a package to Muir Trail Ranch, no two ways about it.

But, If you can get by on Snickers and ramen noodles (true thru hiker fuel) then skip the time consuming, tedious mail drops except for MTR.

The last crux of planning for food drops comes in the form of leaving Muir Trail Ranch. From there you will be approximately 100 miles from Whitney and the finish line. There isn’t a clear cut answer as how to resupply between MTR and Whitney. You can hike out the Onion Valley and try to hitch into town (27 miles one way), or carry a ton of food from MTR to the end. The choice is totally up to you. I am going to have a package mailed to Independence and hitch into town. No right or wrong decision here.

What types of food should you actually pack?

This is always sort of a divisive topic among backpackers. Should you pack prepackaged dehydrated meals or grab tons of calorie dense lightweight foods that might not be all that healthy? There isn’t really a good answer here. On my AT thru hike I wavered between the two. My wife sent me dehydrated veggies and things to add to ramen noodles.  She also mailed me other easy to make pasta type dishes. I also ate tons of Snickers, Twinkies, and whatever other high-calorie junk foods I could find. My best advice is to know how your body responds to diet and caloric intakes before you start your hike and plan accordingly.

dehydrating veggies

Bear Cans

Yeah, you have to carry one on the JMT. Get used to your new friend… Mr. bear can. You have two really simple options for obtaining a can. You can either supply your own, or rent one from the NPS. Yosemite has a program that will rent them to you (with a deposit of $95) for $5 bucks a week. It’s not a bad deal if you don’t want to invest in your own. When you are done you simply mail it back to the park to get your deposit back.

JMT trail food

How the heck do I get home?

Assuming that you are flying out of LA you shouldn’t have too difficult of a time getting home. There are a few shuttle companies that you can link together to get you back to the airport and beyond. Try checking out the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (CREST Bus) and heading down to Lancaster. From there you have plenty of options to get back into LA including taking the MetroLink into LA Union Station.

What about one of those permit thingys?

This is sort of a tricky thing. If you are an absolute stickler for planning then you’d better get on the phone a good long while before you plan on doing you hike! We called in March for a July start date and everything was completely booked. The farthest you can book ahead of time is 24 weeks, I’d suggest being on the phone 24 weeks to the day you plan on leaving if you want a permit ahead of time.

Brock in Red's Meadows

The great news is that Yosemite holds 40% of a trailhead’s daily quota for first-come, first-served basis. This means that you can get up and the crack of dawn and stand in line to get your permit!  This is precisely what I am going to do to obtain my permit.So there you have it!  A simple easy to follow guide that should get you out on your thru hike in no time.  Hopefully this will help easy some of those planning pains that we all get when we are planning that next big adventure.  Just remember, that you’re going to have a blast once you get out in the Sierra Nevada Mountains!  They are some of the most magical mountains in the world and all those pre trip planning struggles will fly right out the window when you realize that you get to spend the next 4 weeks hiking!

ProfileEditor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Kathleen and Brock, owners and authors of OurFavoriteAdventure, as guest contributors to Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Brock is one half of where he and his wife, Kathleen, blog about their travels, hiking, and following their dreams. Brock has section hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, including the majority of the JMT, thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, has ridden his bicycle across America and is currently preparing to hike the full John Muir Trail this July with Kathleen.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Jon D Wilke

    Thanks, Brian. Hiking the JMT is a dream trip for me. You seem a lot more relaxed going with the flow, whereas I like to plan most details, especially food. I despise being uncomfortable (after 7 years in the service) so I tend to pack about 40 pounds worth of gear and food. At 200ish pounds that’s a reasonable weight without spending tons on ultralight gear.

    • Jon, it must be an age thing (no offense) because I’m seeing more and more “comforts” slipping into my gear list every year :) The one thing I refuse to go without now is my inflatable sleeping pad. Been there and done that with closed cell foams and ultralight options, but the trade off of having a comfortable night sleep with no back pain is well worth the extra few ounces to me. It’s okay to pack light, just as long as it’s also packing smart. 40lbs is nothing for a 200’ish fella. Happy tails.

      • Art

        That’s 20% of body weight – very reasonable, if you are in decent shape..

  • Art

    This post inspired me to do JMT in 2014… Started prepping..

    • Let me know what dates you’re thinking. Maybe we could get a bunch of us to go together..?

      • Art

        Brian – I’d love that!
        Thinking 2nd week of September (post labor day week) for the following reasons:
        – less crowds/tourists
        – practically zero bugs
        – still warm and beautiful
        – less traffic & cheaper flights (for those who need to fly in)

        What are your thoughts?

        • Bob Aho

          A few things: I’ve hiked the JMT a couple of 4 times. Shortest was 17 days, longest 21. Count on at least one down day, you’ll need it. In the Sierra the months go July, August, November – or so it seems – 20’s at Evolution Lake first week in September, it was 15 at Guitar Lake a week later. Yes it snowed. (And t-storms with hail) It will also be dry – few streams and creeks will be completely dry, think between Reds Meadow and Deer Creek, and Sallie Keyes Lakes and Kings Canyon entrance, that’s 8 miles without nearby water. I suspect the climb from Palisade Lakes to Upper Basin will be dry too. As long as you plan and act accordingly – get up and out early (shorter days), keep going through the rain when possible, and above all, keep in mind it’s 90% mental,and the other half is physical (A Yogi-ism) Mid to late September is OK. Mind you on a non-JMT hike, I had 2 feet of snow on 1 Oct on Glen Pass. It melted the next day, but I spent the day in the tent at Rae Lakes watching it come down.

        • Bob Aho

          One more thing, The ferry to VVR is not operating (water is too low). Therefore if you want to use VVR as the food drop you either need to hike from Mono Creek (not recommended) or from Reds Meadow head down Fish Creek (and stay at the hot tubs) then go over Goodale Pass down to VVR. I’ve done the latter a couple of times and the former once. Unfortunately you will need to take Bear ridge back up to the JMT.

  • Andy Hawbaker

    Some good information here. Having just finished the JMT I know how important the logistics are and how it can be overwhelming to start planning. We just did one resupply at MTR. It wasn’t really that heavy carrying 7 days worth of food at a time.