John Muir Trail: beginings of a six-month trek

The northbound permit process requires hours of preparation: two screens, guide books, maps, and lots of coffee.
The northbound permit process requires hours of preparation: two screens, guide books, maps, and lots of coffee.


The 220-mile John Muir Trail (JMT) doesn’t begin at a trailhead in Yosemite, nor does it begin at Mt. Whitney. It starts six months before you ever set foot in the Sierra Nevada. If you plan to hike the traditional trail you have to apply for a permit six months in advance (for the most part).


Southbound: Yosemite National Park – Happy Isles or Lyell Canyon

Of  course I first applied for a southbound journey, the more popular choice. I faxed in my application every evening for five days. I received rejection letters in my email inbox for five days. It was definitely a roller coaster – so much hope only to be let down over and over again.

The more-traveled southbound route beginning in Yosemite requires you to apply for a permit exactly 24 weeks to the day you plan to step foot on the trail. And, it’s a lottery. That means applying every day until you snag a permit. Only 35 permits are granted per day in advance (another 10 are given to walk-ups for Lyell Canyon).


Northbound: Inyo Naitonal Forest – Mt. Whitney

After giving up on the southbound trip, efforts were focused on the northbound permitting process. If you’re planning a northbound trip, know your itinerary before applying for the permit.  The online process appeared easy enough, but proved to be a bit archaic as I needed to pick corresponding areas where I planned on being each day with their drop-down list of endless choices. My original itinerary, although correct, didn’t jive with their list.

After hours of combing through maps and guide books, I’ve got the northbound permit application submitted. Now, it’s a waiting game until mid-March.

For northbound permits, another lottery,  you only submit one application between the dates of Feb. 1 and March 15. For the 2015 season more than 11,ooo people applied for the northbound route. Only 60 people per day are awarded a multi-day permit. Odds are better obtaining a northbound permit, believe it or not.


For more info on permits for southbound trip go here and work your way in:

For more info on the northbound permit go here:

There are other ways to get on the trail and avoid this arduous process – pick a less-traveled trailhead a few miles beyond either of the termini. Most still require a permit, but fewer hikers start at these points. I won’t get into that in this post as  I still have my hopes up for that northbound permit.

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