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John Muir Trail: Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows

"The mountains are calling and I must go." - John Muir
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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 21.1 miles
Duration: Multiple days

Overview:  Welcome to the beginning of what is bound to be an epic adventure! The John Muir Trail begins in what could be called the Disneyland... more »

Tips:  You must have a valid permit for entering at this trailhead - these are available via the Yosemite website far in advance. Be aware... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Happy Isles

Welcome to the official start of the John Muir Trail! Leave your car (if you have one) at one of the long term backpacker parking lots in the valley and either walk or take the free Valley shuttle bus to the Happy Isles stop #16.

You'll be here with many other people - this is a popular dayhike trail for the park's visitors. Ahead are some... More

2. Nevada Falls Junction

Nevada Falls is often cited as the tallest waterfall on the John Muir Trail. I have no reason to argue with this point, except to say that there are a *LOT* of waterfalls along the JMT! Even more during a high precipitation year where spontaneous waterfalls will tumble over canyon walls, fed by the rapidly melting snow.

As you descend to Nevada ... More

3. Little Yosemite Valley Junction 1

Little Yosemite Valley is a popular first night camping area along the John Muir Trail, as well as with Half Dome hikers. When you reserve a permit for Happy Isles trailhead you must choose between spending your first night here or selecting a pass-through to continue up the trail. If you are staying in Little Yosemite Valley, take the side trail ... More

4. Half Dome Junction

The large majority of people you have encountered on the trail thus far have been Half Dome hikers. This is where their path will divert from yours. To the left, the trail continues up the ~1600 feet to the summit of Half Dome. This is an optional side trip, not officially part of the John Muir Trail.

5. Sunrise Lakes High Sierra Camp

Sunrise Lakes HSC is a small outpost of relative civilization along the John Muir Trail. These High Sierra Camps allow people to pay a lot of money to sleep in tent cabins and have food prepared for them by a cook. If only they knew what we were doing for free!

Just next to the tent cabins is a backpacker's campground with very basic amenities.... More

6. Tuolumne Meadows Backpacker Camp

Tuolumne Meadows, a welcome outpost of civilization! This waypoint is for the Backpacker Camp in the middle of the Tuolumne Meadows Campgroup. People are permitted to stay here for one night with a valid backcountry permit, so at least you'll be sharing with plenty of like-minded backpackers.

Scattered through this area you will find a visitor's ... More

7. Cathedral Pass

This is not a major pass - in fact, you will likely not reach the first major pass of the JMT for another couple of days. However, it is labeled on some maps and deserves a mention since the views of the surrounding peaks are terrific along the trail to the pass. Don't forget to stop and enjoy your surroundings!

8. Panorama Trail

This waypoint marks the junction with the Panorama Trail. If you're coming from Happy Isles this is not important, but many people start the John Muir Trail from Glacier Point due to limited permit availability. If you end up starting at Glacier Point instead of Happy Isles, this is where you will join with the John Muir Trail.

9. Mist Trail Junction

Starting out, you already have the opportunity to divert from the 'official' John Muir Trail. The John Muir trail switchbacks up the slope while the Mist Trail continues along the river.

The Mist Trail is fun - you will likely get wet from spray while enjoying the incredible views. There will be a lot of people as well. If you are nervous about ... More

10. Merced Lake Junction

This trail leads off to Merced Lake. Of course, you are not interested in this because you are continuing straight ahead on the John Muir Trail! This junction is simply noted to mark a stretch of good camping along the creek. (see the Cloud's Rest Junction notes)

From here, the trail begins the ascent to Sunrise Lakes High Sierra Camp. Except... More

11. Little Yosemite Valley Junction 2

When you leave Little Yosemite Valley, you'll join the John Muir Trail again at this point.

12. Clouds Rest Junction

It is unlikely that a JMT hiker will be joining or leaving the trail at this trail junction, but it is a good one to notice since there are several worthy campsites in the area just beyond the junction. In fact, between this and the next waypoint (Junction to Merced Lake), there are no fewer than ten worthy campsites. Some are obvious and some... More

If you took the alternate route up the Mist Trail, you'll find yourself at Vernal Falls.

Vernal Falls is a popular day hike destination so you will be here with a lot of people. If you've come up the Mist Trail, take a few moments to grab a spot on the granite slabs and enjoy the falls. As tempting as it may be, heed the warning signs about... More