Ok … so you got your John Muir Trail permit, planned your resupply points, and got your equipment set up. Congratulations! You are almost ready for the best backpacking trip of your life. But do not lace up those boots yet … you still have a little more logistics to take care of, one of which is your John Muir Trail transportation plan.
John Muir Trail transportation is fairly simple if you have two cars and two people driving. Simply drop off one car at one end, drive the other up to your permitted trailhead, and after your hike, drive a shuttle back to your starting point.
But what if you take alone, do not have two cars or fly in from somewhere far away? Then you want to take public transport to the John Muir Trail and you have 3 important decisions to make:
- Which direction to hike
- Which airport to fly to
- How to get to and from your John Muir trail
In my John Muir Trail Transportation Guide you will find all the information you need to plan your public transportation logistics for your John Muir Trail hike.
And as it goes on all the destinations we share, practice good track etiquette and remember that Leave no trace. This means unpacking all your rubbish, being respectful of others on busy paths and following the established rules.
Step 1: Which direction should you hike the John Muir Trail
The 212-mile John Muir Trail runs from Yosemite to the Whitney Portal Trail just south of the 14,505 ‘Mt. Whitney. The most popular direction for John Muir Trail hikers is north to south because you are able to adjust the altitude more gradually (the passes and peaks get higher as you move south toward Mt. Whitney).
If the acclimatizing benefits do not sell you on a north to south JMT hike, public transportation and parking are also easier in Yosemite, and you also have the option to explore the park before and after the hike if you have extra time.
On the other hand, the southbound John Muir Trail permits are getting harder to get hold of, so many people opt for a northbound John Muir hike departing from Horseshoe Meadow, just south of Whitney. Horseshoe Meadow is not accessible by public transportation, but I’ve heard of a private shuttle from Lone Pine to Horseshoe Meadow operated by Kurt Power. I have not used him myself, so I can not talk about the experience, but his contact information is 760-876-4811 or LonePineKurt@aol.com.
Step 2: Decide which airport you want to fly to
If you do not live out west and you plan to fly to California to start your hike, the easiest airport to fly to is Mammoth Airport. Conveniently located on the east side of the Sierras between Yosemite and Mt. Whitney on Highway 395 there is frequent public transportation that you can use to get to and from JMT. In addition, Alaska Airlines and United operate this airport, so you can pretty much get to Mammoth no matter where you come from. The only downside to Mammoth is that fares can be a bit more expensive than larger airports, but you will compensate for that with convenience.
The next best option is Reno Airport. But getting to Yosemite from Reno requires a transfer in Mammoth, and Reno is several hours further from the end point at Mt. Whitney (assuming you wander north to south) than Mammoth.
San Francisco, Oakland or Los Angeles
Larger airports on the west side of the Sierras – such as San Francisco, Oakland or Los Angeles – may have cheaper flights, but they are significantly harder to get back to as you will end your hike on the east side of the Sierras, which requires a very long drive around to the other side. Amtrak connects to YARTS (more on YARTS below) in Merced if you want to look at train / bus options.
I will not elaborate on these routes as they require multiple transfers between trains and buses. If you want to fly to one of these airports, Rome2Rio is a useful tool for planning public transportation that you can use to find the best route from SFO, OAK or LAX.
Other regional airports such as Fresno-Yosemite or Merced do not offer the same convenient transit options nor are they cheaper.
All airports (Mammoth, Fresno and Merced included) have car rental available if you want to rent a car … but it does not seem economical to leave a rental car by a path for 2-3 weeks.
Step 3: How to get to and from John Muir Trail using public transportation
From Mammoth Airport:
If you need to fly round trip to Mammoth Yosemite Airport, then public transportation is a great, easy and cheap way to get to JMT and back to the airport eventually. Just take a taxi to Mammoth Lakes where you can pick it up Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YARTS) HWY 120/395 bus from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley (the line shown in GREEN on the map below). The bus runs daily in July and August and you can be dropped off at either Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley, depending on which trail you are allowed on. If you go all the way to Yosemite Valley, the bus ride takes 4 hours.
How to get back to Mammoth Airport: At the south end of the John Muir Trail, leave at the Whitney Portal Trail. There is no public transport going directly to the trailhead so you will have to hitchhike out to the nearest town Lone Pine. It’s about a 20-minute ride, and with all the people walking to the Whitney Summit every day, it’s a common practice to mount a ride, and you don’t have to wait that long. That said, always trust your gut feeling and do not get into the car with someone you do not feel comfortable with.
If you do not want to hitchhike, or you have a large group, this is it East Side Sierra Shuttle offers rides from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine.
When you’re in Lone Pine, you can take one 2-hour Eastern Sierra Transit bus back to Mammoth and there are two different lines that will take you there:
- The Lone Pine-Reno line leaves Lone Pine at 6:15 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
- The Lancaster route departs at 17.00 and runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday
- Unfortunately there is no weekend bus connection, so plan accordingly
- Reservations are also recommended. Call 800.922.1930 to reserve your place
- Double check these times on their website as the schedule changes
If you want to skip the bus, East Side Sierra Shuttle picks you up at Mammoth Airport, drops you off at Yosemite and then picks you up at Whitney Portal and takes you back to the airport. This is a great (but expensive) way to take the hassle out of the trip, especially if you have a larger group.
From Reno Airport:
How to get to John Muir Trail: If you start in Yosemite, you will need 4 hours Eastern Sierra Transit bus from Reno and get off at Lee Vining or Mammoth. Mammoth is the last “bigger” town to get last minute supplies such as equipment and backpack food, so if you think you need to pick something up, plan to stop in Mammoth.
So when you’re in Lee Vining or Mammoth, transfer to Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YARTS) HWY 120/395 bus. As mentioned above, the YARTS bus runs daily in July and August, and you can be dropped off at either Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley, depending on which trailhead you are allowed. If you go all the way to Yosemite Valley, the bus ride takes 4 hours.
- The Lone Pine-Reno line leaves Lone Pine at 6:15 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
- Unfortunately there is no weekend bus connection, so plan accordingly.
- Reservations are also recommended. Call 800.922.1930 to reserve your place.
- Double check these times on their website as the schedule changes
Parking for the John Muir Trail
Another option, if you only have one car, is to park it at one end and then take public transportation to the other end. But where do you leave your car? Fortunately, there is long-term parking available in Yosemite and Whitney Portal.
Free long-term parking is available near the Happy Isles Trail at Curry Village and at Tuolumne Meadows in the Wilderness Permit area. Be sure to check in first before you park, and if you have questions about parking, just ask the ranger. Also, make sure that you do not leave any food in your car, and instead place fragrant items in the parking lot of bear cabinets.
When I was driving the John Muir Trail, you were allowed to leave a car in the parking lot up at Whitney Portal, even though the space is filling up and you may have to wait for a space. For more information on current road conditions up to the Whitney Portal, visit Inyo National Forest website.
What questions do you have about John Muir Trail Transportation? And if you’ve hiked JMT, leave some tips in the comments below!