Sequoia National Park Section MapSequoia National Park is the land of giants. Giant trees and giant mountains. Like its neighbor to the north (Kings Canyon National Park), most folks visit the park from the west. The west side of the park is where the giant sequoia trees grow, as well as the park headquarters, not to mention that they only roads in the park enter from the west. If folks hope to see Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States from the west side, they will be out of luck. Mt. Whitney is visible from the east side of the park, or from the Owens Valley.

The John Muir Trail travels about 22 miles in Sequoia National Park. Like Yosemite National Park, Sequoia is where the John Muir Trail begins or ends. It is somewhat odd too in that the trail starts/ends at the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,495 feet). At the northern edge of the park, the Trail crosses Forester Pass (13,180 feet), which is the highest pass on not only the John Muir Trail, but the Pacific Crest Trail as well. On the eastern side of the Trail rises the eastern range which has several mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, while on the west side is the picturesque Great Western Divide. These ranges more than make-up for the absence of any giant sequoia trees.

Trail Description

A description of the trail, sights and other notable items is below. For those following the trail, the description has been ordered from North to South. Click on any picture for a larger view and some pictures have an "expanded" view which means it includes more than what is shown below.

Looking south from Forester Pass

Forester Pass rises to 13,180 feet and is the entrance to Sequoia National Park from the John Muir Trail. Those that have visited Sequoia National Park probably have only experienced the western side of the park -- giant sequoia trees, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave to name a few notable sights. The eastern side of Sequoia is only accessible by hiking, and includes some of the highest peaks in the contiguous United States.

 

The south side of Forester Pass is very steep. The trail was cut into essentially a rock wall (a difficult task which caused one man to loose his life -- there is a plaque along the trail). The trail nears several lakes which could be seen at the pass, and also parallels a small creek. This area is still well above tree line and will remain so for another few miles.

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A stream and Forester Pass

 

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A small lake and Diamond Mesa

Once the trail reaches tree line, it meets Tyndall Creek. A ranger station is located nearby and there are good campsites (with bear boxes). If one hikes a little farther, two small unnamed lakes also have good campsites and bear boxes. They also offer a nice view of Diamond Mesa which the hiker passed on the way from Forester Pass.

 

One of the most beautiful panoramic views anywhere is of the Great Western Divide near Tawny Point. It is the divide that blocks the visitor on the west side of the national park from seeing Mt. Whitney. The view is simply breath taking.

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The Great Western Divide near Tawny Point

 

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Bighorn Plateau

After passing Tawny Point, the trail comes to a crest at place called Bighorn Plateau. This spot has an excellent view of the Great Western Divide as well as a small lake and stream. This is also the first good view the hiker has of Mt. Whitney. Remember this spot; it can bee seen from the summit of Mt. Whitney.

 

Unless the hiker is traveling in early season, two easy creek crossings lie on this section of the trail. the first is Wright Creek and the 2nd (less than a mile apart) is Wallace Creek. Both creeks have areas suitable for camping, both also have legendary stories about mosquitoes. The good news either way is that Wallace Creek should be the last water crossing with a threat of the hiker getting wet.

Hikers Note: This is also the junction with the High Sierra Trail which originates from the Giant Sequoia Grove in western Sequoia National Park.

Wallace Creek

 

Sandy Meadow

The last meadow on the John Muir Trail is Sandy Meadow. This meadow lies at the junction of two small streams, and the trail skirts the edge of this meadow. Shortly after passing this meadow the trail stops traveling south and heads east toward Mt. Whitney.

 

Crabtree Meadow is not on the John Muir Trail, but can be seen from the trail. This landmark helps to ensure the hiker has made the correct turn east and not continues south on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). About one mile after the departure from the PCT, the John Muir Trail passes the Crabtree Ranger Station. Beyond this station the trail slowly climbs toward Mt. Whitney.

Crabtree Meadow

 

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Timberline Lake and Mt. Whitney

Timberline Lake is another photogenic lake on the trail. This lake, however, has camping restrictions to help preserve its beauty. From this lake, the hiker has an excellent view of not only Mt. Whitney, but the entire ridge that the John Muir Trail traverses to reach its summit. Sit back, take a break and absorb one of the best views of Mt. Whitney.

 

The next (and last large) lake is Guitar Lake (at 11,500 feet). This is typically the "jumping off point" for summiting Mt. Whitney. Therefore, most hikers spend the night here and summit the following day. This is also the last source of decent water until the hiker reaches Trail Camp on the other side of Mt. Whitney. So find a good spot, set up camp and enjoy watching a sunset against the eastern slopes of Mt. Whitney.

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Sunset in Mt. Whitney from Guitar Lake

 

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Sunrise on Guitar Lake

Why it is called Guitar Lake should become apparent after the hiker starts to ascend the trail. For a while the trail steadily climbs up the ridge toward the right. The hiker may start questioning if they are on the right trail since they are hiking "away" from Mt. Whitney. However, this is the only trail and it leads to the low spot on the ridge just south of Mt. Muir.

 

At about 12,500 feet the trail starts along series of switchbacks. These are not the famous "100 switchbacks" which are on the other side of the ridge, but are relentless just the same. Just before reaching the top of the ridge, there will be a trail junction. The John Muir Trail continues to the left and up to Mt. Whitney. The trail to the right goes over Trail Crest (pass) and eventually to the Whitney Porthole.

Hikers Note: Most hikers leave their packs at this junction and take only small items (like water, jacket and camera) for the final leg to Mt. Whitney.

Guitar Lake and the Great Western Divide

 

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View through one of the "windows"

Over the last two miles of the trail (from the Trail Crest Junction), the hiker has to ascend 1,000 feet. Most of the trail is still on the eastern side of the ridge. However, at spots referred to as "windows" between peaks, one can peer out and see dramatic sheer face of the western side and the Owens Valley. The hiker is to be cautious as parts of the trail are very narrow and close to the edge of these "windows".

 

Once the trail nears the summit (about 1/4 mile) it "disappears" between the many boulders and gaps. Therefore, there may be many routes to the summit. The hiker is to just follow the path of least resistance toward the summit shelter which is only a few yards away from the summit of Mt. Whitney.

A small lake and the town of Lone Pine in the distance

 

The summit shelter

Just a few steps from the summit of Mt. Whitney is a stone shelter. This shelter can be useful in emergency situations, but should be avoided during a lightning storm (it has a metal roof). Located on the outside is the Mt. Whitney summit register. The hiker should definitely stop here and sign their name.

 

How tall is Mt. Whitney? Most books put the summit at 14,494 feet. Some say 14,495 or even 14,497 feet. The summit tablet puts it at just over 14,496 feet. Then of course, the marker is not even at the highest point on the summit! Since the average hiker is somewhere between 5.5 feet and 6.5 feet tall, one could call the "eye level" summit 14,500 feet. In any case, it is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.

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Summit (marker) tablet

 

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Mt. Whitney summit looking west

The view to the west from Mt. Whitney summit is dominated by two items: 1) the stone shelter about 100 feet away and the Great Western Divide. Look very closely and one can also see Bighorn Plateau toward the northwest, and Alta Mountain (on the far western side of Sequoia National Park).

 

The view to the north from Whitney offers the hiker a chance to see where they have traveled from. One can see Bighorn Plateau, Diamond Mesa and Junction Peak. This view also has several other 14,000 foot peaks including the nearby Mt. Russell, the more distant Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall, and finally White Mountain in the White Mountains across the Owens Valley.

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Mt. Whitney summit looking north

 

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Mt. Whitney summit looking east

Once most people reach Mt. Whitney's summit the first view they "take" is to the east. This view has a sheer drop-off of over a thousand feet. Toward the east, one see the town of Lone Pine in the Owens Valley and Telescope Peak in Death Valley National Park. They can also preview the shortest route down from Mt. Whitney.

 

The view toward the south from the summit of Mt. Whitney almost appears to go on forever. Notable peaks include two other 14,000 footers, Mt. Muir (just 2 miles down the trail) and Mt. Langley, as well as the more distant Olancha Peak and other desert ranges.

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Mt. Whitney summit looking south

 

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Dean on the summit of Mt. Whitney

The end of your journey and of the John Muir Trail -- the summit of Mt. Whitney. Just 211 miles to the north at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park is the other end of the trail. After enjoying the accomplishment, the hiker must leave the John Muir Trail to return to civilization. Most hikers return two miles back to the junction with the Whitney Porthole Trail, go over Trail Crest and exit at Whitney Portal, nine miles from the trail junction. Other hikers may continue back to Crabtree Meadows and head south to exit through other passes. Possibly some souls walk back 211 miles and return to Happy Isles. In any case, the journey along the John Muir Trail surely has been one that will never be forgotten by the hiker.

 

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