Hiking Notes on the Backwards John Muir Trail to Yosemite Valley

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 03 March 2015

The Tahoe to Whitney trail guide describes hiking the Sierra Crest trails from Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney from North to South. Adding "The Golden Triangle" refer to the addition of the hike down to Yosemite Valley after we arrive at Tuolumne Meadows, "backwards," along the route of the John Muir Trail down to Yosemite Valley, including the hike back to the JMT on the Sierra Crest by a different route. We'll return to the JMT up the Merced River and over Vogelsang to pick up the JMT in Lyell Canyon  5.6 miles South of Tuolumne Meadows. 

The Golden Triangle is a fine addition to our standard Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip, and an excellent stand-alone fifty-mile plus triangular hike around the heart of Yosemite National Park on its own substantial merits.

My first, and possibly most important suggestion is to time out this section of trail down to Yosemite Valley from Tuolumne Meadows during the week and not near any mid-Summer holiday weekends.

Otherwise the traffic climbing the JMT, not to mention the vast crowds around Happy Isles Trailhead in the Valley will be thick. Try to time your descent into the Valley during low-traffic times. 

Busy on Both Ends
The vast majority of this section is a majestic descent into Yosemite Valley after climbing over Cathedral Pass out of Tuolumne Meadows. The same caution applies at Tuolumne Meadows; try to start early in the week when the Cathedral Lakes have less backpacker-day hiker traffic out of Tuolumne Meadows.

I try to plan my arrival at Tuolumne Meadows on a Saturday or Sunday. This way I begin my trip down to the Valley on a Monday or Tuesday after a  day or two of rest at Tuolumne Meadows.

This will put me into the Valley on a Thursday or Friday before the weekend Summertime crowds surge in. The day of the week you arrive in Yosemite Valley and its proximity to a holiday weekend will have a profound effect on the population density in Yosemite Valley and its surrounding trails.

Advance Planning to Avoid Congestion
I do this far in advance when I am planning out my Tahoe to Whitney backpacking plan. I try to plan every arrival and departure to fit into the local "rhythms," in this case the rise and fall of crowd density in Yosemite National Park and backpacker traffic.


The One Permit?
Those of us not hiking the long trails will have to obtain a permit for the Golden Triangle from Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Permits

As Part of a Through Hike...
I name the Goden Triangle campsites through Yosemite Valley as part of a continious trip from Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney. I doubt that Yosemite will issue a continious permit starting anywhere in Yosemite and subsequently hiking through Yosemite Valley.

They will likely require two permits, one from your starting trailhead and another to re-enter the JMT through Happy Isles.

Not Possible?
I have used one permit issued by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to hike off the Sierra Crestline and through Yosemite Valley during two different Tahoe to Whitney trips with no problem from Yosemite Rangers.
They seemed as  impressed by the scope of my backpacking trips as I was amazed by the terrain crossed.

New, Illegal Permit Restrictions


Trail Section Indexes

Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley on the JMT

Yosemite Valley to JMT in Lyell Canyon via Voglesang Pass

Tuolumne Meadows South on JMT to Reds Meadow and Mammoth Lakes


Tahoe Basin Institutes Insane Permit Policies

No Long Distance Permits I

No Long Distance Permits II 


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