One of the most popular trails to do is the first 22 miles of the John Muir Trail, from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, to Tuolomne Meadows in the high country.
We did the hike in early August of 2014, and I'd love to share that experience with you.
Date: August 5-7, 2014
Location: Yosemite Nat'l Park
Approx. drive time from home: 15 hours
Distance: 25.2 mi. / 40.5 km (including Half Dome summit)
Overall elevation gain: 3500 ft / 1070 m
Overall elevation loss: 8100 ft / 2470 m
Max. elevation: 9900 ft / 3020 m
Days on trail: 3 days
This section of the John Muir Trail is usually done as a one-way hike. We had decided to do the hike southbound, from Tuolomne to Happy Isles, for two main reasons. The first reason was that by choosing that direction we would be doing more downhill, descending more than 7000 feet instead of climbing all of it. The other reason was the permit process. The trailhead at Happy Isles is a very popular starting point, and it was easier at the time to get a permit leaving from Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite is constantly re-evaluating and re-structuring their permitting process and our experience would likely be different in future years.)
Our first day in the park was spent driving to Yosemite Valley to drop our car at our exit trailhead and then returning to Tuolomne Meadows via the regional shuttle bus (YARTS).
We spent our first night in the backpacker's camp of Tuolomne Campground. The next morning we slept in and then hit the trail mid-morning.
The initial section of trail was a steady climb through somewhat sparse forest. I found the climb quite challenging due to the high elevation of the area. We took the cutoff for Lower Cathedral Lake and enjoyed lunch along the lakeshore. We then continued one more mile to the Upper Lake where we found a great campsite.
The next morning we woke to crisp and clear skies. We were ready for a full day on trail.
From that point we dropped into some amazing alpine meadows, skirting the edges until we reached the Sunrise High Sierra Camp in Long Meadow, where we stopped to enjoy a well-earned lunch break, and take in the amazing scenery.
The trail continued alongside Sunrise Creek, crossing it a couple times and offering some great views of the ranges to the east.
Just after polishing off our dinner, we had a surprise visitor - a bear! This corridor is recognized as a common location to have a bear run-in. He was a bit on the small side, which made us think he was a juvenile. He was also very curious and not easily scared off. Once we did get him to clear out, he circled around to harass some other campers, and then circled back to our site once again.
We tidied and bear-proofed our gear and left it near the trail junction, heading up with only a couple litres of water and some snacks. The trail from the junction is only two miles long, but climbs over 1800 feet. It was definitely challenging, and required lots of plodding along and quite a few breaks. Thankfully the scenery was dazzling, giving us views down into Tenaya Canyon and across to Little Yosemite Valley.
My first goal was to head to the true summit and take in the view. It was pretty amazing to be sitting nearly 5000 feet above the valley floor!
We picked up our gear at the trail junction and started the long drop down into Yosemite Valley, switchbacking first into Little Yosemite Valley where we took a good break beside the Merced River to soak our feet.
We followed the Merced River for another mile to the top of Nevada Falls. We stayed high on the JMT for a mile and then took a cut-off to join the Mist Trail, enjoying views of Vernal Fall and some cool spray.
While not easy, the trip from Tuolomne to Happy Isles is incredibly varied and very rewarding, especially if you're lucky enough to summit Half Dome as well. The hike is a great introduction to the longer John Muir Trail and offers a great taste of what Yosemite's backcountry can offer.