A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail

Many know his name, but I’d like to share a bit of background on the iconic John Muir.
John Muir was born in 1838 and spent his life passionately enjoying nature and advocating for its protection. He was most active in the late eighteen hundreds and passed in 1914. Considered to be a spiritual teacher, John Muir wrote many books, especially about his adventures in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. He was also a Scottish-American naturalist, an environmental philosopher, and an early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas. Muir was also the founder of the Sierra Club.

Central California and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, home of the John Muir Trail. Map data ©2016 Google; key annotations by Brien Crothers.

The 211-mile John Muir Trail, a hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada that passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks, was named in the naturalist’s honor. John Muir walked the Sierras and wrote so eloquently about the beauty he saw that his writings inspired others to build the trail that would eventually bear his name. Hikers refer to the trail as simply the JMT.

Muir’s writings inspired readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. Muir petitioned the US Congress for a national park bill to establish Yosemite National Park. It successfully passed in 1890. For this legislative effort, and many other endeavors, John Muir is today referred to as the Father of the national parks and was the inspiration behind the National Park Service. 

On The Trail kindly provided the following topographical map detailing the John Muir Trail. On The Trail is another excellent resource for planning your next travel adventure.

Detailed topographical map of the John Muir Trail. “JMT Overview,” reprinted with permission by On The Trail

The JMT meanders, at times, through sparse sequoia forests with views beyond of granite spires, domes, and a multitude of 14,000-foot peaks. The trail winds its way down one watershed, then up another, to eventually climb ten passes along its length—passes that impressively range from 10,000 to over 13,000 feet, with the southernmost terminus of the trail at the 14,496-foot summit of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US.

Much of the John Muir Trail is through very exposed terrain above the tree line, where marmots are the only regular inhabitants. Sometimes the hiker finds himself or herself rambling through musty-smelling fern groves in the shade of aspen and pine trees. The path is sometimes smooth and fast paced; other times, it’s slow and very rugged.




The views are awe inspiring. A hiker may look upon vast square miles of roadless wilderness from a high altitude pass, or walk beside a brook of stunningly clear water at the base of a rock face thousands of feet tall, or enjoy the quiet solitude of a forest of lodgepole and Jeffrey pines—it is an experience worth preserving, as John Muir knew so well.

This is the John Muir Trail, the JMT.

Coming up next in this series:
Preparing to Hike the John Muir Trail

2 comments on “A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail

  1. […] What is the John Muir Trail?: A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail […]

  2. […] from, A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail I was originally inspired to hike the JMT thirty years ago when I first climbed Mount Whitney. On […]

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