Backpack the John Muir Trail with The Mountains of California

Walk in the footsteps of a conservation giant

Circa 1964

Circa 1964 via Shutterstock     Photo: Igor Golovniov

The John Muir Trail is arguably the best backpacking trail in the world. Beginning in Yosemite Valley and ending 211 miles later on the summit of 14,495-foot Mount Whitney, the footpath also traverses high alpine sections of Devil’s Postpile National Monument and King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. It skirts countless alpine lakes, naked granite domes, and thundering waterfalls. Most people tackle the trail in two weeks, which may be just enough time to knock out all 304 pages of John Muir’s 1894 classic Mountains of California, a meditation on a quarter century worth of travels in the Sierra Nevada. No detail is too small for Muir, from an examination of sequoia bark to a chapter on the water ouzel, a tiny insect-eating bird, which doesn’t sound exciting, but through the sheer force of his enthusiasm, it is. To wit, the book’s most famous passage is a rhapsody on an evening spent swaying atop a 100-foot tall tree in the middle of a December storm. He communes with the other trees in the grove, “their lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy.” It gets way beyond tree-hugging.

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