Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
The most frustrating thing (I hope) about hiking the John Muir Trail involves getting to and from the trail. I’m flying into San Francisco because I want to spend a couple of days exploring the city. I don’t regret that decision, but I do regret that relying on mass transit to get me to Yosemite will take up so much of my vacation time. I’ll enjoy taking in the scenery while in transit, but I feel like I’m being inefficient with the logistics of the trip.
Getting from San Francisco to Yosemite
Note that I have already secured my accommodations for everything on this list besides Uber and BART.
All times Pacific, all costs concerning travel only.
|Wed, 8/30/17||5:30am–5:45am||$5.00||Uber ➤ BART (Embarcadero Station)|
|Wed, 8/30/17||5:45am–6:55am||$4.65||BART (Embarcadero Station) ➤ BART/AMTRAK (Richmond Station)|
|Wed, 8/30/17||7:54am–10:37am||$24||AMTRAK: (San Joaquins Line) Richmond Station ➤ Merced Station|
|Wed, 8/30/17||10:55am–1:25pm||$13||YARTS: (Run 5 picks up outside Merced Station, (the bus driver waits for the train if it's running late) ➤ Yosemite Valley Lodge|
|Wed, 8/30/17||1:25pm||Free||Eat lunch at the food court, pick up ticket for the Hiker bus to Tuolumne Meadows the next morning (I pre-paid via phone to secure a seat).|
|Wed, 8/30/17||2:30ish||Free||Free shuttle bus ➤ Explore Yosemite Valley|
|Wed, 8/30/17||7:00ish||Free||Eat dinner at the food court at Yosemite Valley Lodge, (closes at 8:00pm), free shuttle bus ➤ Half Dome Village (shuttle stops at 10:00pm)|
|Wed, 8/30/17||8:00ish||$158.62||Check into canvas tent/cabin at Half Dome Village|
|Thu, 8/31/17||6:00am||Free||Walk or take Free shuttle bus (starts at 7:00am) ➤ Yosemite Valley Lodge, eat breakfast (opens at 6:30am) * Update: The shuttle picks up at Half Dome Village.|
|Thu, 8/31/17||8:00am–10:25am||$23||Hiker bus: Yosemite Valley ➤ Tuolumne Meadows|
|Thu, 8/31/17||10:30am||Free||Pick up permit for 9/1/2017 thru-hike out of Lyell Canyon, buy stove fuel, eat lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill|
|Thu, 8/31/17||11:30am||Free||Explore Tuolumne Meadows, pick up pack at post office before it closes (5:00 pm), mail day pack ahead to the Lone Pine post office.|
|Thu, 8/31/17||4:00pm||Free||Dinner at Tuolumne Meadows Grill (closes at 5:00)|
|Fri, 9/1/17||5:00pm||$6||Camp at Backpackers' Campground (available the night before a thru-hike with a valid permit)|
I would love to sleep late enough to justify sticking around for breakfast at 8:00 a.m. on the first day of my hike. A big meal and a couple of snacks could tide me over until dinner. That would lighten my load. I’ll be very glad to be leaving the touristy parts of the JMT before Labor Day weekend starts in earnest.
Subtotal cost for travel and accommodations to the JMT: $234.27
Campsite and meal planning while on the trail
I’ve already written a detailed post about my JMT campsite schedule and meal planning. This bit is relevant to my travel situation.
For the record, I’ll be surprised if I stick to this schedule. I’m trying to keep my mileage relatively low to protect my knees, but also because of the odd schedule of the ESTA bus that I need to catch when I’m done. It doesn’t run on Wednesdays or weekends. If I finish my hike a day earlier, there’s no bus and I’m stuck in Lone Pine, California doing nothing for 2 days (which doesn’t actually sound too bad). I’d have to finish at least 2 days early to be able to catch a shuttle to the AMTRAK station. I might end up doing that if I’m feeling good, but I also want to take my time and enjoy the scenery.
Getting from the Mt Whitney Portal to San Francisco
Note that I haven’t secured my accommodations for anything on this list. I may finish my hike early and don’t want to lose any deposits. The part of the itinerary involving Lone Pine is fairly rigid, but I’ll be there on a weekday, Lone Pine has several motels, and I can pay the ESTA driver directly. Everything else is flexible. Plus, it’s possible I may meet someone on the trail that can suggest or even offer a better solution than what I have planned. All costs are estimates based on search results.
All times Pacific, all costs concerning travel only.
|Tue, 9/13/17||4:00pm||$24.00||Eat at Mt Whitney Portal Store (closes at 8:00pm on Tuesdays), camp at campground|
|Wed, 9/14/17||8:00am||Free||Hitchhike ➤ downtown Lone Pine|
|Wed, 9/14/17||All day||$100||Eat breakfast, clean clothes, shower, eat lunch, check into motel, eat dinner, clean gear|
|Thu, 9/15/17||6:15am–12:15pm||$59||ESTA bus: Lone Pine (McDonald's) ➤ Reno (Greyhound Station)|
|Thu, 9/15/17||12:15pm||$10||Uber ➤ UPS store to mail pack home, buy small bag (keep wallet, toothbrush, phone charger, glasses, puffy jacket, rain jacket, meds)|
|Thu, 9/15/17||12:30pm||$160||Uber ➤ lunch, casino, find a place to stay.|
|Fri 9/16/17||8:36am–3:59pm||$42||AMTRAK: Reno Station ➤ Richmond Station|
|Fri 9/16/17||4:00pm–5:05pm||$4.65||BART: Richmond Station ➤ Embarcadero Station|
|Fri 9/16/17||5:05pm||$10||Uber: Embarcadero Station ➤ AirBnB|
Subtotal cost for travel and accommodations from the JMT: $399.65
It’s costing me $633.92 to travel from San Fransisco to the JMT and back again. I’m not disappointed that I’ll get some downtime in Lone Pine and that I’ll squeeze in an afternoon in Reno; I like that I’m getting to see the area. But I believe I could have paid someone in the Bay area $400 cash plus gas money to drive me the 4 hours to/from the trailheads, each way (8 hours per trip for the driver). That would be an income of $25 per hour for the driver over two days.
I’m saving money and exploring more of the region by going the public transportation route, but it just feels like an inefficient use of my time. Then again, walking hundreds of miles for no particular reason is a bigger waste of time, so maybe I just need to learn how to relax.
Learn how I’m getting my gear to and from the trail.
If I had it to do over again, I would not rely on public transportation to this extent. My trip from San Francisco to Yosemite was not that bad. I wasted most of a day, but it was just one day. My trip back home wasted several days and cost a lot of money.
I hitchhiked to Lone Pine very easily and spent Sunday afternoon until Tuesday morning there. To clarify, I had to spend an extra day in Lone Pine. The bus to Reno leaves at 6:00 am on weekdays. I had to wait for the post office to open on Monday so I could pick up my laptop and day pack and mail my backpacking gear home. That forced me to wait until Tuesday to catch the next bus.
I have zero regrets about this extra day. Every hotel, bar, and restaurant in Lone Pine has WIFI. I ate copious amounts of food, sent postcards to loved ones, laid around the hotel pool and hot tub, and uploaded pictures and videos to the cloud.
On Tuesday, I caught the bus to Reno per my travel itinerary, but I was a couple of days ahead of schedule. I met a NOBO on the trail who was from Reno. He recommended some things to do in downtown Reno and I had some fun there. You really don’t need more than a day to see everything that the city has to offer.
I specifically booked my flights with Southwest because they allow you to change your itinerary at no cost if your only change is to move your dates up (this depends on the kind of ticket you get). The problem was that the airline wouldn’t allow me to schedule anything in the path of Hurricane Irma, which was threatening the southeast at the time. I hoped to move my flight up to go home on Wednesday afternoon or anytime on Thursday. Otherwise, I’d have to stick around until Saturday morning to catch my original flight out of San Francisco.
I found a $330 flight out of Sacramento early on Thursday morning. I figured it would cost me a lot more than $300 to stay and play in Reno or San Francisco for a few days, so I booked it. I also pocketed a $175 credit on my unused Southwest leg to put toward a future booking. So I effectively paid $155 to get home early.
I reserved a ticket on the Amtrak for Wednesday afternoon. The train was delayed indefinitely, so they put me on an Amtrak bus that left 2 hours late. To my surprise, the bus got me to Sacramento an hour earlier than the train was scheduled to arrive. Go figure.
I had just enough time to grab dinner and drinks in the historic part of downtown Sacramento and then crashed at a $60 AirBnB bedroom with a private bath in a shared home.
I took an Uber to the airport before 5:00 am the next morning and was home in time for dinner. Naturally, my plane was late leaving my connection. Everything seemed to be delayed on my way home. That’s fine. If something had to go wrong, I was happy it went wrong when I had time to spare.
This transportation schedule was a huge waste of my time. Whatever money I saved by not renting a car and driving myself, or paying someone to drive me, was offset by my hotel, meal, and entertainment costs.
In retrospect, I would probably still take public transportation from the Bay Area to Yosemite. Then I would schedule private transportation from Lone Pine to wherever I caught my flight back home. That’s the part of the trip that wasted so much time.
Next: JMT gear list