The Best of the John Muir Trail, Part 2 (Reds Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch)



Welcome to week 2 on the John Muir Trail. If you missed the highlights from week 1, be sure to check them out. The first 60 miles were a doozy.

The second section from Reds Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch introduced us to some higher elevations, some out-of-this-world swimming holes, relaxing hot springs, and new challenges.

Here in Part 2 of my Best of the John Muir Trail series, I tell you everything you need to know about the trail from mile 60 to mile 108.

For additional information on the John Muir Trail, see these posts:

And as it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established rules. 


Highlight: arriving at camp

Not to start on a low note, but I want to mentally prepare you for this day. There’s no good way of putting it. This stretch between Reds Meadow and Duck Pass Junction was just awful. Everyone we met on the trail agreed. First, your pack is about 10 pounds heavier than the day before thanks to your resupply at Reds Meadow. But what’s worse is that after leaving Reds Meadow, you begin the day by traversing through a burn area where the trees are dead and there is absolutely no shade. I’d recommend getting an early start so you can avoid getting stuck in the blazing sun (another reason why camping at Reds Meadow the night before is a good idea).


The John Muir Trail leaving Reds Meadow

Once you finally enter the forest, you begin to climb, climb, climb. The uphill will seem relentless. And the scenery?…meh.

We originally talked about camping at Deer Creek, but when we arrived, the stream was nothing more than a trickle, and it was still early in the afternoon. Hence, we kept trucking.

There are very few stretches along the JMT where there is no water. The 4.5 mile section between Deer Creek and the Duck Pass Junction is one of them. So make sure to fill up before continuing uphill.

As we got closer to our destination, we were treated to occasional views of the Silver Divide. It’s the only thing that kept me going with the enduring twinge I was feeling in between my shoulder blades.

John-Muir-Trail-Silver-DivideThe Silver Divide

When we finally arrived at the creek at Duck Pass Junction, we found a nice place to set up our tent just below the trail on the west side of the creek.

It’s clear from the photo below that the mental trials of our tough trail day were quickly buried once we were at camp….I believe this was the night that we polished off the last our whiskey.


Preparing a whiskey-hot apple cider nightcap


Highlight: Swimming in Lake Virginia

After the previous day, we needed a little pick me up. We had read in our guidebook that Lake Virginia, 4 miles up the trail, was heavenly. So we hit the trail, first coming to Purple Lake. For those who have some stamina left in them the day before, Purple Lake appeared to have some pretty nice campsites.

John-Muir-Trail-Purple Lake

Purple Lake

We arrived at Lake Virginia around lunchtime. We decided to follow a side trail that veered off to the west side of the lake and found a perfect spot to set up shop for a few hours. The sun was beating down on the warm granite. We suited up and dove in. Burrrrrr. That water was cold, but man did it feel good. My aches and mental pains from the previous day melted away.


Washing away the grime in Lake Virginia


Lunching at Lake Virginia

We hung out for a couple of hours, and around 2:30 we agreed it was time to move on. But I really didn’t want to. I envisioned the sunset over Lake Virginia and contemplated just staying there for the rest of the day. But since we had only hiked 4 miles so far, we felt that we needed to keep going, and we threw our packs on.


Lake Virginia


Leaving Lake Virginia

As we descended the switchbacks down into Tully Hole, I began to think that we made a big mistake. Even though it was pretty, all of the campsites we passed on Fish Creek were shady and cold. Eventually we spotted some sun on the other side of the creek and found a safe place to cross. After mulling about for a while, we settled on a campsite. It was nice, but it was no Lake Virginia.


Looking down into Tully Hole and Fish Creek

To this day, one of my biggest regrets from my time on the trail was leaving Lake Virginia that afternoon. We only hiked about 2.5 miles past the lake and could have easily made up those miles the next day with an early start. Oh well. Guess it gives me a reason to go back. Don’t miss Lake Virginia!


Highlight: Lunch at Chief Lake / the view from Silver Pass

Today we tackled Silver Pass. The climb to the top was quite easy compared to some of the other passes on the trail. But take your time getting there, as there are several beautiful lakes on the way.

My favorite lake of Day 9 was Chief Lake which is right at the timberline below Silver Pass. The dramatic views and aquamarine water made it a great place to stop for lunch before making the last uphill push.


Our lunch spot at Chief Lake

Between Chief Lake and Silver Pass, you will be completely above the treeline. As you ascend the barren landscape, you’ll get sweeping views of the lakes below and the mountains where you spent the last several days.


Heading up to Silver Pass


The view looking down as we climbed Silver Pass


The view of Chief Lake and our lunch spot from the top of Silver Pass

Traveling south from Silver Pass, you head down along the North Fork of Mono Creek. There are many shady campsites along the way. Our goal was to make it to close to Quail Meadows, since we wanted to take on the upcoming 2,000 foot climb to Bear Ridge first thing the next morning when our legs were fresh.

Quail Meadows is located at the Lake Edison Junction which is the trail you would take if you were planning to stop and resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). We skipped VVR because it required a bit of maneuvering to get there – a combination of hiking, a ferry, and/or a jeep ride. Plus, we were all fueled up with our supplies from our visit to Reds Meadow a few days prior. Because of its close proximity to VVR, Quail Meadows was a popular camp spot for JMT hikers.

To avoid the crowds, we settled on a site just north of Quail Meadows that was reminiscent of an old cowboy camp and had easy access to some nice hang-out spots on the creek. To find this huge campsite, veer left off the trail just above the intersection of the North Fork with Mono Creek.


Cowboy camp along Fish Creek


Highlight: Swimming at our Bear Creek camp

Our day started with a 4 mile long, but gentle climb up a series of switchbacks to the top of Bear Ridge. If you are tired when you get to the top, stop for snacks, but don’t be tempted to take your lunch break here. Some of the best swimming holes on the trail are just a short ways ahead.

After reaching the top, you will drop down to the Bear Creek Junction, where the trail begins to run parallel to Bear Creek for the next two miles. We were hot and tired when we arrived at the creek so we threw our bags down at the first sight of water. We cooled off, bird bath style, and chowed down on some lunch.


Our lunch stop at Bear Creek

While our lunch spot was lovely, we found that the further we got along Bear Creek, the better the swimming opportunities. When we turned a corner around mile 95, we stopped dead in our tracks when we came across a long straightaway in the river with a cascading waterfall full of calm, clear, and deep swimming holes. We wished we had stopped here for lunch instead. We debated taking another dip, but it was already mid-afternoon and we still had a good distance to cover that day. We we moved on and felt very guilty about it.


The most perfect swimming hole EVER. Bear Creek

About a mile later, we stumbled upon another idyllic series of pools. Could we pass these ones up too? Neither of us took much convincing. We immediately threw our bags down, where we would later set up camp. This spot in the river had some huge flat boulders forming a series of waterfalls. Since the water was low, you could walk right out onto the granite and sit in the middle of the waterfalls. It was heaven. We were grateful to say goodbye to our earlier guilt and spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the glistening sun. This was 100% my favorite camp from the second section of the JMT.


Bear Creek…my favorite camp from the second week on the JMT


Bear Creek camp


Highlight: The view from Seldon Pass / Hot springs at Muir Trail Ranch

We work up earlier than normal this morning, and it was still cold when we hit the trail. I think the brisk air made us walk faster, because we made it to Marie Lake in record time.

Marie Lake was dotted with granite islands and offered superb views of the surrounding mountains. Sitting at 10,500 feet, there were several small, sandy, and exposed campsites along the trail. It was windy when we came through, but I imagine on a calm night, this would be an amazing spot to camp.


Traveling alongside of Marie Lake

Next up was Seldon Pass, which was only 500 more feet above Marie Lake. Piece of cake. Make sure to enjoy the wide-open views of Marie Lake and Silver Pass as you climb.


The view from the top of Seldon Pass

Once you are over Seldon, you first drop down to Heart Lake and then Sallie Keyes Lakes. We stopped for lunch at the north end of Sallie Keys. However, if it is a warm day, I recommend heading to the southern edge of the lake where there appeared to be good swimming with easy access.


Looking south to Heart Lake from Seldon Pass


Sallie Keys Lake

Our original plan was to stop at Sallie Keys and camp for the night. But it was a windy day and since we made such good time, we set off for Muir Trail Ranch, our second resupply point.

The trail between Sallie Keys and Muir Trail Ranch ends with a long section of downhill switchbacks into a beautiful river canyon. There is no suitable camping along this stretch. At mile 108, you reach the northern cutoff to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), where you will undoubtedly stop, as it is the last place directly on the JMT to resupply. Follow the signs which lead you down a dry, dusty trail to the camp.


Hiking down towards Muir Trail Ranch

Be prepared to camp with a bunch of other thru-hikers on your night at MTR. Sites are spaced closed together and there is little privacy. There are also no bathrooms, so finding a hidden place to go was a bit of a challenge.

On a high note, we ran into our friends that we met at Reds Meadow the week before, and it was fun to hear about how their trip was going.

Also, definitely don’t miss taking a soak in Blaney Hot Springs across the river. From the MTR campsites, carefully cross the river, and then follow the trail downstream for about five minutes until you reach a series of natural hot pools. They are small and a bit murky, but the hot water will do wonders for your sore muscles. This alone made staying at MTR worth it.


Hot Springs at Muir Trail Ranch (Source)

Well there you have Part 2 of the Best of the John Muir Trail. We are just about at the halfway point. And I have to say that from here on out, the scenery just gets better, bigger, and more dramatic. On Day 12, we entered Kings Canyon National Park, which is where my dreams of the John Muir Trail all started. I can’t wait to share Part 3 of this series with you.

Are you thinking about hiking the John Muir Trail? What are your questions / fears? What are you most excited for? Spill your thoughts in the comments below!

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

30 comments on “The Best of the John Muir Trail, Part 2 (Reds Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch)

  1. Wow, this is seriously stunning scenery. Love that picture, “Traveling alongside Marie Lake”. This post fuels my imagination and bucket list.

    1. Thanks Heather! The John Muir Trail is packed full of amazing scenery. Day after day. If you have any more questions about the trail, feel free to reach out!

  2. Haven’t finished your journal yet, but love it. Fueling my excitement for my JMT this August. I will use your reco about bear creek for sure!

    1. Hey Kyle! Glad you are enjoying the reports. If you have any questions, let me know. And yeah, Bear Creek is 1000% worth a stop for a good afternoon swim. Thanks! Kristen

  3. Hello there. Do you have Part 3 posted? I can’t seem to find it. Love your website. I’m applying to do JMT next year. Can’t wait. For now, I’m doing the Six Pack of Peaks in So Cal, and Whitney probably in September this year. 🙂

  4. i really enjoy your series on the JMT. You have an easy to read and very comfortable style of writing. Thank you for this generous gift!

    One question, what device did you use to determine exactly where you were on the trail. In certain parts of series II you were very specific about your mileage.

    Thank you very much.

    1. Hey Jim – Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my trip reports. We used the Tom Harrison Maps and the Elizabeth Wenk book. This post has links to both:

      With so many lakes and big peaks, it was pretty easy to get a rough estimate of our whereabouts. The trail is also pretty well marked at most junctions. I’m sure some people brought a GPS, but I never felt like it was necessary.

      Hope that’s helpful!

      1. Hi there
        I just finished my thru hike from Happy Isles. Your blog was an excellent source of helpful information. We camped at several spots close to or on your suggestions. Your assessment of Rae Lakes and Glen Pass was spot on.

        Thank you for the motivating writing….


        Jim ( trail name Santiago)

  5. I just love your site! The information is great. I am going with 2 girlfriends in July of 2016. We are leaving from Reds Meadows. Entering from the JMT South Devils Postpile trail head and we are exiting at LeConte Ranger Station. I believe it is about a 14 mile hike out to South Lake. We have been planning to do this for a while now. My one girlfriend and I are undergoing chemotherapy now and have been for almost two years now. She is going off of chemo in March and I am trying to go off in May. We are active and hike every weekend. We have hiked Mount Baldy a couple of times this past summer.
    I feel that if we take it slow we can make it. Please give me your honest opinion.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hey Kim! Wow, that is so inspiring.

      You know, it’s hard for me to say. There’s definitely some tough stretches on that section (a lot of up and down), and only you can really assess your physical condition. The altitude is also a factor to consider. I would start by doing some training trips with a pack of the same wait and at altitude if possible. Then as the time for your trip gets closer you can decide if you want to go through with it. There are also exit points before Bishop Pass if you needed to get off the trail early, and I would also recommend carrying some sort of communication device like a SPOT transponder:

      Please come back and let me know what happens! Sending some good vibes your way 🙂 Kristen

  6. Thank you so much Kristen! I do have a satellite phone that send GPS info. I also just looked at all of the other exit points. Our training will now start! I will keep you updated! Once again thank you for you input and this great info!!

  7. Very informative stuff here. One of my “go to” sites for upcoming JMT hike. Thanks for putting this together.

  8. Hello, My wife and I will be hiking our second leg of the JMT in August. We will enter via Duck Pass Tr an exit at Piute Canyon Tr.
    I want to make sure we find the best campsite along Bear Creek.

    1. There’s tons of good spots on Bear Creek. You probably don’t need to plan too far in advance…just start hiking up the creek and find a spot that is sunny with good swimming and you’ll be a happy camper!

  9. I actually liked the lake behind the springs the best. It was still sulfur fed, but a nice sized lake. Not quite bathwater, but maybe a slightly cooler then a heated pool. Much better to bath there then Evolution Lake…

  10. Did you tent camp or rent lodging from MTR? From your pictures it appears that there are more hot springs in the MTR area than those at the ranch?

  11. Hey Kristin, great Blog and really helpful information on spots to stop. I think it\\\’s really great that you and your hiking partner made decisions to change your original plans so that you could enjoy magnificent spots to stop. I\\\’m really glad you mentioned your regret re: Lake Virginia as that is a spot I\\\’ve read good things about elsewhere so will plan for that. Keep the post trip glow going!

  12. Hi,
    I love all the details. I’ve been learning about JMT from you for 5 years now

    I’m hammock camping from Edison to Florence, but want to take 6 days. What do you think about starting at Edison and going up to lake Virginia, then looping back to MTR and getting off at Lake Florence? There is supposed to be a shuttle between the two, so I was going to park at Florence and head take shuttle to VVR.

    I’ve done Florence to Muir Pass (loop), agnew to Thousand Island / Ediza / Iceberg / Minaret falls / Devil’s Postpile, Agnew to Happy Isles, and North lake to South lake. I’m trying to see the stretch I’ve missed and it sounds like I can skip Devil’s Post Like past Red’s.

  13. I know this hike blog was from years ago, but wanted to ask if you think 2 of us with BV500 cannisters can hike from Red Cones to LeConte ranger station out Bishop pass in 11 days and no re-supply of food. We found on our section hike last year from Devils Post Pile to Happy Isles over 9 days – 3 of us had packed way too much food, our appetites weren’t as large as we thought they would be. But we did have Tuolumne Meadows to eat at for 2 meals. We each had over 1/4 to 1/2 of our canisters of food left. Any input would be appreciated.

  14. Hello, Kristen
    Can’t thank you enough for your site which has become THE definitive site for the planning of my upcoming JMT hiking. I’ve got a permit to hike southbound from Happy Isles in early Sept. Due to availability of tome, I intend to hike to the halfway point (Muir Trail Ranch or some point near that) Would you be so kind to let me know how may I go downhill from there and get transportation, preferably public, to go back to civilisation, say, to Merced, Fresno or Mammoth? Or I would deeply appreciate if you could point me to some information about this. Any suggestions or relevant information will also be deeply appreciated.
    Many thanks in anticipation,

  15. I have an upcoming trip this week (July 2020) from Deer Lakes to Mono Pass basically following SHR and JMT. Thank you for your opinion on Virginia lake. If our legs are up to it we will make that Night 1 campsite, else we will stop at Purple Lake. For day 2 camping we were thinking anywhere from Silver Pass Lake to Mono creek drainage. Your campsite image states fish creek as the location of “cowboy camp” but you verbally state it’s up from where North fork Mono creek meets the trail. Can you clarify where the approximate location of this campsite is? Ultimately we can just wing it as it looks like plenty of good camping along the North Fork drainage but your response if very much welcomed and appreciated. Thanks

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