Ok… so you got your John Muir Trail permit, planned your resupply points, and got your gear lined up. Congrats! You’re almost ready for the best backpacking trip of your life. But don’t lace up those boots just yet… you still have a few more logistics to take care of, one of which is your John Muir Trail transportation plan: How will you get to and from the trail at the start and end of your hike?
John Muir Trail transportation is pretty simple if you have two cars and two people to drive. Simply drop one car off at one end, drive the other up to your permitted trailhead, and after your hike run a shuttle back up to your starting point.
But what if you are going solo, don’t have two cars, or are flying in from somewhere far away? Fortunately, the Eastern Sierra has very good public transportation but you will need to plan ahead a bit to arrange shuttles or reserve seats. In this John Muir Trail Transportation Guide, you’ll find all of the information you need to plan your public transportation logistics for your John Muir Trail hike.
This blog post was originally written by BFT Founder, Kristen, who hiked the John Muir Trail Southbound in 2014. It was updated in 2022 by Mary Caperton Morton of The Blonde Coyote who hiked the John Muir Trail Northbound in 2020. It includes the most recently available information.
Which Direction Are You Hiking the John Muir Trail?
The 212-mile John Muir Trail runs from Yosemite to the Whitney Portal trailhead just south of the 14,505’ Mt. Whitney. The most popular direction for John Muir Trail hikers is North to South because you are able to adjust to the altitude more gradually (the passes and peaks get taller as you move south towards Mt. Whitney). You’ll need to decide which direction you will be hiking the JMT before you get your permit as permits are assigned based on your starting trailhead.
>> Read Next: How To Apply for a Southbound JMT Permit
The JMT transportation logistics are somewhat easier in Yosemite, as public transit and parking are readily available, and you also have the opportunity to explore the park before and after the hike if you have extra time.
On the other hand, southbound John Muir Trail permits are becoming harder to come by, so many people are opting for a northbound John Muir hike departing from Horseshoe Meadow, just south of Whitney. Horseshoe Meadow is not accessible by public transportation, but there are several shuttle options from Lone Pine which we’ll talk about below.
Closest Airports to the John Muir Trail
If you don’t live out West and you plan on flying into California to start your hike, the easiest airport to fly into is Mammoth airport. Conveniently situated on the eastern side of the Sierras between Yosemite and Mt. Whitney on Highway 395, there is frequent public transportation that you can use to get to and from the JMT. What’s more, Alaska Airlines and United serve this airport, so you can pretty much get to Mammoth no matter where you are coming from. The only downside to Mammoth is that fares can be a bit more expensive than larger airports, but you’ll make up for it in convenience.
The second best option is the Reno airport. However, getting to Yosemite from Reno requires a transfer in Mammoth, and Reno is several hours further from the endpoint at Mt. Whitney (assuming you are hiking north to south) than Mammoth.
San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles
Major airports on the west side of the Sierras – like San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles – may have cheaper flights, but they are substantially more difficult to get back to since you will finish your hike on the east side of the Sierras, requiring a very long drive around to the other side.
Amtrak connects to YARTS (more on YARTS below) in Merced if you want to look at train/bus options. I’m not going to detail these routes since they require multiple transfers between trains and buses. If you want to fly into one of these airports, Rome2Rio is a helpful public transportation planning tool that you can use to figure out the best route from SFO, OAK, or LAX.
Other regional airports like Fresno-Yosemite or Merced don’t offer the same convenient transit options and also aren’t any cheaper.
All airports (Mammoth, Fresno, and Merced included) have car rentals available if you want to rent a car… but leaving a rental car at a trailhead for 2-3 weeks doesn’t seem that economical.
>> Read Next: How to Resupply on the JMT
Shuttle & Public Transportation Options for Getting to and from the John Muir Trail
From Mammoth Airport:
If you are going to fly round trip to the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, then public transit is a great, easy, and cheap way to get to the JMT and back to the airport at the end. Just take a taxi into Mammoth Lakes, where you can pick up the Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YARTS) HWY 120/395 bus from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley (the line shown in GREEN on the map below). The bus runs daily from mid-June to mid-October (as long as Tioga Road is open) and you can get dropped off either in Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley, depending on which trailhead you have a permit for. If you go all the way to Yosemite Valley, the bus ride takes about 4 hours. Advance tickets are highly encouraged.
Getting back to the Mammoth Airport: At the south end of the John Muir Trail, you exit at the Whitney Portal trailhead. There is no public transportation that goes directly to the trailhead, so you’ll need to hitchhike out to the nearest town of Lone Pine. It’s about a 20-minute ride, and with all the people hiking to the Whitney summit every day, hitching a ride is common practice and you shouldn’t have to wait that long. That said….always trust your gut and don’t get in the car with anyone you don’t feel comfortable with.
If you don’t want to hitchhike or you have a large group, there are a few private shuttle options that offer rides to/from Horseshoe Meadow or Whitney Portal to Lone Pine:
- East Side Sierra Shuttle offers rides from the Whitney Portal or Horseshoe Meadow to Lone Pine.
- The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce
- Kurt Power: contact Lonepinekurt@aol.com (preferred) or call 661-972-9476. Kurt has limited availability but can also help connect you to other private shuttle drivers in the area
- Climber.org offers a list of Sierra shuttle options, some of which will apply to JMT hikers
Once you’re in Lone Pine, you can take a 2-hour Eastern Sierra Transit bus back to Mammoth. There are two different lines that will get you there:
- The Lone Pine-Reno line leaves Lone Pine at 6:10 am and runs Monday to Friday
- The Lancaster Route leaves at 5 pm and runs Monday to Friday
- Unfortunately, there is no weekend bus service, so plan accordingly
- Reservations are also recommended. Call 800.922.1930 to reserve your seat
- Double-check these days/times on their website, as schedules do change
If you want to skip the bus, East Side Sierra Shuttle will pick you up at the Mammoth Airport, drop you off in Yosemite, and then pick you up at Whitney Portal and take you back to the airport. This is an awesome (but expensive) way to take the hassle out of the travel, especially if you have a bigger group.
>> Read Next: JMT Gear List
From Reno Airport:
Getting to the John Muir Trail: If you are starting in Yosemite, you’ll need to take a 4-hour Eastern Sierra Transit bus from Reno and get off in Lee Vining or Mammoth. Mammoth is the last “major” town to get last-minute supplies such as gear and backpacking food, so if you think you need to pick anything up, plan on stopping in Mammoth.
Then once you are in Lee Vining or Mammoth, transfer to the Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YARTS) HWY 120/395 bus. As mentioned above, the YARTS bus runs daily mid-June to mid-October (as long as Tioga Road is open) and you can get dropped off either in Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley, depending on which trailhead you have a permit for. If you go all the way to Yosemite Valley, the bus ride takes 4 hours. Advance tickets are highly encouraged.
Getting back to the Reno Airport: Once you are in Lone Pine, you can take a 6-hour Eastern Sierra Transit bus all the way to Reno.
- The Lone Pine-Reno line leaves Lone Pine at 6:10 am, Monday to Friday.
- Unfortunately, there is no weekend bus service, so plan accordingly.
- Reservations are also recommended. Call 800.922.1930 to reserve your seat.
- Double-check these times on their website, as schedules do change
Parking Options for the John Muir Trail
Another option if you have only one car is to park it at one end and then take public transportation to the other end. But where do you leave your car? Fortunately, there is long-term parking available near both the north and south terminus of the JMT.
Yosemite National Park
There is free long-term parking available in the Curry Village backpacker’s lot near the Happy Isles trailhead and at Tuolumne Meadows in the Wilderness Permit lot. Make sure to check in first before parking and if you have any questions about parking, just ask the ranger. Also, make sure you don’t leave any food in your car, and instead place any scented items in the parking lot bear lockers.
JMT hikers will find limited free parking at the Whitney Portal trailhead, although the lot does fill up and you may need to wait for a spot. Never leave food or scented items in a car anywhere in the Sierra! Black bears are notorious for breaking into cars. Use the provided bear boxes and be sure to date any food that you leave or it will be thrown out. For more information on current road conditions up to the Whitney Portal, visit the Inyo National Forest website.
There is also free long-term parking available at Horseshoe Meadow if you choose to begin or end your hike at the next trailhead south of Whitney Portal. Some hikers elect to start their trek here, as it’s easier to get permits from Horseshoe Meadow than Yosemite or Whitney Portal. Heed the warnings about leaving food in your car. Bear boxes are provided.
If trailhead parking options are full or if you’d rather leave your car in town to avoid bear break-ins, the small but hiker-friendly town of Lone Pine has several paid options for long-term parking. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Dow Villa Motel offer parking for a small fee.
Related Blog Posts:
- How to Apply for a Southbound JMT Permit
- JMT Maps, Apps, Books, & Resources
- John Muir Trail Gear List
- How to Resupply on the JMT
What questions do you have about John Muir Trail transportation? And if you’ve hiked the JMT, leave any tips in the comments below!