A Complete Guide to Resupply on the John Muir Trail
Editor’s Note: In light of the COVID crisis, The Trek is committed to following all CDC and trail organization recommendations. As trails open up and longer hikes become possible, it’s important to modify plans for self-sufficiency. The NPS and governing trail organizations have been sending out updates as they become available. Stay up to date here.
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a 211-mile trail that undulates across numerous high passes in the Sierra Nevada. The trail has several resupply options along the way but does not pass through any towns. The Northern Terminus is located at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park (YNP) while the Southern Terminus is at the summit of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,500 feet. After summiting Whitney, hikers must walk 11 more miles to reach a road at Whitney Portal.
Many hikers prefer to start in Yosemite and hike southbound (SOBO) to Mount Whitney to acclimate gradually to the altitude, but permits can be difficult to obtain. Others choose to start at Whitney Portal or Horseshoe Meadow (located at 10,000 feet) to go northbound (NOBO). The PCT overlaps with much of the JMT, but most PCT hikers go NOBO and are out of the Southern Sierra before the peak season for JMT hikers begins.
Important Information for 2020
Given the unusual circumstances of this year due to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), parks, forests, and businesses that support hikers are having to devise new strategies in response to health and safety regulations and recommendations. The businesses listed here have indicated that they intend to provide services this year, but it is strongly recommended that hikers check websites, follow Facebook pages (if available), and communicate directly with each enterprise to confirm details such as dates of operation, mailing and pickup information, availability of hiker buckets, need to maintain social distancing, and requirements to wear masks. In addition, it appears that public transportation options may be reduced or canceled this year, which could affect ease of movement to different locations.
JMT vs PCT Hikers
Theoretically, the resupply options for JMT and PCT hikers are the same. However, there are several nuances that change the dynamics between these two groups of thru-hikers, including timing and hiking speed. PCT thru-hikers may pass through the Sierra before or after many of the summer resupply locations are open. The timeframe needed to complete the hike varies quite a bit between JMT and PCT hikers. It’s probably fair to say that the average PCT thru-hiker has a flexible schedule that can expand and contract quite a bit over five or six months and is covering an enviable number of miles per day by the time NOBO hikers have walked 700 miles to reach the Sierra. PCT hikers may need fewer resupplies on the JMT and may not perceive a barrier in taking lateral trails that may add one to two days round-trip to visit a town to pick up provisions. Since the JMT may be completed in two to four weeks, it makes it more practical for hikers to sandwich it in between other life responsibilities and fit the hike into the amount of vacation time they have. JMT hikers often feel an acute time crunch and try to limit time off the main trail before, during, and after the hike. This article is written with the JMT hiker in mind.
Bear-proof food-storage containers must be used on the JMT. Approved canisters vary slightly by jurisdiction but the most popular cans are appropriate for the entire trail. These include the Bearikade, Bear Vault, and Garcia Backpacker’s Cache, among others. Note that the Ursack is approved for use within Inyo National Forest but, importantly, is not approved in Yosemite National Park or Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Bear cans may be rented or purchased.
When planning foods for resupply in the southern section of the JMT, care must be taken to choose calorie-dense foods that will fit entirely within the bear canister at night. It can be challenging to fit eight to ten days of food in a canister, especially in the smaller sizes. If a zero day is planned, note whether food is available for purchase at the resupply location or if you’ll need to send additional food for that day.
Resupply Options: Northern Section
Resupply options are fairly straightforward in the northern section of the JMT between Yosemite and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), where the trail skirts roads, a town, and two pack stations. There are several locations where meals, fuel, and hiker-friendly freeze-dried and fresh food can be purchased, though the selection may be limited. Others may prefer to mail resupply packages to be certain they have the food they prefer. Each facility has requirements and specifications for packaging and mailing so check websites carefully or contact them for the latest information.
It gets a little more complicated in the rugged, southern section of the Sierra where there are no towns within easy reach of the trail and no visitors centers, stores, or pack stations.
There may be permit restrictions that can affect resupply options. These have been in flux so read current permit regulations carefully to be sure it is possible to legally leave the trail to resupply.
Yosemite Valley, the main tourist hub in Yosemite National Park, is where SOBO hikers start the trail if they have a permit to begin at the Northern Terminus of the trail at Happy Isles. The Village Store in Yosemite Valley is fairly large and is stocked with freeze-dried and fresh ingredients. It’s a good place to pick up last-minute items before the hike starts. There is a US post office if a resupply package needs to be mailed ahead.
The next location for resupply is Tuolumne Meadows, 22 trail miles from Yosemite Valley. The Tuolumne Meadows Store is a very small store with a limited supply of freeze-dried meals and snacks. The Tuolumne Meadows Grill serves breakfast, burgers, and ice cream. A post office (phone number: (209) 372-8236) is located in the same building as the store and cafe. Mailed resupply packages may be sent here. The post office is closed on Sundays and federal holidays but employees at the store may be able to retrieve packages. To mail packages to a post office, use this format for the label:
c\o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows Post Office
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389-9906
Services at Tuolumne Meadows are closed in winter. They generally open at the end of May and close at the end of September, but it depends on snowfall and whether Tioga Road has been plowed. In heavy snow years the opening date may be delayed weeks. View Tioga Road Historical Seasonal Opening and Closing Dates.
Reds Meadow Valley is an area where Reds Meadow Campground, other US Forest Service campgrounds and Red’s Meadow Resort are located. It is about 60 miles from Yosemite. The rustic resort is a backcountry pack station that includes the Mule House Cafe, a general store, and cabins. They accept mailed resupply packages and sell fuel, freeze-dried meals, cheese, tortillas, fresh foods, breakfast items, beer, and wine. They are usually well-stocked, though specific items vary and may be in short supply at times. Due to the proximity to a shuttle bus stop and the town of Mammoth Lakes, Reds Meadow is a convenient place to resupply.
Cardboard boxes or plastic buckets may be used to mail food via US Postal Service only.
Red’s Meadow Resort usually opens in mid-June and closes October 1, depending on snow levels and other factors (including when the seasonal road is open). In dry years, they might open in early June, while in big snow years, they might not open until late July. Last year, they opened on June 26 and closed October 1 for resupply.
Located six miles from Reds Meadow, Mammoth Lakes (population 8,127) offers all the amenities of a thriving mountain town. The shuttle bus costs just a few dollars (less than $10) and connects to a network of free shuttles in town. Mammoth is well equipped with many restaurants, large and small grocery stores (Vons Supermarket and Pharmacy is the largest), pharmacies, and sporting goods stores (such as Mammoth Mountaineering Supply) where equipment can be replaced. Resupply packages may be mailed to the Mammoth Lakes post office. See the Tuolumne Meadows section above for the label format.
Vermilion Valley Ranch (VVR)
Vermilion Valley Ranch is not on the trail, being over four miles from Mono Creek, but it is close. The ferry, if it’s running, can shave off some time and effort. It’s a hiker-friendly place that is a popular resupply option. Trekkers can stay overnight in a tent, yurt or RV, purchase food, eat at the restaurant, and mail packages. It’s relatively close to MTR so some choose one or the other while others take advantage of both. It is accessible via a narrow, curvy road from the west for those wishing to start or end their trip at VVR, though most hikers find logistics easier to manage from the east side of the Sierra.
Cardboard boxes or plastic buckets may be used to mail food via UPS/FedEx or the US Postal Service (separate addresses are provided on the VVR website).
VVR usually opens in late May and closes in late October for resupply pickup. Other services may open later and close earlier. Last year, they opened on May 20 and closed October 20 for resupply.
Muir Trail Ranch (MTR)
Muir Trail Ranch is a scant 0.6 mile off the trail and 20 miles from VVR. It is the last convenient resupply option going SOBO. For this reason, it is a popular place to resupply. The primary business of MTR is to serve guests who stay in the cabins. Resupply is a side business that offers convenience to hikers but getting resupplies into this remote location is not easy. For a variety of reasons, MTR has strict rules that govern their service so hikers are advised to carefully read the information on their website and understand what services they provide to hikers who are not paying guests. They accept mailed resupplies but the tiny store stocks only a small supply of sundries and does not sell any food or beverages. In peak season, large quantities of rejected supplies in hiker barrels may be used to supplement a mailed resupply but this can be skimpy at times. Only paying customers have access to MTR’s meals and hot springs. There is an area along the river next to MTR where camping is allowed and public hot springs in a natural setting can be used if the river is safe to cross.
Plastic five-gallon buckets must be used to mail food via US Postal Service only.
Muir Trail Ranch usually opens around mid-June and closes at the end of September. Last year, they closed September 30. Dates can vary due to snowpack and other factors.
Resupply Options: Southern Section
Here is where it gets tricky. This 110-mile stretch from MTR to Whitney Portal has no on-trail resupply options. Also, the highest elevation passes on the JMT (12,000 to 14,505 feet) are in this section, which can slow even the fittest PCT hikers. This translates to more than ten days for many JMT hikers, depending on how fast they can hike with a fully loaded pack at high elevation. There are a few options but none is as convenient as those available in the northern part.
Hikers can depart from the JMT to access Parchers Resort near Bishop via Bishop Pass, a journey of 12 miles. A resupply package may be mailed to the Resort ahead of time and they will hold it for 30 days for a fee. They have the South Fork Cafe, a grocery store, laundry facilities and showers. The Bishop Creek Shuttle, operated by ESTA, is available for people needing to get into the town of Bishop for more supplies or to exit the trail.
Kearsarge Pass Trail to Onion Valley
Hikers can leave the JMT on the Kearsarge Pass Trail, a 7.3-mile lateral trail, over Kearsarge Pass (elevation 11,709 feet) to reach Onion Valley (elevation 9,600 feet). The Kearsarge Pass Trail junction is about 70 miles from Muir Trail Ranch. Onion Valley has a campground (no amenities), parking area, pit toilets and several bear-proof food boxes. A 13.2-mile paved road connects Onion Valley to the tiny town of Independence (elevation 3,930 feet; population 669) on Highway 395, the major transportation route on the eastern side of the Sierra.
- Onion Valley Food Boxes. Steel bear-proof food boxes are located at the Onion Valley parking lot near the trailhead entrance. Hikers may deposit food packages in these unlocked boxes ahead of their hike at their own risk. They must be labeled with the hiker’s name and expected date of pickup (pad the date just a little). The rangers dispose of unclaimed food. These are heavily used but there have been rare reports of theft.
- Independence, CA. To reach the town of Independence, hikers either hitchhike or hire a private shuttle such as the East Side Sierra Shuttle from Onion Valley. A resupply package may be mailed to the post office (101 S Edwards Street, Independence, CA 93526) ahead of the hike or limited supplies may be purchased from the convenience store/gas station.
- Mt. Williamson Motel and Base Camp. Hikers can take a zero day, get picked up and retrieve a mailed resupply at the Independence-based Williamson Motel and Base Camp that caters to hikers. They support hiker resupply from mid-June through the end of October.
- Sequoia Kings Pack Trains. This pack station, located adjacent to the Onion Valley parking lot, will hold mailed resupply packages. Hot showers are available for a small fee. See Packer Resupply section below for more details.
- Friend Assist. If a really good friend is available, perhaps they’d be willing to hike in from Onion Valley with supplies. Charlotte Lake (on the JMT) or beautiful Kearsarge Lakes are potential meeting spots. They would need to obtain a Kearsarge Pass Trail wilderness permit from Inyo National Forest for an overnight stay.
Pack stations in the Sierra will provide food drops, known as dunnage drops, via mule train. There are packer stations up and down the Sierra but the two locations that meet the needs of most JMT hikers are listed below. The packer must be met in person on the trail; they will not leave supplies unattended.
- Sequoia Kings Pack Trains. Brian and Danica Berner own both Sequoia Kings Pack Trains (Independence) and the Pine Creek Pack Outfit (Bishop). They can cross Kearsarge Pass and deliver a food drop at Charlotte Lake or other locations in the area via horse/mule train.
- Supplies may be mailed or dropped off at either of their locations and they can refrigerate or freeze foods at no additional charge. They can purchase fresh food and fuel to supplement a resupply.
- Supplies may be picked up at their stations or they can provide a food drop on the trail. They provide service over Kearsarge, Shepherd, Sawmill, Taboose and Italy Passes, and can deliver a food drop at Charlotte Lake, Evolution Valley, or other locations in the area via horse/mule train. The maximum weight per mule is 90 pounds.
- Phone: 800-962-0775 for reservations; 760-387-2627, 760-387-2797 (station offices); 760-920-5588, 760-920-1232 (mobile); Email: [email protected]. Be patient. They provide reliable service but are sometimes delayed in returning calls.
- Cedar Grove Pack Station at Road’s End in Kings Canyon National Park can drop a mailed resupply at the suspension bridge at Wood’s Creek (about 60 miles from Muir Trail Ranch).
- Other packers.
Mailing Services and Further Resources
With some planning, hikers can utilize a combination of these services to meet their resupply needs along the JMT.
Zero Day Resupply has an online store that can mail supplies to any of the resupply locations. This service is based in New Hampshire.
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