John Muir Trail experience: hiking 340km in the Sierra Nevada

View of Lyell Canyon, California | Ken Harris
View of Lyell Canyon, California | Ken Harris

It does not matter who or what you are, the John Muir Trail welcomes everyone as equals.

The beauty of the trail is not just in the grandeur of the mountains but in the simplest of things. Like the last petal on the flower, the yellow glow of the aspens in the sun, and the antics of the chipmunks and squirrels as they chase each other through the trees and over rocks. If you ever have the chance encounter, you may even spot a coyote on its prey, or see a deer in the meadows that's so close you can imagine it being the softest of touch.

For those that accept its challenges but respect its wilderness, then the rewards are great.

Overlooking view of Lyell Canyon, California. Photo: Ken Harris.

It is more than simply ticking it off your bucket list, however. To walk the John Muir Trail and see only tracks, then one has not lifted one’s eyes to its beauty and splendour. If it does not capture your soul, then you have not trekked the John Muir Trail but simply walked a trail.

To endure – to realise a dream – will make the John Muir Trail awaken a part of you that will stay with you forever.

Experiencing the grandeur of the John Muir Trail brings forward new discoveries that will overload ones senses, as both before you and behind you, the landscape unfolds. Don’t just look to the trail, look left and right, and don’t forget the sky full of eagles and nutcrackers soaring high. Witness the sun against the dead pine sparkling in the light, the changing colours of the rocks, and the gentle noise of the creek through the meadow. It’s the details within the landscape that one can be lost in.

Get lost in a place of stunning scenery and majestic mountains over the Donohue Pass –  it's the ultimate camp scenery. Photo: Ken Harris.

The photos you take along the way will never truly show the majesty of the John Muir Trail, but will act as a window to your soul. While a million photos will never capture the splendour of the John Muir Trail, a single photo can contain a lifetime of memories.

Do not ask how long it took to trek the John Muir Trail. Simply ask whether it changed you.

Did it open your eyes to its beauty? Did it focus your thoughts on those that are most precious?

Look back, not at where you have come from but what you have achieved. Not just the footprints on the trail, but how you have changed and your spirit renewed or reborn.

As you travel down the paths, it becomes more than just about ‘taking only photos and leaving only footprints’, for each footprint is a memory that will stay both in your mind and in your heart forever.

The chatter of the trail is about what is ahead or achievements gained. The mention of another encounter with a bear or a coyote heightens one’s senses and makes the trail seem like a path to yet another experience.

Trekking through the John Muir Trail. Photo: Ken Harris.

By just walking one part of the trail, the experience will drive a desire to complete the entire trek. It is a trail like no other in its history and meaning. The further you walk and meet people coming the other way, the more you realise how much it has changed you. Peace starts to descend and a more relaxed and simple desire exists.

The trek helps you find peace and contentment on the simplest of things. The posse of a squirrel on the rock makes your heart sing and the chipmunk trying to outrun you across the trail brings a smile, even on the darkest days. The ray of light through the storm highlights the yellow leaves of the aspen shows that beauty exists everywhere along the trail.

To trek the John Muir Trail is to live, love smile and cry. It will awaken all your senses – even those thought hidden away. If you open your heart to it – your spirit will enliven, your soul renewed and your mind overloaded with special memories that nothing could ever remove them, not even time. The John Muir Trail will stay special forever.

Picturesque rest stop along the trail. Photo: Ken Harris.

Words by Ken Harris who walked the trail in 2016.

What's a walking trail you've experienced that holds special memories to you?

Experience it

Appreciate one of North America’s great treks in our 22-day full pack hike. Travel from Yosemite's Crabtree Meadow to the Summit of Mount Whitney, and immerse yourself in unsurpassed views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. View the trip details >

North America, California, Yosemite

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Himalayan bird

Alaska is other name of Adventure, Wish I could spend a decade there.

5 years ago
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