Traffic Jam on the JMT

posted Jan 16, 2015, 8:35 AM by Paul Wagner
There's a lot of interest right now in hiking permits---particularly for the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir trail--possibly as a result of the recent Hollywood film "Wild."  Word is out that Yosemite National Park and some of the other jurisdictions are looking for ways to keep traffic on the JMT to a manageable level.  Right now, the figures we've seen are that you can expect to meet about seventy people each day hiking the JMT. 

To put that in perspective, we can't remember the last time we took a backpacking trip where we saw seventy people, total. Usually we see fewer than twenty over the course of three or four days. 

So the authorities are talking to each other, trying to find ways to allow people to enjoy the wilderness, while still trying to preserve that wilderness.  Unlimited access is a terrible idea:  too many new campsites, too much trash, too many trails turned into massive sandy "freeways," too many people who leave food out...the list is long, and the damage is lasting. 

That's the JMT in Lyell Canyon at left.

The JMT leaves from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, goes up to Tuolumne Meadows, and then continues down the Sierra crest all the way to Mt. Whitney and exits at Whitney Portal--over 200 miles.

At right:  P at the JMT in Tuolumne Meadows

And there is a clear trail quote limit for the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite.  But that doesn't seem to be working anymore, because hikers have checked out their maps and discovered that you can access most of that same first section of the trail by hiking in at nearby trailheads and then hopping on the JMT express.  So while they might only issue twenty permits a day for the Happy Isles entry, they are now seeing hikers max out the Sunrise, Glacier Point, Cathedral Lakes, Lyell Canyon, and Rafferty Creek trailheads as well...and all of them heading up over Donohue Pass and off along the John Muir Trail.   All of which is legal under current regulations.

What's the solution?  One possibility would be an "exit" permit that allows you to hike over Donohue Pass.  Without that permit you could hike around Yosemite, but not head south out of the park on the John Muir Trail.  By limiting the traffic over Donohue, they would be able to limit overall traffic on the JMT. 

A crowd at Thousand Island Lake, south of Donohue Pass on the John Muir Trail

We'll keep you posted if we hear anything more.