John Muir Wilderness

Named after one of the Sierra’s most dedicated advocates, the John Muir Wilderness consists of more than half a million acres, bringing together some of the most spectacular landscape in the Sierra Nevada. It was designated in the 1964 Wilderness Act and contains the highest peak in the lower 48 states: Mt. Whitney at 14,495 feet. In addition to granite peaks and glacially carved canyons, the John Muir protects the headwaters of the South and Middle Forks of the San Joaquin River, as well as the North Fork of the Kings River.


The John Muir Wilderness is accessible from both sides of the Sierra Nevada. Most visitors, however, enter from the east at various points along highway 395, from the town of Mammoth at the north end down to Whitney Portal above Lone Pine at the south end. See the sidebar for public transportation options.


Permits are required for all overnight trips in the John Muir Wilderness, and all trailheads have quotas. Why? Quotas apply to all overnight visitors, whether you use the services of a commercial outfitter/guide or not.

Wilderness Permits are available from the Sierra and Inyo National Forests, depending on where you plan to enter the Wilderness.


As the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt Whitney is a popular destination. In order to preserve this area as a wilderness, permits are required for all day use and overnight trips in the “Whitney Zone.” All the info you’ll need is available from the Inyo National Forest.


No more than 15 people and 25 head of stock are allowed per group on overnight trips. Why?


The Inyo and Sierra National Forests each have a forest order regarding “proper food storage”. They prohibit possessing or storing any food or refuse unless stored in a bear-proof container or in another manner designed to keep bears from gaining access to the food or refuse. In addition to this, bear canisters are required in certain areas within Inyo National Forest.

All Inyo visitor centers rent backpacker bear canisters. Limited numbers are available. Visitor centers also have bear canisters available for sale, as do many local sporting goods stores.

More information about traveling in bear country in Inyo National Forest


Campfires are generally allowed within the John Muir Wilderness below “tree line” (around 10,000 feet), though there are exceptions. Check campfire regulations in the Inyo National Forest and Sierra National Forest for specifics.


  • Pack goats are not recommended in Big Horn Sheep habitat areas while their impacts are being evaluated. For more information about Big Horn Sheep recovery, check the following links: Sheep Facts Big Horn Recovery
  • Dogs are allowed in the John Muir Wilderness, but are not allowed in wilderness areas in adjacent national parks.
  • Pet food must be stored to the same standard as people food. In areas where use of a bear resistant food storage container is required, pet food must be stored in your container.
  • Leashes protect dogs from becoming lost and from wilderness hazards such as porcupines, mountain lions, and sick, injured or rabid animals.
  • Unleashed dogs may intimidate other hikers and their dogs, depriving them of a peaceful wilderness experience.
  • Unleashed dogs may harass, injure and sometimes kill wildlife.
  • A leashed dog’s keen senses can enhance your awareness of nearby wildlife or other visitors.


  • Camping is prohibited: within 300 ft. of the outlet of Duck Lake and Purple Lake; at Mirror Lake and Trailside Meadow on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail; within 500 feet of Golden Trout Lake (Sierra NF); with pack and saddle east of Shepherd Pass.
  • Fishing is a popular activity in the John Muir Wilderness, even though trout are not native to most of the lakes and streams. A California fishing license is required for everyone aged 16 and older. Licenses are available at many stores and resorts near departure trailheads, but it is smart to obtain one and a copy of the fishing regulations ahead of time.
  • Fishing must be catch and release only at Cottonwood Lakes 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the John Muir Wilderness.
  • All other lakes in the Cottonwood Lakes Basin are restricted to artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks, limit 5. Season is July 1 – November 15.

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