Resupply options are fairly straightforward in the northern section of the John Muir Trail (JMT) but it gets a little more complicated in the rugged, southern section where no backcountry ranches exist. For those with a strict timetable, it may be undesirable to have to spend a couple of days exiting the trail to get to a town to resupply. This is different from other long trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, where the trail goes through or very near towns. The JMT is actually part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) but even here, there are differences between the typical JMT vs PCT hiker. Since the JMT can be hiked in two to three weeks, it’s possible to sandwich it in between other of life’s responsibilities whereas the average PCT hiker has had to commit five or six months and may not feel the time pressure so intensely.
Food planning can be a daunting task. Options include purchasing backpacking meals or making your own. For those who want to make their own, there are choices between dehydrating whole meals or creating meals from individual dried ingredients. There are many sources for freeze-dried or dehydrated ingredients for those who don’t want to dehydrate their own. It costs a little more to purchase ingredients but dehydrating foods can be time-consuming. In the northern part of the trail, there are a few places where fuel and freeze-dried meals can be purchased, though the selection may be limited. Others may prefer to mail food packages to be assured of the foods they prefer.
From north to south, here are the resupply options. Each backcountry ranch and packer has their own requirements and specifications for shipping containers and shipping date windows so check their websites or contact them for the latest information. The dates of operation can vary quite a bit depending on such factors as snowpack and road clearance.
This is where some southbound (SOBO) hikers start the trail if they have a permit to begin at Happy Isles. The Village Store is fairly large and is stocked with freeze-dried and fresh ingredients. There is a Post Office if you need to mail a resupply package.
The next location for resupply is, Tuolumne Meadows, 22 miles from Yosemite Valley on the trail. 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 is located in the same building as the store. Mailed resupply packages may be sent here. The Post Office is closed on Sundays and federal holidays. Label resupply packages like this:
c\o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows Post Office
14000 Highway 120 East
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389-9906
Red’s Meadow is a general area where a US Forest Service Campground and Red’s Meadow Resort is located, about 60 miles from Yosemite. The resort is a backcountry pack station that has a store, restaurant, and cabins. They accept mailed resupply packages, sell freeze-dried meals, cheese, tortillas, fresh foods and breakfast items, though supplies vary and the may be out of some items. Red’s Meadow is a convenient place to resupply.
Located six miles from Red’s Meadow, Mammoth Lakes 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. Vons Supermarket and Pharmacy and several outdoor stores (such as Mammoth Mountaineering Supply) are good places to resupply and replace equipment. Resupply packages may be mailed to the Mammoth Lakes Post Office.
Vermilion Valley Ranch (VVR)
Vermilion Valley Ranch is not on the trail, being over four miles from Mono Creek (or less from the ferry, if it’s running), but it’s a popular place to resupply. You can stay there, purchase food and they have a restaurant. You can also mail resupply 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.
Muir Trail Ranch (MTR)
Muir Trail Ranch is a scant 0.6 mile off the trail (and 20 miles from VVR) and is the last resupply option going SOBO. For this reason, it is a popular place to resupply. The primary business of MTR is to serve their 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. They accept mailed resupplies but the tiny store stocks only a small supply of sundries and does not sell any food or drink. In peak season, large quantities of rejected supplies in hiker barrels may be used to supplement your own resupply but this can be skimpy at times. Only paying customers have access to their 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.
Between MTR and Whitney/Horseshoe Meadows
Here is where it gets tricky. This is a long stretch for most hikers, being 112 miles to Whitney Portal (or Horseshoe Meadows over Cottonwood Pass or Cottonwood Lakes). This translates to more than 10 days for many hikers, depending on how fast you hike. There are a few options but none is as convenient as the type of resupply options available in the northern part.
Kearsarge Pass Exit
2020 Update: In 2020, Inyo National Forest made a change to remove the allowance for exiting the trail for 24 hours to resupply. Here is the new wording from the permit reservation page on Recreation.gov:
A permit is valid for continuous wilderness travel, including across the boundary of adjacent wilderness areas in our neighboring parks or forests. However, leaving the trail to enter at a different location requires a new permit.
This is the wording from the Wilderness Permits& Reservations page on the Inyo NF website:
If you have a break in continuous travel, a new permit would be required from the agency where the next section of your trip begins. The Inyo National Forest will make an exception for JMT hikers to exit for a reasonable period of time necessary for resupply.
Inyo posted a long comment on their Facebook Page on 1/31/2020 regarding resupply. Because it wasn’t clear that they reinstated the 24-hour allowance in the press release, I asked for clarification. I received this response from the Public Affairs Specialist in Inyo: “Based upon a discussion with the Forest Leadership Team, there is no clarification to the statement released on Friday about permits and resupply. This is a fluid situation so stay tuned for updates.
Kearsarge Pass Resupply Options
Kearsarge Pass is a lateral trail that ends in Onion Valley (with trailhead parking, campground and Sequoia Kings Pack Station). It is about 7.3 miles from the JMT/PCT to Onion Valley. There is a road from Onion Valley to the tiny town of Independence 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 at your own risk. They must be labeled with your name and expected date of pickup (pad the date just a little to give yourself extra time). The rangers dispose of unclaimed food. The Onion Valley Campground is located here.
- Independence, CA-get a ride to Independence (population 669). A resupply package may be mailed to the Post Office (see Tuolumne Meadows above for format but use this address: 101 S Edwards Street, Independence, CA 93526) or limited supplies may be purchased from the convenience store/gas station. Another option is to take the ESTA bus from Independence to the larger towns of Lone Pine or Bishop where the resupply options are greater.
- Mt. Williamson Motel and Base Camp-take a zero day, get picked up and retrieve a mailed resupply at this Independence-based motel, known for their hiker-friendly service. They offer transportation to and from the trail, receive mailed resupply packages for anyone, whether overnight guest or not, laundry, fuel sales and bear canister rental. They will do what they can to assist hikers so I recommend that you give them a call if you have questions about how they can work within the Inyo rules.
- Friend Assist-If you have a really good friend, perhaps they’d be willing to hike in from Onion Valley with supplies for you. They could meet you at Charlotte Lake (on the JMT) or you could meet them part way at beautiful Kearsarge Lakes. They would need to obtain a Kearsarge Pass Trail permit from Inyo National Forest for an overnight stay
Packer Info: 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. You must meet the packer; they will not leave supplies unattended. It is best to plan a food drop on a zero (layover) day.
- Sequoia Kings Pack Trains is located in Independence, though their physical location is adjacent to the Onion Valley parking lot. Brian and Danica Berner are owners of both this and the Pine Creek Pack Station, located in Bishop, CA.
- 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 for you. Maximum weight per mule is 90 pounds.
- 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 to you at Charlotte Lake, Evolution Valley or other locations in the area via horse/mule train.
- Hot showers are available for a small fee.
- Phone: 800-962-0775 for reservations; 760-387-2627, 760-387-2797 (station offices); 760-920-5588, 760-920-1232 (mobile); Email: email@example.com. Be patient. They provide reliable service but are sometimes delayed in returning calls.
- Cedar Grove Pack Station at Road’s End/Kings Canyon NP, which drops at the suspension bridge at Wood’s Creek
- Other packers:
A few services exist that cater to the needs of long distance hikers in two ways. These services have an online store and they accept packages that they can forward. Hikers can order freeze-dried and dehydrated foods and they will deliver them to any address.
Sonora Pass ResupplyClosed in 2020.
- Zero Day Resupply – Provides an online store that can mail supplies to any of the resupply locations. This service is based in New Hampshire.
Regulations from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection restrict the types of food that may be brought into the United States. Food must be declared upon entry. Most commercial products in their original packaging are allowed, except meats. Fresh fruits and vegetables may also be restricted.
When I travel overseas, I bring snacks I like, some freeze-dried foods in original packaging and extra zip-lock bags. When I arrive, I transfer bulky food into the bags to reduce packaging and weight. I shop locally to supplement what we bring.
I recommend bringing some foods you know you like, especially for the first leg of the journey. For resupply food drops, I would either shop at the locations that have stores (Tuolumne Meadows, Red’s Meadow, VVR) and order from online sources (Amazon or Zero Day Resupply) to have food mailed to MTR. For the section from MTR to the end, you’ll face the same situation as others (see options listed above).