John Muir Trail Is Completed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the completion of Forester Pass, the 212-mile John Muir Trail, which runs along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, made a unique wilderness experience possible for more people.

Summary of Event

Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, 13,150 feet above sea level, was the last portion of the John Muir Trail to be completed. Work began on the pass in 1930; because the pass was located on the boundary of the Sequoia National Forest and the Sequoia National Park, both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior provided crews for the project. Forester Pass, sometimes called the Golden Staircase, is a narrow notch 187 miles from the north end of the trail, beginning at Happy Isles, 4,035 feet above sea level. The view from the pass includes several lakes, Kern Canyon, the Kings-Kern Divide, and the treacherous Kaweah Peaks. [kw]John Muir Trail Is Completed (1938) [kw]Muir Trail Is Completed, John (1938) [kw]Trail Is Completed, John Muir (1938) John Muir Trail Wilderness preservation Conservation;wilderness [g]United States;1938: John Muir Trail Is Completed[09650] [c]Environmental issues;1938: John Muir Trail Is Completed[09650] [c]Travel and recreation;1938: John Muir Trail Is Completed[09650] Muir, John Solomons, Theodore S. Colby, William E.

It was appropriate that this mountain trail should be named for naturalist and mountaineer John Muir. Muir had come to Yosemite in 1868 after emigrating to Wisconsin from Dunbar, Scotland, and the beauty of the region had captivated him. The following year, he worked as a shepherd in the High Sierras, exploring and recording his experiences. Later, he wrote books and articles, published his drawings, and gave lectures on his wilderness experiences.

In 1892, Muir helped to found the Sierra Club. Sierra Club Initially, the club limited its efforts to the conservation of wildlife and the natural formations of the Sierra Nevada. In 1903, Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt camped together in Yosemite, an experience that underlay the significant conservation efforts of the Roosevelt administration. Yosemite National Park

Sierra Club members, who explored, photographed, and mapped the High Sierra region, were pioneers in generating the public support needed for developing the John Muir Trail. The club published information that enabled many hikers to experience the wonders of the area, and club members led small expeditions. The club made handbooks available that explained the geography, geology, and plant and animal life of the High Sierra region, provided information on side routes along the major sections of the trail, and described techniques for living in the wilderness.

Once the John Muir Trail was completed, hikers could begin at the northern end in Yosemite Valley and follow the natural ridges and valleys of the High Sierra. Some portions were old sheep and Indian trails. South of the Yosemite area, the trail never drops below 7,500 feet, and the altitude increases steadily to Cathedral Pass at 9,700 feet, 17.3 miles from the trail’s beginning. At this point, the trail affords a view of Upper Cathedral Lake. Over the next 4.2 miles, the trail descends 1,100 feet to the Tuolumne Meadows and, 0.7 miles further on, to Soda Springs, Muir’s favorite campsite. After that, the trail ascends again to Donohue Pass, at the southeastern boundary of Yosemite National Park.

Devils Postpile National Monument National monuments;Devils Postpile lies 56 miles south of the trailhead. The area is marked by a wall of polygonal columns created by basalt that poured from a volcano about 100,000 years ago. Most of the columns are five- or six-sided, and some are sixty feet tall. Another climb of 2,500 feet and 12.4 miles brings the trail to Duck Pass, which lies at one end of Duck Lake, one of the largest lakes in the High Sierra; it can be reached only by trails.





Over the next 54.9 miles, the trail’s altitude fluctuates between 10,860 and 7,750 feet. Sapphire Lake lies at 11,000 feet and Wanda Lake at 11,500 feet. The Muir Pass is at 11,955 feet. The next high points on the trail are Mather Pass at 12,000 feet, Pinchot Pass at 12,100 feet, and Forester Pass. After that, the trail does not drop below 10,000 feet as it climbs to the summit of Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet the highest point in the contiguous United States. Thirty-eight lateral trails connect the John Muir Trail to automotive routes, and there is an 8-mile extension to the trail on which hikers can wind down the eastern side of Mount Whitney to Whitney Portal.

The idea for the trail began in 1888 in the mind of fourteen-year-old Theodore S. Solomons, who was working on a cattle ranch in the High Sierra. Solomons could see the mountain peaks in the distance, and he envisioned a route that horses and mules could travel while carrying heavy camping items. In 1888, twenty-three years before the trail actually began to be constructed, Solomons explored the possibility of a trail southward from Yosemite Valley, and three years later, he forged a trail from Yosemite Valley one hundred miles south. Many of these paths form portions of the northern half of the John Muir Trail. Beginning in 1898, Joseph N. LeConte and other Sierra Club members explored the difficult passes and canyons of the southern section near the Kings-Kern Divide; this area was later found to require much more blasting and construction than the northern half of the trail.

The specific proposal for the trail was formulated in 1914, the year John Muir died. The project was funded by the California legislature and placed under the direction of state engineer Wilbur F. McClure. McClure, Wilbur F. Construction began in 1917. The U.S. Forest Service contributed to the development of the trail, and the Sierra Club lobbied for state appropriations until the trail was completed in 1938. The total cost was $50,000.


Even during the twenty-one years of the construction of the John Muir Trail, many people enjoyed the completed sections of trail. By 1934, the increased use of Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows required that it be improved. William E. Colby, a Sierra Club secretary who had worked to develop the John Muir Trail and make the mountains accessible to many people, petitioned the National Park Service not to reroute the road, as had been suggested, because the rerouted road would harm the wilderness that Muir wished people to enjoy. The Park Service followed Colby’s and the Sierra Club’s recommendations.

The completion of Forester Pass made one of the most scenic spots in the High Sierra accessible to many people, even the occasional hiker. Previously an animal crossing on the Kings-Kern Divide, the pass had been difficult for any but trained mountaineers to reach. A plaque at the pass, erected by fellow workers, honors Donald Davis, who died on September 2, 1930, at the age of nineteen in a rock slide during construction of Forester Pass.

In 1939, the Sierra Club made the protection of the high country around the John Muir Trail one of its main priorities. In 1940, the club supported a bill that established the King’s Canyon National Park in 1940. Together with the Sequoia National Park, this area formed an 11,320-square-mile twin-park wilderness region.

The completion of the John Muir Trail through Forester Pass also helped promote the development of the Pacific Crest Trail System, Pacific Crest Trail System which Clinton Clark initiated in the 1930’s and which eventually ran along the entire length of the West Coast. This trail was linked to the 442-mile Oregon Skyline Trail and to 185 miles of the John Muir Trail—the area from Forester Pass through Devils Postpile National Monument and Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. Later, these trails were connected with the 445-mile Cascade Crest Trail Cascade Crest Trail in Washington, which was completed in 1941.

Eventually, the John Muir Trail passed through three national parks (Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon), one national monument (Devils Postpile), and four national wilderness areas (John Muir, Sequoia, Minarets—now known as Ansel Adams—and Kings Canyon). This caused some problems, because each park and area had its own regulations. For example, the Forest Service, Forest Service, U.S.;John Muir Trail under the Department of Agriculture, promoted an “adopt-a-trail” policy in the wilderness areas and allowed in-season hunting, guns, and dogs on trails adjacent to the John Muir Trail itself. The service considered site restoration and trail maintenance to be priorities; over the years, however, the service’s focus gradually shifted from conservation toward preservation. The parks administered by the Department of the Interior employed park rangers who enforced strict regulations, including rules against pack trains, which the early developers of the trail saw as the only way some people could enjoy the trail. Hunting and firearms were not allowed in these park areas, and vehicles, even helicopters, were used to move working crews to their assignments, to remove garbage, and to undertake rescue work.

Because the John Muir Trail proved so popular, permits became necessary to control the number of people using it. This presented many questions, among them whether the land is more important than the people. Use of the trail showed the need for the application of scientific management techniques, not only to care for the land but also to influence government and private action. Since its completion, the John Muir Trail has offered a prime example of the need to maintain a delicate balance between policies that protect wilderness and policies that allow people to enjoy it. John Muir Trail Wilderness preservation Conservation;wilderness

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cohen, Michael P. The History of the Sierra Club, 1892-1970. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988. Provides excellent background information on the organization primarily responsible for the development of the John Muir Trail.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fishbein, Seymour L. Wilderness U.S.A. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1973. Excellent collection of photographs taken in wilderness areas, including the four through which the John Muir Trail passes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lantis, David W., Rodney Steiner, and Arthur E. Karinen. California: Land of Contrast. 3d rev. ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1981. Provides a short summary of the history of the John Muir Trail and a detailed account of the various areas through which the trail passes. Also discusses trails that join the John Muir Trail. Includes many black-and-white photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lowe, Don, and Roberta Lowe. The John Muir Trail: A Complete Hiking Guide. 1982. Reprint. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 2001. Presents a historical summary as well as a careful description of the trail. Describes wildlife and rock formations to be found along the trail as well as road exits and side trails. Includes black-and-white photographs and detailed maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muir, John. The Yosemite. 1912. Reprint. New York: Modern Library, 2003. Excellent source of insight into Muir’s personality and his struggle to protect his beloved Yosemite. The tone is lyrical in places, providing the reader with vivid word pictures of the High Sierra scenery.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, Roderick Frazier. Wilderness and the American Mind. 4th ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Intellectual history of Americans’ relationship with the wilderness. Begins with the earliest days of European contact.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roth, Hal. Pathway in the Sky: The Story of the John Muir Trail. Berkeley, Calif.: Howell North Books, 1965. Provides a history of the trail and information on its geology and wildlife. Also describes the area around Forester Pass.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Starr, Walter A., Jr. Starr’s Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1974. Trail guide continually revised and updated since it was first published in 1934. Includes detailed map and description of the trail as well as an excellent history.

First U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Is Established

Roosevelt and Muir Visit Yosemite

Pinchot Becomes Head of the U.S. Forest Service

Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims

Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources

U.S. Congress Approves a Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley

National Park Service Is Created

Federal Power Commission Disallows Kings River Dams

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