A Comprehensive Guide to Resupplying on the John Muir Trail

I kid you not, one of  the first questions my mom asked me when I told her I was planning on hiking the John Muir Trail was, “But.. how are you going to eat?”  After I entertained myself with some cheesy joke along the lines of, “um, with my mouth,” I informed her that the JMT has a few resupply points along the trail, in which you can send yourself food and necessities.  Planning your resupply points is arguably one of the most important things to plan out before you start your hike. Many of the resupply points require you to send out your resupply weeks in advance. You don’t want to be stuck without a resupply upon your arrival to Vermilion Valley Resort or Muir Trail Ranch!

Below is a comprehensive guide to all of the ways to resupply on the JMT!  You will find the resupply methods that I used on my hike in bold. Yes, I only resupplied twice, and yes, that meant carrying 10 days worth of food from Muir Trail Ranch to Mount Whitney.  No, it wasn’t ideal, but it was the only plan that we had to work with, so we made it work.

On trail, from north to south:

Tuolumne Meadows – Located pretty much right on-trail, the post office is a great resupply option for hikers. The Tuolumne Meadows post office will hold packages for thru-hikers at no cost; however, if you choose to utilize this option, make sure that the post office is actually open before you send your package. The post office is only open seasonally, and often doesn’t open until after thru-hikers have started to pass through. The “well-stocked” Tuolumne Meadows General Store is in the same building as the post office, so if you happen to forget something in your resupply, you have a little safety net! I’ve heard that many hikers decide to skip a resupply at Tuolumne Meadows, since it is only 23 miles from Happy Isles, but 23 miles is 23 miles. Considering the climb out of Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows is over 6000 feet, if the cost of shipping your resupply box isn’t an issue, it is a great option.

Reds Meadow – Reds Meadow Resort, located less than a half mile off trail, is an extremely popular resupply point for hikers. Reds Meadow will pick up your package from the Mammoth Lakes post office and hold it until pick-up for a flat fee of $40. If you are going to be in the area and are available to drop off your resupply, Reds Meadow charges a holding fee of $3 a day. Reds Meadow Resort offers showers and recharging stations for hikers, as well as hiker cabins for an additional fee. Plus, the general store sells COLD BEER.. ON TRAIL. Like, what else do you need?? For more information about Reds Meadow Resort, click here.

Vermilion Valley Resort – From May 20 to October 20, 2019, Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) offers resupply service for thru-hikers. While it isn’t technically located “on-trail,” it is very easily considered to be on-trail, considering its remote location. Located 6.3 miles off of the JMT, VVR requires a little more effort to get to than any of the other on-trail resupply points. From approximately June to September, VVR offers a water taxi from 9 am to 4 pm, shaving 4.8 miles off of your hike. The water taxi costs $13 one way or $23 round trip, and tickets can be purchased upon arriving at the resort – no reservations needed. From June through September 15, VVR charges $30 per resupply bin (5-gallon bucket, cardboard box, you name it). For resupply bins outside of this window (May or September 16 – October), VVR charges $50 per bin. VVR asks that you send your resupply at least two weeks in advance, and will hold your bin for 30 days after your anticipated resupply date. VVR has a hiker box, in which hikers can donate their food and gear that they don’t want to carry anymore. The resort also offers showers, beds, and meals to hikers for a fee, as well as free charging stations! I’ve heard from a lot of sources that VVR is extremely kind to thru-hikers – if it hadn’t been so far off trail, I would have loved to check it out for myself! More information available here.

Muir Trail Ranch – Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) allows you to send a resupply bucket for $80.  Located only .9 miles off of the JMT and pretty much smack-dab halfway along the trail (111 miles from Happy Isles; 110 miles from Whitney Portal), MTR is extremely accessible to thru-hikers.  MTR asks that you send your resupply in a secured 5-gallon bucket with your resupply date clearly labeled.  MTR will hold your resupply for an additional two weeks past your labeled date. To make sure that your bucket arrives on time, MTR asks that you ship it out at least three weeks before you intend to pick it up.  Resupply pick-up is available from 8am – 5pm, but we decided to arrive late, camp there that night, and pick-up our bucket in the morning. This: 1) allowed us to take our time getting to MTR, 2) gave us time to explore the hot springs across the river, and 3) gave us a little more room in our bear bin, as we didn’t have to place either night’s dinner in it.  Although it forced us to have a little later start that morning, I personally thought it was worth it not to have to worry about it the night before. If you are somehow sick of all the food that you put in you bucket three weeks prior (not a great feeling), MTR utilizes hiker boxes, in which hikers can donate the food that they don’t want! I picked up ritz crackers, a packet of justin’s peanut butter, and a chocolate bar (who gave that up?!), and it was all HEAVENLY. Since the postal service does not allow you to ship fuel canisters, MTR sells them. We found some extras in the hiker box, so check that first! ALSO, MTR lets you drop off your trash with them, and for that, they get an A+. 10/10 recommend. To access the MTR website and purchase your shipping label, click here.

Off trail, but relatively easy access:

Town of Mammoth Lakes – The town of Mammoth Lakes is the perfect resupply town. Located just a short bus ride from Red’s Meadow ($7 roundtrip), it offers hikers access to a grocery store, post office, and plenty of hotels to rejuvenate and relax at. The town is extremely hiker-friendly, and has free shuttles for visitors to get around. You can ship your resupply to the Mammoth Lakes Post Office, but if you are planning on resupplying in Mammoth, I would recommend just shopping for your resupply at one of the grocery, gear, or drug stores in town (Vons, Mammoth Mountaineering, Rite Aid, etc.). We kept our resupply at a friend’s house and picked it up after taking the shuttle into town from Agnew Meadow. Because we were in town, we were able to supplement it with a few things that we hadn’t thought to pack before. Having access to a grocery store was extremely convenient, and for me, that alone was more than worth making the trek back into Mammoth.

Town of Independence via Kearsarge Pass – This is a tough resupply, but if you aren’t stoked on the thought of going without a resupply from VVR or MTR to Whitney, it is a good option. Getting off the JMT and into Independence requires you to hike 7.6 miles over Kearsarge Pass to the Onion Valley trailhead and hitchhike into town. There are two resupply options in Independence: the Independence Post Office or the Mt. Williamson Motel. The post office will hold your resupply box at no charge. The Mt. Williamson Motel, on the other hand, is pretty expensive, but they have a pretty sweet resupply set-up. For $195 per person ($365 for two people, double occupancy), the Mt. Williamson motel will hold your resupply, reserve a room for you, provide you with a hot breakfast in the morning, give you access to their laundry facilities, and will give you a ride to and from the Onion Valley trailhead. While expensive, you are getting quite the bang for your buck. For more information, visit their website here. If you choose to resupply in Independence, please keep in mind that the town is extremely small. The only market in town is the Owens Valley Growers Cooperative. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard that their grocery selection is relatively small, so I would be little hesitant to depend on it for your entire resupply.

Deliverable resupply:

Another option for an on-trail resupply is to have somebody hike in your resupply to you.  For the two years prior to my hike on the JMT, I lived in Mammoth Lakes, California; the only town that is essentially “on-trail” on the JMT.  I had a couple of friends who graciously offered to hike in a resupply for us over Kearsarge and Shepherd Passes; however, as much as I trusted my friends and appreciated their offers, I was too nervous to take any of them up.  While I had no doubt that they would be there on the day that we had scheduled, I had absolutely no way of contacting them on-trail if my schedule did it change (and oh, did it change). Due to our personal schedule, we had to exit the JMT on the original day that we had planned – and not a day later.  If we somehow missed our resupply (lets say, because of 5-6 inches of snow on July 8th, blocking our ascent up Muir Pass and pushing us back an entire day… just a hypothetical here), we didn’t have time to hike out to grab more food and hike back in. It could have meant the difference in finishing our hike or not.  As much as carrying 10 days of food out of Muir Trail Ranch sucked, it was worth it to me not to have to worry about our upcoming resupply.

That being said, if you have a flexible schedule or some way to contact your resupply carrier, having your resupply personally delivered to you can be a great option!  And if you don’t have friends who are eager to hike in your food for you, there are a few different agencies throughout the Eastern Sierra that will deliver your resupply for a fee.  For a complete list of the Sierra pack trains, visit here.

If you have any questions about resupplying on the JMT, feel free to leave it in the comments or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com. Always happy to help!