Logistical Considerations

When to go

The optimal time to hike the SHR depends on your hiking skills and preferences, and the particular year. For all but the most experienced mountaineers, the SHR is probably off-limits from November through May—the avalanche dangers, stormy weather, and snow-related issues make the winter very risky. Of course, if it is a particularly heavy or light winter, the conventional hiking season may be longer or earlier. Early-season hikers (June and July) will experience more snow, more wet feet, and more mosquitoes than hikers later in the year. Hikers in August and September will experience drier conditions and few mosquitoes, but the melted-out mountains will not look as majestic and the scree fields will be more exposed. Hikers in October will experience the driest conditions, the coldest temperatures, and the fewest bugs.

When Buzz and I went

Buzz and I decided to go in early-July. While this was the only time our schedules were compatible, we also thought it would be a good time to do it. We thought we would finish before the mosquitoes hatched. We thought snowfields would still be covering the alpine scree, which would allow us to travel faster and more safely. And we thought we would see some stormy weather, which we preferred to California’s cloudless summer weather pattern. As it turned out, we were wrong on all accounts. The winter of 2007-08 began strong, but its strength faded and Spring arrived early. The mosquitoes hatched earlier than usual. The snowfields melted out earlier than normal, leaving behind technical scree to cross; and snowfields that did remain were heavily sun-cupped. And the weather was consistently cloudless, so the sun’s radiant heat fried us to our gizzards. Buzz and I persevered, but we would have been happier if we had brought headnets, more DEET, and full coverage clothing and headwear; and we should have left the crampons and insulated gear behind.


Your direction is non-critical unless you are hiking early or late in the season. If you are going early, you’ll want to go north: the southern sections of the route receive less snow, and it’s easier to walk down the snow-holding north-facing slopes than to walk up them. If you are going late in the season, you’ll probably want to travel south: the northern sections of the route are more likely to get whacked with snow first. If you are not travelling early or late, then you can chose to either way. Buzz and I went north, mostly for logistical reasons: it was easier to extract ourselves post-hike from Mono Village than it was from Road’s End. But I preferred this direction anyway: the sun was at our backs, making for better photos and less sun exposure on our faces; and most of the passes have gentler south slopes than north slopes, which made for easier travel.

Route Access

I can’t speak to access points other than the two termini because I’m not from the area and because we stayed on the trail the entire time. If you want to hike the SHR in sections, get the guidebook—there are trailhead access descriptions. In order to reach Road’s End, which is just west of the historic town of Kanawyers, we flew into Fresno (FAT) from Denver and found a shuttle driver via Craig’s List to drive us the 85 miles. I offered $60 + gas (about $80 total) and received about five emails from available drivers within 30 minutes; you could probably ask for less and still find someone. After we reached Mono Village and washed up in the lake, we hitch-hiked into Bridgeport with one of the many Mono car-campers. From Bridgeport we took the CREST bus directly to the Reno (RNO) airport; it cost $17 one-way, which is a great deal.


There are black bears in the High Sierra, lots of them. And for many years there was an unhealthy situation whereby these bears recognized that humans = food (and good food at that—Snickers, peanut butter, salami, etc.) and proceeded to regularly outsmart the humans who tried to protect their food by hanging it, burying it, and even sleeping next to it. Bears are not interested in humans, but they are interested in our food, and this is partly why bears are a major management consideration in the Sierra. (That, and because frankly they have the potential to easily kill you).

Bear canisters

Bear-resistant canisters are mandatory in most places throughout the High Sierra, including many places through which the SHR passes. I hate bear canisters. They are heavy (1 lb, 15 oz for the lightest model, the Bearikade Expedition from Wild-Ideas), they are an added expense, and they are uncomfortable to carry (their cylindrical shape fits awkwardly in small packs, and their hard sides inflict bruises if not cushioned correctly). Moreover, I would argue that canisters are not necessary if you practice good bear country techniques: do NOT camp where you cook, do NOT carry overly smelly foods or items, and do NOT camp in established sites or near popular trails; DO stealth camp, DO carry your food in odor-proof bags, and DO burn your trash every few days in order to minimize odors. Bears are most problematic in high-traffic areas, which the SHR purposely and mostly successfully avoids.

However, if you are caught by a ranger and you are not carrying a canister, you can receive a hefty fine. Rangers do patrol the backcountry, though in lower frequency than they used to (thank you Bush administration), and they regularly do canister checks on passing hikers. I’m not aware of any guaranteed technique to avoid a fine, e.g. by raising legal technicalities against warrantless searches or questioning law enforcement jurisdictions, etc. Therefore, my recommendation is to carry a canister—not to protect your food from bears, or to protect bears from you, but to protect yourself from rangers. If rangers were not out patrolling, I would not take a canister and I would instead rely on the effective techniques I have described above. Buzz and I both carried canisters.

For more information, visit the following land manager websites: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Inyo National Forest.


If you start the SHR from a terminus, you will need a wilderness permit. The High Sierra is managed by several agencies, but you only need a permit from the agency that manages the trailhead from which you are starting. If you start at Road’s End, you will need a permit from Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP; they detail the permit system on their website. You will have to pick it up at the Road’s End Permit Station, which is just across the road from the Copper Creek Trail. If you know your starting date 14+ days beforehand, I would recommend that you reserve your permit ahead of time—it’s worth the $15 reservation fee to guarantee your access to the SHR. If you do not reserve your permit beforehand, approximately one-quarter of the permits are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visit this page to check availability. Buzz and I had no issues in early-July obtaining a permit via the walk-up approach, though if we had prepared earlier we would have reserved a permit to avoid the risk.

Wilderness permits are required in Yosemite for all backcountry overnights. Visit their website for more information. I am not as familiar with that system—e.g. where to pick up your permit, their reservation policy, etc. so I will not comment.

Depending on the time of year, Inyo National Forest—which manages the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness Areas—requires overnight users to obtain a free wilderness permit. Again, I am not as familiar with their system; visit their website for more information.


The most appropriate gear for your SHR outing depends on the season, your personal experience and skills, and your preferences. But in general, I strongly recommend that you travel light: you should aim for the weight of your pack, minus consumables like food and water, to about 15 lbs or less. For backpackers raised in the classic style—i.e., those who follow the motto “Be prepared” to the nth degree, or those who are still sporting their vintage 1970’s Kelty external frame pack, giant bedroll, and stainless steel Sierra cup—this goal may seem out of reach, but I assure you that (1) it’s not and (2) it’ll greatly improve your experience on the SHR.

Traveling light on the SHR is even more important than on a standard backpacking trip. Here are a few reasons why… (1) The SHR features many steep passes, many big climbs, many Class 3 scrambles, many miles of boulder fields, and constant exposure to thunderstorms. A lightweight pack will reduce the stress & strain on your body and improve your mobility, thus reducing your risk of injury and your long-term wear on important body parts like your knees. (2) There are few convenient places on the SHR to resupply so you’ll have to carry a lot of weight in food. Heavy pack + lots of food = slow, hard, and uncomfortable. Also, by reducing your base weight you can hike more miles per day and cover the distances between resupply points quicker, which will reduce the amount of food weight you must carry. (3) The SHR goes through some very remote country that is not well suited for search & rescues or easy self-extraction. Acute and overuse injuries are more likely with a heavy pack, which frankly makes them downright dangerous. Finally, (4) the SHR demands a high level of mental engagement in order to navigate efficiently and to travel safely. A heavy pack increases mental fatigue and makes these tasks more difficult.


Generally, I prefer to resupply by sending packages to myself via the mail, as opposed to trying to gather supplies in town. This system is more time-efficient and it ensures that I have everything I need/want. I recommend this system especially for the SHR because there is only one convenient opportunity to buy supplies en route—at Tuolumne Meadows, where there is a small grocery store about two miles down Tioga Road. But Tuolumne is located about 168 miles north of Road’s End and 27 miles south of Mono Village—hardly halfway—so it does not help much in reducing the amount of food that must be carried. The better location at which to resupply is Red’s Meadow, which is located about 118 miles north of Road’s End and 77 miles south of Mono Village. Red’s receives a lot of resupply boxes from John Muir Trail hikers and they have a good system in place; the fee is $25/box. There are other locations to resupply but they are not nearly as convenient: to reach Bishop, hike over Piute Pass to a trailhead on the east side of the Sierra crest and then hitchhike into town; and to reach Mammoth Lakes, take the shuttle bus from Red’s Meadow or hike into town from Mammoth Pass.


  1. Solveiga on August 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    HI Andrew,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write up such great information. Particularly the info about resupplies, and permits. Much appreciated. Two aussies (myself and my partner SImon), have just found out about this amazing trail, and are now avidly researching it, to make it happen in the next year or so.

    Thanks again,


  2. John on September 12, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Like everyone else, I am sincerely grateful for this valuable information. I spent the last three months planning for a traverse of the john Muir Trail in August of 2015 until I stumbled upon an article about the Sierra High Route. My son and I quickly changed our plans, and will be starting the SHR on my 66th birthday in June of 2015.

    John Schuster
    Livermore, CA

    • Leonard Walstad on January 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm


      I am planning to do the southern section of the SHR. I would greatly appreciate hearing from you after complete your hike.

      Have a good hike!


  3. Paul Andringa-Cutler on December 12, 2014 at 4:21 am

    ‘…the sun was at our back, making for better photos…’

    With respect, Andrew, the most beautiful photos (and the most beautiful views) are while facing into the sun, because shadows highlight everything, even at mid-day. This is the main reason I chose to hike the JMT from North to South last summer. Try this high up in the mountains sometime, mid-day on a clear day: look North for a while. Bland. No shadows. Then turn around and look South. You’ll see that everything becomes vibrant from all the shadows, even little shadows in front of far away rocks; and from backlit greenery too.

  4. Steve Jones on May 18, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your pointer to the NOAA sites; not all are working but some in that area are; it’s good enough I think. A follow-up question. I’ve got a 0F mummy bag, and trying to shave off some pounds. Nobody can guess the future, but the average low in the past for my trip’s duration according to the NOAA sites is about 29F (taking into account 3 degrees per 1K ft elevation. I’m thinking of using a 20F bag and lightening my load, still being well below 29F. Do you think I will regret it, provided the temperatures remain the same? What would you carry for this year, for Mid-June to Mid-July? Many thanks, Steve.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 19, 2015 at 7:46 am

      In the High Sierra in the summer I normally bring a quilt rated to 30 degrees, though in reality it’s probably more like a 35 or 40 since it’s drafty and has no hood. I make up the difference by wearing most of my clothing to bed. This saves weight, and allows me to “take my warmth with me” in the morning when I get out of my bag and in the middle of the night when I have to pee. Since I wash my clothes every 1-2 days, I’m not worried about getting the bag dirty.

  5. Michael McLoughlin on August 16, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    What’s your opinion on solo hiking the High Route?

    • Andrew Skurka on August 17, 2015 at 6:47 am

      I would do it, and in fact did a similar route (probably even more remote) back in July. But I think most backpackers would appreciate having a hiking partner to help navigate, discuss decisions, and help out in the event of an emergency.

  6. Leslie on September 11, 2015 at 11:57 am

    This June when I got to Road’s End to pick up a permit, I was dealt a surprise when the Ranger informed me that I should have gotten permits for every jurisdiction that we were passing through on the hike. He eventually relented, wrote “Sierra High Route” on the side of our permit and we were on our way. Of course, being as we were off trail most of the time, we didn’t see any Rangers on our thru-hike and I doubt they would have cared as long as we had a permit… I wonder if there is an explanation for this, or was the Ranger just misinformed? Has anyone else had this happen?

    • Andrew Skurka on September 11, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      In the High Sierra, you should only need a permit from the agency where your trip starts. If you cross into other NPS or USFS lands, those agencies should recognize your permit. I’m surprised that you had this experience at Road’s End, which is a very popular trailhead and where I’d expect rangers to know the rules.

  7. David on June 14, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Andrew, Thanks for publishing this map set and data planner, which I just purchased. Unfortunately, my TOPO software went the way of the company way back in 2012 and no longer works in my Windows 10 platform. Might you have a gpx file of the route?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 20, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Intentionally, no, no GPX of the route. I have a half-finished update to this product and I’ll include a GPX file with some very basic points, but not a line. That’s months away though, given that it’s peak outdoor season right now.

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