Link-ups for JMT, PCT, & SHR

The Yosemite High Route overlaps with the JMT/PCT for 0.8 miles where they cross the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, 2600 vertical feet below Mt. Lyell, the tallest peak in Yosemite.

The Yosemite High Route intersects with three other popular long-distance trails in the High Sierra:

Thru- and section-hikers on these other routes can easily link up with the Yosemite High Route to extend an itinerary, change course, or inject more adventure and challenge. There are six specific link-up opportunities.

Link-up Map

To view intersections and respective routes, start with the embedded map below. For easier viewing, open it in a new window. I have grouped the landmarks and routes for each link-up into a dedicated layer that can be turned on/off to remove clutter from the map.

If you decide to mix routes, you will need high quality topographic maps of each route, especially for the Yosemite High Route and Sierra High Route. Such maps are available in the Yosemite High Route Guide and in the Sierra High Route Mapset.

The exact impact

How is distance and mileage affected by following the Yosemite High Route instead of the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or Sierra High Route? Consult the chart below.

1. JMT/PCT: Donohue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

The JMT/PCT enter Yosemite National Park together at Donohue Pass, and hike slowly downhill in the bottom of Lyell Canyon along the meandering Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River until reaching Tuolumne Meadows. The miles are underwhelming, and you can’t reach the Tuolumne Grill soon enough.

The Yosemite High Route can be used instead between Donohue Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. From below Donohue Pass, it heads cross-country through Kuna Creek, over the Kuna Crest, and into the lightly trafficked Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River.

2. JMT: Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River to Yosemite Valley

About a mile below Donohue Pass, the JMT/PCT cross the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. And when they reach Tuolumne Meadows, they split — the JMT peels west to Yosemite Valley, while the PCT continues north towards Canada.

The Yosemite High Route is a challenging alternative to the JMT between the Lyell Fork and Yosemite Valley. It departs the trail for Macclure Creek, crosses the Cathedral Range at Russell Pass, descends into the Lyell Fork of the Merced, and finally traverses the Clark Range. Once it reaches the Merced River, you would follow the Merced Lake Trail downhill into the Valley.

3. PCT: Tuolumne Meadows to Grace Meadow

After the JMT/PCT split, the PCT crosses Tioga Road and enters northern Yosemite. It exits the park at Dorothy Lake Pass, at the head of Jack Main Canyon a few miles above Grace Meadow.

The Yosemite High Route would be an adventurous alternative to the PCT between Tuolumne Meadows and Grace Meadow. This northern segment is consistently awesome: in the 41 miles between Young Lakes and Grace Meadow, the Yosemite High Route features 34 miles of off-trail travel.  Early in the season, the Yosemite High Route will hold more snow, but it will pose fewer water hazards (because it’s higher in the watersheds, before the creeks have gained steam).

4. SHR: Blue Lake Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

The Sierra High Route enters the park at Blue Lake Pass, and intersects with the Yosemite High Route on the alpine bench below Foerster Peak. After hiking cross-country off this bench, the SHR takes an all-trail route to Tuolumne Meadows.

The Yosemite High Route is an alternative to the SHR between this bench and Tuolumne Meadows. It’s a few miles longer but decidedly better, with extensive alpine terrain and several exciting passes. Mile for mile, it may be the best section of the entire route. Frankly, I think Roper erred with his routing — the SHR fails to showcase the best in Yosemite south of Tioga Road.

5. SHR: Tuolumne Meadows to Virginia Canyon

After reuniting at Tuolumne Meadows, the Sierra High Route and Yosemite High Route split again until Virginia Canyon, just below Stanton Pass.

The routes are comparable in distance, but the Sierra High Route is more stout. It crosses the Sierra crest twice and endures tedious talus below Sky Pilot Pass. The Yosemite High Route stays within the park and passes through three beautiful lake basins (Young, Roosevelt, and McCabe). If you need a momentary break from rough terrain, the Yosemite High Route would be friendlier but still adventurous.

6. SHR: Northern Yosemite

The Sierra High Route exits the park at Horse Creek Pass and descends to Twin Lakes, its northern terminus. I’m thankful that Roper choose this path, because it left open the opportunity for another high route to carry on into northern Yosemite.

The Core Route continues for 27 miles (with 21 miles off-trail) to Grace Meadow. From there, the shortest good route back to civilization is the Pacific Crest Trail, which follows the Sierra Crest to Sonora Pass. If that does not work out for you, consider one of the other exit options.

Have questions about linking routes? Leave a comment.


  1. David Cooper on May 24, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Hi Andrew,
    I was wondering if you might have a minute to chat about the John Muir trail. It has always been a dream of mine to hike and I haven’t ever had the time to do it being a performing orchestral musician. I am planning to drive out to Yosemite soon and I would love to pick your brain a little about it before I go. I have one questioning regarding pickups at Mt. Whitney, as I will be hiking North to South and also if there was any service that might help drop some food to me at a couple points.
    If you have about 10 minutes to talk sometime over the course of the next few days, I would greatly appreciate your time and expertise.
    Thank you very much for your time and consideration!
    David Cooper
    Principal Horn
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  2. Donaat Van Vooren on May 24, 2023 at 7:06 am

    Would linking up from the PCT to this route be more advisable this year due to the high snow levels leading to high water levels in the creeks? The YHR will be higher I assume so less water in the creeks and potentially still some snow bridges.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 24, 2023 at 9:25 am

      South of Tuolumne Meadows, the Yosemite High Route would offer no advantages, because there are no difficult fords along the PCT/JMT between Donohue Pass (where you enter the park) and TM. Close to TM you must cross the Lyell Fork and the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne, but both crossings have sturdy bridges that should withstand flooding — they’re nearly vehicle-worthy.

      North of Tuolumne, the YHR involves substantially less risky fords, because it’s higher up in the watersheds. However, a few of the passes could be very hairy when snow-covered, and more of the route will be snow-covered (unless you’re there right now, in which case it won’t matter, because the PCT is entirely snow-covered too based on satellite imagery from May 21). The passes that would scare me most are:

      * Matterhorn. It’d probably be best to follow the PCT over this ridge. Or, if you have to hike up Spiller Creek to find a safe spot across, you can cross this ridge further north, which will save you some miles on your way to Burro Pass. From Spiller, climb to about 38.05057, -119.39666. Drop off this ridge from about 38.06269, -119.40286.
      * Tower Peak Pass, on the northwest side of Stubblefield Canyon. It’s just big and steep, 1200 vertical feet, seems like a very high fall potential. Maybe cross around 38.06269, -119.40286 instead.

      Also, I’d probably just skip Stanton Pass because it’s easy to bypass by hiking down Virginia Canyon and then up Spiller Creek.

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