The 211-mile-long John Muir Trail travels through some of the most striking landscape in California’s Sierra Nevada range, from Yosemite National Park to 14,494-foot Mount Whitney. Give yourself between 17 and 27 days to walk this historic stretch of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, allowing plenty of time to soak up the views through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park.
You’ll develop hefty doses of stamina and endurance while trudging hundreds of miles through high-elevation wilderness and carrying all of your necessities on your back. Learning not to give up is where the real life lessons come into play. Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, also points out studies that have found that carrying heavy items on your back can be a mental load as much as it is a physical one. “Literally, the physical weight of a pack can become psychologically taxing,” she says. “So if you’re on the trail and you’re getting overwhelmed, just put your pack down for a few minutes and you may feel better.”
Before you go, get in good physical shape (you’ll be crossing peaks at 11,000 feet), learn how to use all of your backpacking gear, and consider taking a wilderness first-aid course to prepare for an emergency. The John Muir Trail is best hiked mid-summer, between July and September, and you’ll need to apply for a backpacking permit well in advance. Pick up the John Muir Trail guidebook written by Elizabeth Wenk for more details on how to plan and prepare.