What makes the Sierra so special is its wildness–no roads, no cars, no problems, right? Wait–but getting to the trail is kind of a problem in a place so wild.
I spent an insane amount of time trying to figure out permit regulations for the JMT and how those corresponded to ease in getting to a trailhead.
I decided that for people attempting to get a JMT walk-in permit (without a reservation), starting in Yosemite Valley/Happy Isles is the easiest way to go.
Getting to Happy Isles
Amtrak runs a train and then bus to the Valley from S.F. and Sacramento (both nearby airports). The buses only run once a day in either direction which means if you don’t get the permit you want, you also likely won’t get a campsite in the park, which means you have no where to legally stay that night and no way out of the park to a legal campsite. Essentially, you are in big trouble with no way out. Ouch. Sometimes you can get around that situation by getting a different permit. Really, because the American outdoors is not designed for public transit, the best way to get to the trailhead is with a car. Big frownie face.
Leaving from Whitney Portal
After a triumphant summit of Whitney, you can hike 11 miles down to Whitney portal where there is a store with giant pancakes and a giant parking lot. Expect no public transit here. Your best bet is to hitch hike from the parking lot a few feet down, or better yet–talk to some people and explain how you just finished the JMT. I’ve had best luck with climbers. Whitney Portal attracts a lot of dayhikers or people who just want to drive to the parking lot–sometimes, these people won’t help you out. Everyone leaving Whitney Portal *has* to go through Lone Pine to get pretty much anywhere, so every car is going to your destination.
In Lone Pine, the bus station is at Stratam Hall by the fire station on the corner of Bush St and Jackson St (turn east from Hwy 395 on Bush when you see the Lone Pine drug store). The Eastern Sierra Transit Authority will take you from Lone Pine to the Reno Greyhound station. You can catch a plane from Reno.
If you need to go back to Happy Isles to get a car, the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority runs a bus to Mammoth Lakes where you catch another bus, the Yosemite Area Regional Transit, to Yosemite Valley. I hear you can get to your car from Lone Pine to the Valley in a day now.
If none of this works out for you, the Eastern Sierra is a pretty good place to hitch hike. Lots of hikers and climbers respect what you’re doing and everyone is headed north or south on 395 for long hauls. But don’t hold me responsible if it doesn’t work out. Hitchhiking is dangerous and risky and that’s why I put together this page to figure out how to do it without.