Not every memorable experience during your John Muir Trail thru-hike will occur on the trail. One of the real highlights, at least for me, is Muir Trail Ranch.
MTR is almost exactly half way between Happy Isles and the top of Mount Whitney. Nearly everyone stops there for resupply, but I am going to recommend you spend two nights and take a full zero day. I’ve enjoyed it so much that in the past the available dates at MTR acted as my “anchor” dates for planning everything else. That’s harder to do since walk up permits are no longer available that begin at Happy Isles, but I still try my best. Summer dates are usually made available to JMT hikers in mid-January.
MTR is about a mile off the trail, and the accommodations are log cabins and tent cabins. The log cabins have toilets and wash basins, but no showers. The tent cabins have no plumbing at all. Before you start worrying about roughing it, though, you should know that all customers staying at the ranch are allowed to use the natural hot spring bath houses. There are two, and they are nothing less than opulent. I wish I had one just like it at home!
They feed you twice a day: breakfast and dinner. Both meals are excellent. At breakfast there is a spread of bread, lunchmeat and other delicacies that you can select from to make your own lunch. (Including, by the way, the day you leave.) During my stays breakfast has always been served inside, while dinner is al fresco.
There is an old, ringer washing machine that I’ve used each time to clean my two sets of hiking clothes. I always pack something disposable to wear while my stuff dries in the sun.
Except for the bathhouse, my favorite part of the ranch is the log cabin lounge, full of books and comfy chairs. A few hours in there will do wonders for your recovery. The last time I passed through Muir Trail Ranch I slipped two big packages of tortilla chips and a huge jar of salsa into my resupply bucket. I spent most of the afternoon reading, snacking, and enjoying the company of anyone who stopped by.
If you are heading south out of MTR you have five major passes ahead of you, not to mention the summit of Mount Whitney. A zero day here will provide a full day off your feet, several terrific meals, and a couple great nights of sleep. You will be ready for the challenges ahead!
Good hiking, Ray