Pacific Crest Trail
|Pacific Crest Trail|
|Length||4,264 km (2,650 mi)|
|Location||United States: California, Oregon, Washington|
|Season||Spring to Fall|
|Months||March to October|
- 1 Overview
- 2 Sections
- 3 Water
- 4 Resupply
- 5 Weather and Seasonality
- 6 Permits and Regulations
- 7 Maps
- 8 Information Resources
- 9 Getting To and From the Trail
- 10 Geographic Features
- 11 Administrative Territories
- 12 Online Communities
- 13 References
- 14 External Links
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a long distance hiking and equestrian trail in the Western United States. It is approximately 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) long. The trail's southern terminus is on the U.S./Mexico border in Campo, California, and it's northern terminus is on the Canada/U.S. border on the edge of Manning Park, British Columbia. It passes through 25 national forests, 6 national parks, 7 BLM field offices and 5 state park units.
It is maintained by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA).
Length: 4,264 km (2,650 mi)
Standard direction(s) of travel: Nobo is the most popular direction of hiking on the PCT, with the vast majority of thruhikers starting at the Mexican border. It provides a slightly longer weather window. However, as the trail has grown in popularity in the 2010's, more hikers are choosing to hike sobo.
Season: Spring through Fall
Trail Association: Pacific Crest Trail Association
The PCT is made up of 5 distinct sections, The Desert, The Sierra, Northern California, Oregon and Washington
The Desert spans approximately 700 miles (1127 kilometers) from the the Mexican border at the Southernmost point of the PCT near Campo, California to Kennedy Meadows near Mile 700. Hikers begin their northbound (Nobo) journey around mid-spring, typical start dates range from mid-March to mid-May depending on hiker's speed and schedule, with faster hikers beginning later so as not to enter the Sierra to early and hikers who wish to start slow beginning earlier so that they can hit lower mileage days and not be pressed for time. Water management is crucial in the desert, and most hikers can expect at least some 4 to 6 litre water carries to be necessary.
The Desert is the most populated portion of the trail, both in frequency of towns and thru hikers, because of this most hikers find the Desert is the most 'social' portion of the trail. 'Trail Magic' is most common here, many towns cater to hikers and some of the trail's most well known trail angels, like Scout and Frodo, Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna and Hikertown.
This section is usually considered to stretch from Kennedy Meadows to lake Tahoe, a roughly 390 miles section. This is where Northbound hikers will encounter the most technical and challenging terrain of the trail, though the challenge of this section is greatly dependent on the entry date of a particular hiker and the snowpack in any given year. A typical Nobo hiker will enter the Sierra sometime between late May and late June, though both earlier and later entries are possible. Snowpack in the Sierra is the main consideration for deciding your Sierra entry date, as an early entry, especially in high snow year will require hikers to be comfortable traversing steep angle snowfields, using crampons/microspikes and an ice axe and crossing high, fast creeks. Later entries will have much less snow to deal with, however depending on entry date, creeks may be high and dangerous, mosquitos may start swarming in certain areas and the trail will be more crowded.
The two major obstacles of the Sierra are creek crossings and passes. Some strategies and advice for dealing with these obstacles will follow.
The most difficult passes for most Northbound hiker will be faced in between Mount Whitney (Mile 767) and Muir Ranch (Mile 857). The first major pass being Forester Pass (Mile 779), the highpoint of the Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153ft. Passes can be dangerous as the approach or descent from a pass will often involve traversing steep angle snowfields, where a slip can result in an uncontrolled slide if it cannot be stopped. Many hikers opt to carry ice axes so that a slide can be stopped by self-arresting, it you decide to carry an ice axe, it is crucial that you know how to use it, practice self arrest and proper usage of the ice axe in a safe environment such as a snowy slope with safe runout. Crampons or Microspikes are invaluable in providing traction on these snowy passes as well. To ensure the best possible conditions going over passes, ascend early in the morning while the snow is still icy and firm, as ascending a pass later in the day will be much more difficult due to mushy snow, as well as increased avalanche risk if still in early season.
The creeks in the Sierra should not be taken lightly at peak melt, these creeks can be deeper than your head and move fast. The creek crossings in the Sierra will probably be the most dangerous aspect of your northbound hike. Difficult crossings should be attempted with groups, and done early in the morning, when snowmelt is at its lowest. Remember, the trail crossing is not always the best crossing, if the trail crossing looks beyond your comfort level, scout upstream and downstream, some crossings in peak melt may require you to go miles upstream to find a safe place to cross. Some crossings can be avoided completely if you are willing to hike enough offtrail. When scouting for crossings, look for areas where the river branches in to many forks, as this many signal that the creek is shallower and slower here, look also for log-bridges, snowbridge, though be aware, 100% of snowbridges on the PCT fail eventually, and falling through a snowbridge can have dire effects, imagine being trapped below several feet of snow barraged by ice cold water pushing you against a tree or rock, be certain of the structural integrity of a snowbridge before crossing on it.
ALWAYS consider the runout for any potential crossing, if you get 'swept' by the creek, what will happen? Be aware of 'strainers' things water can move through, but humans cannot, such as logjams and tangles of thick bushes, if the current is fast, it can trap you against, or worse, under a strainer. Stay away from these. Other things to consider in a runout are rapids, cascades and waterfalls, you don't want to go down these for obvious reasons.
When consider log crossings, consider what what will happen if you fall of the log, many logs are strainers. Consider also the surface of the log, if the log is getting spray from the creek, it may be icy. Consider wearing your traction on log crossings, and using your poles to help keep your balance.
For group crossings, consider different formations that could help ease the crossing, smaller/weaker members of the group can be aided in crossings by stronger members, you should research group crossing strategies before going into the Sierra if you are expecting high melt conditions.
Northern California, or NorCal begins after Salt lake Tahoe (Mile 1092) and continues for roughly 600 miles until the Oregon border (mile 1690). This section can be as hot and dry as the desert in segments despite being mostly forested.
- The HalfwayAnywhere.com 2018 PCT Survey: Resupply article
- Craig's PCT Planner
- PCT Resupply Guide on The Trek
- The PCT Sobo Resupply Plan, from Zach "Relish" Hoopes
Weather and Seasonality
Permits and Regulations
- PCTA.org permit info page: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/
- List of local permit requirements: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/local-permits/. Especially useful for section hikers.
- Long Distance Permit: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/pct-long-distance-permit/. This is the 500+ mile, or "thruhike permit."
- California Campfire Permit: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/california-fire-permit/
- Canada Entry Permit: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/canada-pct-entry-permit/
- Triple Crown Outfitters local permits list: https://www.triplecrownoutfitters.com/pct-local-permits
- PCT on LongTrailsMap.net
- Maps landing page on PCTA.org
- PCT Map from PCTA.org
- Halfmile's PCT Maps site:
- US Forest Service GPS file downloads. These are less accurate than Halfmile's data.
- PCTA.org guide to how to use Google Earth to learn about the PCT.
- NatGeo Laminated Maps
Resources that provide overview and introductory-level information about the Pacific Crest Trail:
- The English language Wikipedia entry for "Pacific Crest Trail."
- The PCT on Vikivoyage
- Halfmile's Trail Notes
- Official US Forest Service page with Planning and Regulating documents for the PCT.
Getting To and From the Trail
- PCT Transportation page on PCTA.org: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/pct-transportation/
- PCT Public Transit Map on LongTrailsMap.net: https://www.longtrailsmap.net/pacific-crest-trail/map?transit=on