Discover the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches 2650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington, beginning at California's border with Mexico near the small, remote town of Campo and ending at Washington's border with Canada border, miles from any town in either country.


During their journey, thru hikers experience the beautiful high deserts of southern California, the deep desert of the Mojave, the glaciated and snowy High Sierras, the volcanic peaks of the Cascades, and the mossy temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest nearly every iconic landscape in the Western United States.


The PCT is one of eleven US National Scenic Trails, a nationwide network of trails created by the National Trails System Act of 1968.  The law distinguishes scenic trails from historic and recreational trails, defining them as:

 

extended trails so located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which such trails may pass."


PCT at a Glance

total length 2650 miles

managing body

The US Forest Service, in partnership with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, California State Parks, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

southern terminus

California/Mexico border near the town of Campo

northern terminus

Washington/Canada border

lowest point

140 ft at Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks, OR

highest point

13,153 ft at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, CA

conceived

by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932

established

became a National Scenic Trail in 1968, at same time as the Appalachian Trail

completed

officially completed in 1993, though gaps remain

main trail blazes

the trail is not marked with painted blazes

side trails blazes

side trails are not marked with painted blazes

# of shelters

1

horses?

equestrians are welcomed on the PCT

bikes?

bicycles are not allowed

land owners

passes through 6 national parks, 5 national monuments, 25 national forests, 48 federal wilderness areas, several BLM lands, 5 state parks, county parks, and private property

wilderness                 

54% of the PCT on federal land is in designated wilderness, more than any other National Scenic Trail

private property

roughly 300 miles of the PCT crosses private property on narrow easements between 10 to 50 feet wide

misc geographia

goes over 57 high mountain passes, including 9 over 11,000 feet

 

enters 19 canyons

 

the 201.5 miles from Kennedy Meadows to Reds Meadow is the longest roadless section of any long trail

 

-  passes our country's 3 deepest lakes: Crater Lake (1932′), Lake Tahoe (1645′), and Lake Chelan (1149′)

 

-  as the crow flies, it is 1000 miles from terminus to terminus

Thru-Hiking Quick Stats  
mileage roughly 2650 miles, though closures change the exact figure every year
duration 5-6 months
when April - September
cost $5,000
direction most thru-hikers choose south to north (NOBO)
permits required thru-hikers need a single permit for the whole trail, acquired before starting
first thru-hiked October 16, 1970, by 18-year-old Eric Ryback
annual # of thru-hikers roughly 1500 people attempt it each year

The Five Regions of the PCT

Southern California - The Desert
The PCT begins just outside a small town near the Mexican border where a white monument marks the Southern Terminus. The corrugated steel border fence is just 80 feet away. White and green border patrol trucks cruise the dirt road alongside it. There is no corresponding road on the Mexican side, just wild desert. Hikers turn north and head away from the border seeking their own wild countryside and they soon find it. It is desert here, but not the kind of desert with saguaro cactus and sandstone monoliths. It is the high desert, a chaparral scrubland kept slightly cooler and wetter by the elevation of the Laguna and San Gabriel Mountains. The Trail stays at such high elevations hikers begin to think of 5000 feet as low. When they later look out from the 10,000-foot summit of San Jacinto, clouds drift below them, nourishing the forests than can only survive there on the highest mountain in Southern California. But soon the Trail drops back down into a dry valley of fierce winds where hikers can only look back at the snows and forests of San Jacinto thousands of feet above them. Ahead of them is the Mojave Desert and some of the longest stretches of Trail without water. They may carry two gallons of water at a time, or hike only at night to avoid the intense heat and reach Kennedy Meadows as soon as they can.

 

 

Central California - The Sierras
After leaving Kennedy Meadows South, the PCT begins to climb, and climb, and climb. The trails enters the magnificent High Sierras that inspired John Muir and gave birth to the American environmental movement. Wind swept sequoias with twisted trunks line the footpath. Streams crash down from the heights and nourish meadows stretching across valleys. The route continuously enters and then drops from the alpine zone, taking hikers up eight passes over 10,000 feet, including Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,153 feet above sea level. Elevation sickness strikes without warning. Passes may be choked with snow. Drifts obscure the trail and maps must be consulted to find it again. Most hikers take just two weeks to complete the section, but it feels longer. Its emotional and mental toll and incredible grandeur grant it equal weight to the 700 miles that came before it.

 

 

Northern California
After leaving Kennedy Meadows North, hikers enter lands evoked in Steinbeck novels. Rolling green hills, cool windy pastures, and high sunny valleys. Because of a thru-hike's timing, there is no snow, mild sunny days and cool nights. Its mildness makes it perhaps the most pleasant stretch of the PCT, tempting hikers to stretch out on a grassy hillside and nap the day away. Many hitch to Lake Tahoe and swim in the incredible blue waters of North America's largest alpine lake. Conifers become common, as does the carpet moss that covers more and more of their trunks. After crossing a river at the small town of Belden, the Trail enters its last lengthy segment without water, a final brief hurrah reminding hikers of the aridity that has defined much of the trail until that point.

 

 

Oregon
Once in Oregon, the Trail's topography evens out and becomes relatively flat. Hiker's familiar with the Appalachian Trail call this section the PCT's Virginia, and similarly many hikers try to do higher mileage days than were ever possible in the Sierras. Hikers on a limited timetable may try to make up time lost in the Sierras by doing high mileage days throughout the entire state. The Trail is also surprisingly remote, with few towns and even fewer motels. Despite the level terrain, there are still mountain views of Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Hood, as well as many alpine lakes. In spectacular Crater Lake National Park, thru-hikers trek along the rim of Crater Lake, possibly the most picturesque spot on any National Scenic Trail.

 

 

Washington
Washington is a rugged surprise after the flatness of Oregon. It is also usually the wettest, rainiest section. Northbound hikers leave Oregon and enter Washington on the Bridge of the Gods, a highway bridge which spans the Columbia Gorge. This mighty river crossing is the lowest point on the PCT, but soon the Trail rises into the Cascade Range with views of Mt. Rainier and Glacier Peak and then passes through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The PCT reaches its northern end when hikers step into a bizarre clearing, a perfectly straight treeless path cut through the forest that rises up the slopes of the mountains to the east and west. This is the 49th parallel, the US/Canada border. Next to a historic border marker from the first decade of the twentieth century stands the Northern Terminus, a monument identical the one at the Mexican border except for its dark color.


Stewards of the Trail

While the US Forest Service is the government agency charged with management of the Trail, it is volunteers who do the lion's share of maintenance, upkeep, and construction on the PCT. These volunteers are recruited and organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, a non-profit dedicated to maintaining, promoting, and advocating for the PCT. 

 

The PCTA was formed in 1987 from the merger of two historic trail clubs, the Pacific Crest Trail Club and the Pacific Crest Trail Conference, though it didn't adopt the name Pacific Crest Trail Association until 1992. It has 5 regional offices in trail towns, each in charge of roughly 500 miles of trail. Visit our Get Involved page to find out about volunteering on the PCT. Representatives from the PCTA also travel to Washington DC each year to participate in the American Hiking Society's "Hike the Hill" event and advocate for the PCT in Congress.