The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

One of the "Big Three" trails that compromise the Triple Crown, the Pacific Crest Trail has exploded in popularity since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie "Wild". Additionally as the Appalachian Trail continues to be highly travelled hikers look for more challenging trails.

PCT Quick Details

Date Started: xxxx
Date Completed: xxxx
Designed By: xxxxx
Trail Length: 2650 Miles (4265 km)
States Crossed: 3

What is the Pacific Coast Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches approximately 2650 miles through the United States reaching from California to Oregon and Washington. The trail begins at California's border with Mexico near the small, remote town of Campo and ending at Washington's border with Canadian border which is actually very remote and miles from any towns.
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.
This will be one of the easiest, but hardest, things you will attempt in your life. Similar to other long trails the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is pretty remote and unlike the Appalachian Trail is further from access to cities. This means you need to be very prepared and overly familiar with your gear and how to use it in good and bad times, never leave unprepared as the trail can be unrelenting.
The Pacific Crest Trail climbs through nearly 60 major mountain passes while it also descends into 19 major canyons. The beautiful trails pass more than 1,000 lakes and tarns, 3 national monuments, 7 national parks, 24 national forests, and travels through 33 federally mandated wildernesses. - PCT Facts

Pacific Coast Trail Data

Trail 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 which is located near the town of Campo
Northern Terminus Washington/Canada border
Lowest Point 140 ft above sea level located at Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks, OR
Highest Point 13,153 ft above sea level located at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, CA
How Conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932
When Established The PCT became a National Scenic Trail in 1968, at the same time as the Appalachian Trail.
When Completed The trail was officially completed in 1993.
Blazes (Marking) The Pacific Crest Trail is not marked with painted blazes
Side Blazes The side trails are not marked with painted blazes
# of Shelters 1
Horses On Trail equestrians are welcomed on the PCT
Bikes On Trail bicycles are not allowed
Who Owns Trail Land The trail 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

Thru Hike Data For the Pacific Coast Trail

The data below is helpful for a thru hiker planning to leave and looking at planning their costs and the timeframe they can expect to be gone from their homes. This will help ensure you to make smart decisions based on your savings and estimations.
Overall Mileage The PCT is roughly 2650 miles. Though due to fires and other natural causes this figure changes every year.
Average Duration 5-6 months
Timeframe April - September
Average Cost $5,000
Travel Direction Vast majority of thru hikers will choose to go NOBO
Permits Required? Yes, with thru-hikers need a single permit for the whole trail, acquired before starting and additional permits on specific trails
First Thru Hike October 16, 1970, by 18-year-old Eric Ryback
Annual # of Thru Hikers This number is roughly 1500 people yearly, though it has been growing ever since the movie "Wild" was released.

Sections For the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail can be broken into five very distinct sections that will need gear changes or adaptations. Each link below will take you to the corresponding section below on that section to help you go where you need quick and easy.

Campo: The Southern Terminus

This is the start of most thru hikers journeys and a welcome site to the planning many have done for the past year or longer. 

Southern California - The Desert

The start of the trail on a NOBO hike will begin in the desert, a very dry and arid area with a trail devoid of much shade, eventually taking you to the incredible desert to follow the viaduct while trying not to bake.
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, begins about 80 feet from the border of Mexico and as you can see above the corrugated metal wall is all that splits the two countries. The Southern Terminus monument stands like a beacon to the start of your incredible journey and marks mile 0, touch it and begin your trek.
You will hike through high dry lands which will lead you up higher and higher to the San Jacinto mountain top at around 10,000 feet. It is at this point that you will begin your descent back to lower lands and set your eyes on the fierce Mojave Desert.
The Mojave Desert portion will test your mental resolve with its lack of water along with intense heat. This causes many to switch and decide to night hike and cut the temperature that they have to be out in. The goal being to travel as fast as possible and to reach Kennedy Meadows and look into the high Sierras.

Central California - The Sierras

The mountains you will climb will amaze you for years after you complete this section. You will learn to love microspikes and learn that post holing is a horrible pastime and exhausting on your mental and physical game.
This is where you will start to figure out how tough you are, both physically and mentally, you are going to be climbing high peaks and you will be cold. The fun thing is that you will be enjoying every minute of the adventure and your heart will be beating in your throat at times!
The route for the PCT will continually enter and then drop out from the alpine zone, taking hikers up and over eight passes at over 10,000 feet. , including Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,153 feet above sea level.
One of the most outstanding points of this section is that with good weather you have AMAZING views of the wilderness and something akin to our ancestors when they were travelling west away from civilization.
One of the core difficulties will be that with snowfall following the trail can be very difficult as the markers get buried and unviewable. Using a tool like Guthook to stay on trail can pay off large dividends in this area where many hikers can spend weeks.

Northern California

Breaking out of the Sierra's will be a welcome change for all thru hikers as you move lower into a more lush green landscape.
You will begin now to drop out of the mountains and come down into what will feel like lush greenery and rolling hills. The beneficial part of a thru hike NOBO is that you should reach here after the cool winter but before the summer kicks into full gear allowing you cool nights.
This will be where you will want to look at starting to swap out some gear and drop out the mountain gear like microspikes and maybe switch out to lighter sleeping bag or quilt. 
This stretch of California is one of the nicest sections of California with the more mild weather and terrain, it can become easy to get complacent and waste days playing and exploring. This is the area where many will trek out to Tahoe to see the lakes and enjoy a break from the hard mountain work.

Oregon

Full of some of the most amazing green forests and amazing views of places like Crater Lake, take time to absorb the views and enjoy the forest and greenery.
Oregon has lots of peaks and valleys but the trail winds through in a mostly flat approach compared to the Sierras and the rest of your trek to this point. The start of Oregon is when many have recovered from the Sierras and hikers start to slam out higher mileage days trying to stay ahead of snow in Washington.
As with much of the Pacific Crest Trail the overall trail space through the state is much more remote than anything the Appalachian Trail has you hike, including towns and hotels or motels.
The culmination of the beautiful views is Crater Lake, you hike the rim of one of the most beautiful spots in the entire west coast. As you move north you will see more and more mountains including Mt Hood ad the Three Sisters.

Washington

For most thru hikers you will be reaching Washington towards the end of summer and into the fall and winter. This means being damp almost 24/7 and your gear to be warm after a day of cold will be drastically important to your survivability. 
The NOBO hiker will leave Oregon state and enter Washington state through crossing the Bridge of the Gods, a bridge that spans the Columbia Gorge to get traffic across. From here you will enter into the Cascade Mountain range, one of my favorite places.
I grew up in the Washington forests and they can be painful in ups and down but also in consistent moisture in the air, for most hikers this is the most dangerous part as you are tired and exhausted from the months of hiking, this is why many seem to go missing here.
The constant wet environment will seep into everything, your clothing and shoes, your gear may wet out and if you aren't careful with your gear this can lead to dangerous nights. In addition, this is close for many to the time when the snow will start to fall and temperatures will begin to drop.
While you may have seen mountains when you get your first view of Mount Rainier you may be totally awestruck at the sheer size of it, I have seen it from many people while I grew up.
The end of the PCT is a empty clearing and a treeless path is cut through the forest. This is called the 49th parallel and the US/Canadian border. Next to a historic border marker stands the Northern Terminus, Monument 78 and completion.

Monument 78: The Northern Terminus

As with the southern terminus this point is something beyond words when you see it for the first time. It signifies completion or beginning of a thru hike and a commitment to fulfilling a dream.

PCT Frequently Asked Questions

While it may come as a surprise to no one there is a great many questions asked about the Pacific Crest Trail. We have worked to organize the answers here when they are covered simply and when not we have them covered below in the posts about the Pacific Crest Trail.

What Airport Should I Fly Into?

NOBO - You should fly into San Diego International Airport (Code: SAN) as it is the closest large airport to the Southern Terminus. Find yourself a bus, rental or ride share to get to the southern terminus.
SOBO - If you can find a flight into Everett (they keep adding flights in but currently very limited options), otherwise the airport is Sea-Tac (Code: SEA). Find a hotel as far north as you can then get transportation to Harts Pass Road, then you would hike to Monument 78.

Will I Need Ice Gear To Hike?

While not required for very long stretches within California you will need to pick up some ice gear more than likely around Kennedy Meadows. This should include an Ice Axe (Like This Camp Corsa), snow spikes or crampons, trekking pole snow basket attachment and if really snowy plausibly snowshoes.

Is the PCT Well Signed and Marked?

When heading NOBO the path is very clear both in marking, signage and foot travel. This isn't always as helpful for SOBO travel as markers aren't as easy to spot with the existing snow levels.

Should I Bring A GPS Monitor?

To me, I would say this is yes as you never know if you will need to be found. They also provide peace of mind to family and friends as you can reach out even where you don't have cell service. My personal device of choice barely adds any weight to my pack.

Where Is a Bear Container Required?

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Does The PCT Close During Winter?

The short answer is no. The more clear answer is once the snow falls the backcountry becomes home to skiers and the trail is buried. Other than that depending on impending issues like fire or act of god problems the trail doesn't close. You can always check the status on the PCTA Website.

Can I use marijuana on the Pacific Crest Trail?

While many states have legalized marijuana this may surprise you but the National Park is federal land and federal rules and laws apply. While the state may make this legal the federal law still makes this illegal throughout the trail while on federal land. So if you feel the need to hike it in then you will need to know that is a personal risk.

Next Stop: Proper Gear For The Pacific Crest Trail

Now that you have a broad understanding on the Pacific Crest Trail we can dive into the gear that will be necessary for you to properly hike and complete the entire trail. 
Continue to PCT Suggested Gear
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