What Is The Pacific Crest Trail

Carey Oakes
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What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT is a hiking trail and equestrian site that spans 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.  Like the Appalacian Mountain Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, thousands of people from all over the world attempt to hike the entirety of the PCT each year. It typically takes hikers 5 months to complete a thru-hike.  On the way, the trail aligns with the highest points of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.

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The PCT is divided into 18 California segments, 6 in Oregon, and 5 in Washington.  The desert section up to the Walker Pass in Southern California can be rather mountainous.  Daytime temperatures are intensely hot and surprisingly cold at night.  Farther North marks the start of the Sierra Nevada.  This region is characterized by high Rocky Mountains and low canyons and lake basins.  Here bear canisters will be required to stow away any scented food, so make sure you come prepared.

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From the Donner Pass to the Oregon border, you’ll follow along the Hat Creek Rim.  The dry climate opens up to more lush forests, greenery and a wealth of volcanoes.  In Festival Locks on August 19-20, you’ll happen upon Pacific Crest Trail Days, an annual festival the celebrates hiking, outdoors, and connection.  The festival is free in the Marine Park, while overnight camping still has a fee.

As you make the transition from Oregon to Washington, hikers find a wetter, steeper climbs so come prepared for heavy rains and flooding river fords.

There’s a lot of wildlife to look out for on your PCT journey.  You’ll most likely see deer and elk on a daily basis and occasionally see a mountain goat if you’re lucky.  Mice, chipmunks, and other rodents will keep you company on your trek too, but be weary of rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and black bears in certain areas along the trail.

Tools and Resources

Planning a PCT thru-hike requires a lot of planning, and coming up with a schedule can be quite time consuming.   Below are some resources to help you prepare for your hike!

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PCT Permits

Because hiking the PCT has become such a popular trail, the PCTA now requires long distance permits.  A long distance permit is required for adventure seekers looking to hike at least 500 miles of the trail.  When applying for a permit, you’ll need to sign up on one of two launch dates: Oct 29 or January 14.  While the permit is free, it does require some forethought and planning.

In order to cook with fire in the state of California, you’ll also need a California Fire Permit.  Permits are free and valid from year.

Normally if you’d like to continue your hike into Canada, you could so with a Canada PCT Entry Permit and a passport.  The current travel restrictions, however, have put a stop to any and all entry permit processing.

Know the seven principles of Leave No Trace.  While this isn’t a permit, LNT is a framework to help hikers mitigate their impact on the PCT.   So plan ahead, travel on durable surfaces, dispose of waste correctly, leave behind what you find, limit the impact of campfires, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others.

PCT Accommodations

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In need of a resupply or a break?  There are plenty of stays along the PCT.  Some spots even offer discounts for those hiking for the long haul.  Check out some of our locations like the ITH Adventure Hostel at Mile 0 or stop for a brief night’s rest at ITH Big Bear located at Mile 266.

Get Involved with the PCTA 

It’s important to give back.  The Pacific Crest Trail Association is a nonprofit seeking to preserve and promote the PCT. Members volunteer to support the Trail and its community at large.  Their site has plenty of resources, some of which we’ve already mentioned, for those looking to embark on the PCT thru-hike.  The PCTA is truly an incredible organization and you’d be remiss to forget about the volunteers that make your PCT hike possible.

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