Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Stunning mountains, lakes, forests, and canyons await you on the Pacific Crest Trail. Pack your hiking boots and get ready to climb for some incredible views!

Take a true vacation from your office, your cell phone, and your daily life by getting outdoors and exploring the beautiful West Coast. Go where you’re not tied to technology and get up close and personal with nature on a fantastic hike through the Pacific Crest Trail.  

The Pacific Crest Trail is approximately 2,650 miles long and passes through 7 national parks, 24 national forests, and 34 wilderness areas. But of course, you don’t need to hike the whole trail to appreciate its beauty. Experts recommend many smaller trips that allow you to soak up the gorgeous scenery of the West Coast. 

When should you go, what trip should you take, and what should you bring? We’ve got the answers.

Think About Your Ability

Solo hiker on Pacific Crest Trail enjoying Mountain View
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Before you start planning your trip, remember to keep your abilities in mind as you make decisions. Don’t decide to start with a 200-mile hike if you haven’t hiked in years! 

If you’re inexperienced or you tire easily, you will want to choose a short trail. You can always practice and build up your stamina so that you’ll be prepared to hike a longer section.

Where Should I Go?

Pacific Crest Trail sign in foreground with trail in background
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The answer to this depends on what you want to see. Broadly speaking, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is divided into five sections: Southern California, Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

If you live on the West Coast, you’ll probably want to choose the section that’s closest to you. If you’re flying or driving in, take the time to explore what sights each section offers. 

In Southern California, you’ll find easy and accessible terrain for hiking. Central California includes a route through the Sierra Nevada that is extremely popular and gorgeous. Northern California will take you from the southernmost Cascades to the Big Bend and is one of the more solitary sections of the PCT.

Like Southern California, the Oregon section of the PCT is easier to hike. Unlike Southern California, Oregon’s terrain includes deep old-growth forests, as well as lakes, volcanoes, and ridges. Last but not least, the Washington section runs from the Columbia Gorge through the North Cascades and is another popular section of the trail.

Read More: Ideal Destinations For Getting Off The Grid

John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail sign in foreground with trees in background
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One of the other most popular ways to hike the PCT is by taking the John Muir Trail (JMT). The JMT follows the PCT for about 170 miles, but it does diverge in some areas. On this trail you’ll see lakes, canyons, and towering mountains.

Running from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney and located entirely in California, the JMT is 211 miles long and boasts one of the mildest and sunniest climates of any mountain range in the world. It’s an extremely popular hike with stunning views that reward you for your hard work! Remember, you don’t have to hike the whole 211 miles!

Why is it called the John Muir Trail? To honor the famous California naturalist. But interestingly, the trail wasn’t set by him.

According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, “Exploring and mapping of the High Sierra was done in the late 1800′s by men like Theodore Solomons, Bolton Brown, and Joseph LeConte. Solomons has been referred to as the ‘father’ of the JMT and was quoted as saying ‘the idea of a crest-parallel trail came to me one day while herding my uncle’s cattle in an immense unfenced alfalfa field near Fresno. It was 1884 and I was 14.’” Solomons wanted to honor the beauty of the area, and the work of John Muir, with the JMT. 

When Should I Go?

Three hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail
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As you plan your trip, you’ll need to pay close attention to the weather. Of course, only highly experienced hikers should attempt to climb the mountains in winter, and the trails will likely be in use by skiers, making hiking a challenge. 

In general, if you want to hike high up in the mountains, summer and early fall are the best times to go. Low-lying areas in California are best hiked in the spring. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, “Winter snow buries most of the trail from around October or November into early July. Those looking for normal dry-trail conditions wait until the snow has melted.”

What Should I Bring?

There are 10 essential categories of items that you shouldn’t start your hike without: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, a first-aid kit, fire tools, a repair kit and tools, food, hydration, and shelter.

If you’re hiking a short section of the trail, you may want to carry more items to help you be more successful and comfortable on your trip. Think about bringing rain gear, a stove, dishes and bowls, a cup, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other helpful items. 

What Else Do I Need To Know?

Keep in mind that you may need a permit to hike. If you’re just going for a short day trip, you probably won’t need a permit; but if you’re hiking overnight, the chances are good that you’ll need to stop in at the local ranger station and get a permit.

Read More: Camping and Glamping Options for Appreciating Nature This Summer

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