Record numbers of hikers are expected to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. Here's what it looked like in 1985.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a National Scenic Trail that runs 2,663 miles from the United States-Mexico border through California, Oregon, and Washington, where it reaches its northern terminus at the United States-Canada border. The Pacific Crest Trail is known as a challenging thru-hiking and backpacking route through some of the country’s most spectacular wilderness ranges. The trail generally follows the high route through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
The PCT (an acronym that many use to refer to the Pacific Crest Trail) passes through seven national parks and 25 national forests. The PCT was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, but was not officially finished until 1993.
Thru-hiking, or hiking a long trail in its entirety in one season, is a popular pursuit on the Pacific Crest Trail. A PCT thru-hike is a long-term commitment that usually takes several months of plans as well as 4-6 months of hiking. Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Crest is the topic of many books, memoirs and documentaries, including a recent best-selling memoir entitled “Wild,” written by Cheryl Strayed and promoted by Oprah Winfrey.
Together, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, are known as the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking in the United States. Someone who successfully thru-hikes all three trails is known as a Triple Crowner.
This aggressive 20.2-mile loop snakes past canyon walls and up aggressive ridgelines to stellar views of the Laguna Mountains and beyond.
This rigorous but rewarding 9.8-mile out-and-back on the Pacific Crest Trail climbs more than 2,000 feet to a summit with splendid high-desert views.
HIKERTOWN to TEHACHAPI/WILLOW SPRINGS ROAD: This one isn’t for tender-footed hikers. Best saved for springtime, it’s a hot run for 37 miles across the Mojave Desert peppered with iconic Joshua trees.
LAGUNA MEADOW to CA 78: Starting on the Laguna Rim, this 25.7-mile leg passes over granite knobs with long views into the undulating desert.
WALKER PASS to KENNEDY MEADOWS: Go 48.5 miles on the Kern Plateau, a slanted wilderness that connects foxtail pine country to the crumbling granite obelisks of the Sierra foothills.
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS to SONORA PASS: This 65.8-mile section travels the remote regions of Yosemite. Our advice: Pack a good camera (the scenery is five stars), extra sunscreen (it’s the High Sierra), and water shoes (swift rivers).
KENNEDY MEADOWS to TUOLUMNE MEADOWS: The highlight reel of this 209-mile section includes three national parks, several high passes with heavenly views, two stunning wilderness areas, and not a single road. Option: Detour up Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the Lower 48.
Hundreds of lakes and numerous campsites dot a 6,000-foot plateau on this 28.7-mile leg.
This 8.9-mile section hike gets top billing for its 100-mile Sierra views of shimmering alpine lakes, towering peaks, and hillsides bursting with wildflowers.
This 22.5-mile trip sticks to high ridges that serve up outstanding views of the Cascade’s infamous volcanoes.
A good pick for new backpackers and fit families, the 25.6-mile leg from White Pass north to Chinook Pass is spectacular without too much challenge.
Want mountain views? Gaze at horizon-hoggers like Rainier and Glacier Peak. Flora and fauna? Spot mountain goats amid the plentiful columbines. Lakeside camping? With 700 lakes, there’s no end to superb tent sites on this 58.7-mile trek.
This 49.8-mile traverse passes through all six California life zones, from scrubby deserts of chaparral and shaggy Mojave yucca to the frosty spine of the San Jacinto Range.
There’s really no such thing as crowds on the PCT, but if you want to ditch every last bit of traffic, hike the northernmost 35 miles.
Spend up to a week on this 28-mile stretch, which yields more consistent views than the densely forested remainder of the PCT in Oregon. “Take time to bag the Sisters,” advises Jack Haskel, our PCT map contributor. “There are great off-trail routes from basecamps on the trail.”
Looking for a spectacular dayhike near Portland? Most thru-hikers follow this alternate path, which passes a dozen large cascades, including walk-behind-it Tunnel Falls. “For a ways,” says Jack Haskel, our PCT map contributor, “the trail is blasted out of 200-foot cliffs with only some cables to hold onto.”
Traverse the dry, but surprisingly life-filled, San Felipe Hills on this 18.9-mile trip in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Hike past bizarre volcanic formations to a campsite offering remote sunrise views of the northern Sierras on this 14.8-mile trek.
I-8 to LAGUNA MEADOWS: Explore the shady ravines of the Laguna Mountains on this 19.2-mile to a cozy meadow campsite under Jeffrey pines.
CRAB FLATS ROAD to CA 138: Hot springs. Killer views. Lonely campsites. That’s just a short hitlist of what unfurls on this 30.4-mile section across the San Bernardino Mountains.
CA 74 to I-10: This 54.3-mile segment serves up an ecological buffet, passing through all California six life zones from the scrubby desert floor to the frosty spine of the San Jacinto Range.
CA 78 to WARNER SPRINGS: Best done during the cooler days of spring and fall, this 25.8-mile stretch runs through the shrubby San Felipe Hills of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
CAJON JUNCTION to CA 2: Walk the scar of the San Andreas Fault then climb the pinyon ridges of the Mojave Desert on this 23.6-mile trek. Don’t miss Wrightwood, CA, considered the friendliest hiker town just off the PCT.
THREE POINTS to AGUA DULCE: Finish off the San Gabriel’s by dipping into steep ravines and over ridges covered in spruce on this 41.3-mile stretch that ends beneath the uplifted sandstone cliffs in Vasquez Rocks County Park.
ELIZABETH CANYON to HIKERTOWN: Much of this 26.3-mile stretch navigates the slopes of Sawmill Mountain before ending in the desert flats of Hikertown, USA. High point: Views on Leibre Mountain stretch from the Pacific to the Mojave.
LANDERS MEADOW to WALKER PASS: Begin the long ascent into the Sierras through the pinyon forests and cholla clumps of the Scodie Mountains on this 38.7-mile leg. In spring, wildflowers bring color to the arid gray-green landscape.
EBBETTS PASS to CA 88: Pass through an ancient volcanic kiln of rugged knobs and lava streams now-framed with willows, peaceful meadows, and early-summer snow fields in the Mokelumne Wilderness. This is a moderately-challenging 23.6-mile leg.
US 50 to I-80: Visit two scenic wilderness areas, swim in countless lakes, and traverse above Lake Tahoe’s rim on this 56-mile section.
QUINCY-LAPORTE ROAD to OROVILLE-QUINCY HIGHWAY: This 29.8-mile leg skirts crumbled lava flows and the churning Middle Fork Feather River, where delightful riverside pools offer ample sunbathing and swimming.
SIERRA CITY to QUINCY-LAPORTE ROAD: Hike past dozens of alpine lakes and a few notable peaks on this 31.7-mile section. Don’t pass by the Sierra Buttes without climbing to the old lookout, the views from the top are some of California’s best.
BELDEN to HUMBOLDT SUMMIT: This 22.4-mile heart-pounding section climbs 5,000 feet and crosses several lovely mountain streams.
HUMBOLDT SUMMIT to CA 36: Hit the PCT midpoint and some refreshing creekside pools in the Sierra’s last canyon on this 17.9-mile section.
CA 36 to DRAKESBAD RESORT: Pick up some steam on this 17.4-mile segment through the puffing geysers and thermal lakes of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
DRAKESBAD RESORT to OLD STATION POST OFFICE: Head into the remote corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park on this 22.4-mile section past high mountain lakes ringed with conifers and a backdrop of cinder cone volcanoes.
OLD STATION POST OFFICE to BURNEY FALLS: This 43.8-mile leg, possibly the longest waterless stretch on the PCT, follows the sweltering contours of Hat Creek Rim before ending at a 129-foot cascade. In early spring, wildflowers are top-notch on the rim.
GRIZZLY PEAK to CASTLE CRAGS: Drop into shady canyons packed with cedars, firs, and flowing creeks before grinding up Girard Ridge for long-range vistas of snowy Shasta and the wrinkled Castle Crags on this 37.2-mile section.
BURNEY FALLS to GRIZZLY PEAK: Scope a raging 129-foot waterfall to start this tough-and-dry 37.5-mile leg through rolling fir-forest basins to an isolated peak that rewards with views of Mount Shasta.
I-5 to GUMBOOT TRAILHEAD: Trek past the lofty spires of Castle Crags to the weathered ridges and lakes near the Trinity Divide on this 21.5-mile stretch. Postcard views of Mount Shasta dominate the horizon.
GUMBOOT TRAILHEAD to CA 3: High in the Trinity Alps, this 32.9-mile ridge section views the headwaters of the Trinity River and countless alpine lakes.
CA 3 to CARTER MEADOWS SUMMIT: Pass rocky lake basins and deep, glacially scoured canyons on this 18.5-mile leg across the slim ridges of the Scott Mountains.
CARTER MEADOWS SUMMIT to ETNA SUMMIT: Stick to the high crest and get bird’s-eye views over the headwaters of the Salmon, Scott, and Trinity Rivers during this 18.1-mile section through the less-explored lakes and peaks of the Russian Wilderness.
ETNA SUMMIT to SEIDAD VALLEY: Packed with craggy peaks and rugged cirques, this 51.1-mile leg through the Marble Mountains serves up endless solitude.
SEIDAD VALLEY to OREGON BORDER: Few, if any hikers, make it this far north in California, so you’ll likely have the trail to yourself. This 32.1-mile leg begins with a steep climb out of the Klamath River Valley and hugs the Siskiyou Crest passing buttes and deep ravines.
CA 2 to THREE POINTS: This 25-mile leg has a mad list of peaks. Start by climbing 2,000 feet up Mt. Baden-Powell with views unfolding to the Sierra Nevada. Then zigzag the swelling ridges of the San Gabriel Crest.
CA 138 to I-15: On this 10.5-mile stretch, climb through sandy washes and gullies around Cleghorn Ridge to overlooks of Cajon Canyon and the San Gabriel Mountains.
TEHACHAPI/WILLOW SPRINGS ROAD to LANDERS MEADOW: Climb through the Piute Mountains on this 42.5-mile stretch past dry mining claims and an expanse of sagebrush and yucca.
OR 66 to OR 140: Trek through grassy slopes around Old Baldy into the lava fields of Brown Mountain on this 34.2-miler.
OREGON BORDER to OR 66: Pass under thick white firs on this 40.8-mile leg in the Siskiyou Mountains. Bonus: Watch the sunrise over Shasta from the Grouse Gap shelter.
OR 140 to OR 62: More than 200 lakes provide primo camping and swimming holes on this 45.3-mile stretch. At the beginning, scale 9,495-ft. Mt. McLoughlin for superb views.
OR 62 to OR 138: Crest the breathtaking caldera of Crater Lake on this 22.4-mile trip that ends in the flats of the Pumice Desert.
OR 138 to OR 58: Travel past the jagged spire of Mt. Thielsen on this 58-mile leg in the mountain hemlock slopes of Diamond Peak Wilderness.
OR 58 to ELK LAKE: Find secluded lakeside campsites beneath towering cliffs on this 40-mile stretch in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
FR 4220 @ BREITENBUSH LAKE to TIMOTHY LAKE: Knobby buttes dominate this 31.4-mile trip through a landscape of glistening lakes offering big views of Mount Jefferson.
ELK LAKE to OR 252: Skirt the glacier-draped Three Sisters on this 26.6-mile trip full of excellent ridgetop campsites, aspen-lined lakes, and fields of black volcanic glass. Tip: Wear durable boots.
TIMOTHY LAKE to TIMBERLINE LODGE: Giant stands of Douglas fir and lodgepole pine dominate this 23-mile leg which finishes on the airy slopes of Mount Hood.
TIMBERLINE LODGE to CASCADE LOCKS: Swift creeks, several waterfalls, and long photogenic views near Mt. Hood highlight this 41-mile segment.
STABLER to BIG MOSQUITO LAKE: Backpack through big huckleberry fields, visit an old Indian racetrack, and check out a hardened lava flow on this 33.7-mile leg that passes through Indian Heaven Wilderness.
BIG MOSQUITO LAKE to SHEEP LAKE: In-your-face glacier views of Mt. Adams dominate most of this 45.2-mile leg through beautiful subalpine meadows to the shores of a lovely ridgetop lake.
SHEEP LAKE to WHITE PASS: Get high into the snowy contours of Goat Rocks Wilderness on this 22.2-mile leg. Bring an ice axe and lightweight crampons for the Packwood Glacier.
WHITE PASS to CHINOOK PASS: This 25.6-mile leg traverses meadows dotted with lakes to the Cascade Crest for pin-up views of Mts. St. Helens and Rainier. Anderson Lake, just inside Rainier National Park, makes for a stellar final camp.
CHINOOK PASS to TACOMA PASS: Sticking to a craggy ridge over countless passes and peaks, this 37.4-mile leg features full-circle vistas over the central Cascades.
TACOMA PASS to SNOQUALMIE PASS: Hike through a patchwork of woodlands and lakes on this 25.3-mile stretch stocked with blueberries and long-range Rainier views.
STEVENS PASS to KENNEDY RIDGE: This 40.4-mile leg serves up plenty of challenge and isolation: bottomless canyons, long talus slopes, and raging creeks add an extra edge to the overall beauty.
KENNEDY RIDGE to HIGH BRIDGE RANGER STATION: Climb the rugged topography around Glacier Peak then cross two passes on this 42.1-mile rollercoaster leg into Agnes Creek.
HIGH BRIDGE RANGER STATION to RAINY PASS: Wind along the roaring banks of a steep 1,000-foot gorge on this 18-mile stretch in North Cascades National Park.
RAINY PASS to HARTS PASS: This 25.6-mile ridge-to-river leg runs under a glacier-carved outcrop and its centerpiece, the 8,366-foot Golden Horn.
HARTS PASS to CANADA: The last 34-mile leg of the PCT might be one of the grandest, and possibly the least-traveled. In the remote Pasatayen Wilderness, hikers are the minority compared to the prized wildlife populations (grizzlies, gray wolves, lynx).
SONORA PASS to EBBETTS PASS: Curve between sharp ice-hewn boulders on this 27.2-mile stretch surrounded by red volcanic peaks.
CA 88 to US 50: Start at the headwaters of the Truckee River and get an early glimpse at Lake Tahoe before winding through lush canyons on this 12.5-mile section.
I-80 to SIERRA CITY: This 32-mile leg runs from ridge-to-river and offers incredible campsites. Add a wildcard to this adventure by overnighting at a backcountry hut.
SNOQUALMIE PASS to STEVENS PASS: It’s you and the mountain goats on this 56.7-mile stretch along the crest of Alpine Lakes Wilderness to colorful meadows exploding with paintbrush and tiger lilies.
This moderate 14.4-mile trek meanders through meadows teeming with wildflowers and delivers epic vistas one of North America’s largest volcanoes.
Find big views and small crowds on this 18-mile loop in the Marble Mountains that tops above northern California at a secluded lakeside campsite.
OROVILLE-QUINCY HIGHWAY to BELDEN: Travel a scenic 16.3-mile rim route above alpine ponds to one California’s most isolated campsites under a canopy of red firs.
Every hiker’s life list should include the 270 miles between Mt. Whitney and Sonora Pass. It may take a month, but it’s a trivial sacrifice to make for the most unrelenting wilderness eye-candy you’ll ever feast on.
I-10 to BIG BEAR CITY: This 48.9-mile segment offers plenty of crowdfree miles through twisty canyons, past wind farms and into fragrant fir groves.
BIG BEAR CITY to CRAB FLATS ROAD: Follow the forested high ridges across the San Bernardino Mountains to creekbeds tangled in sagebrush on this 21.6-mile leg.
WARNER SPRINGS to CA 74: Horned lizards are just one of the oddly adapted desert creatures and plants you’ll see on the 35-mile leg over Bucksnort Mountain. Pack plenty of water.
SOUTHERN TERMINUS to BOULDER OAKS CAMPGROUND: From the US-Mexico border, begin this 21.2-mile leg with a traverse of Hauser Mountain’s broad slopes before descending into the lowlands near Lake Morena.
This interactive map is the next best thing to hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Check out the trail on seamless topo maps, aerial photos, or fly over the terrain by clicking on the Google Earth link.
Editor’s Note: Wildfires forced our map contributor to abandon the PCT and jump ahead to the next section. We hope to collect details on this 57-mile section soon.
Climb 1,300 feet to a sparkling alpine basin dotted with summer wildflowers on this 6.25-mile out-and-back along the Pacific Crest Trail.
On this 16.2-mile weekend, you’ll cross through a giant, glacier-carved basin with shimmering lakes and camp at first-class High Sierra campsites.
This challenging 10.4-miler climbs past lowland scrubs, a wildfire zone, and several campsites to a tall pine forest in Los Padres National Forest.
This weekend trip strings together cool ravines, desert canyons, and sunset views over the Pacific Ocean.
On this burly, 200-plus-mile traverse, which
crosses 33 passes and barely touches
established trails, you can find Alaska-size
scenery, complete solitude, and just
enough risk to keep things interesting.
String together two 10,000-foot peaks on this 19.4-mile loop with a mix of trail and off-trail pursuits. Enjoy fine campsites and views of Southern California too.
Follow the Pacific Crest Trail across wooded creeks and steep rock gardens to a broad summit overlooking the Columbia River Gorge on this strenuous 15-mile out-and-back.
This 7.9-mile out-and-back in North Cascades National Park links massive old-growth cedars, a photogenic gorge, and waterfall overlooks.
No time for Pacific Crest thru-hiking? This 12-miler samples a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, passing mile-high peaks and desert vistas.
This 10.6-mile out-and-back in the Cascade Range negotiates a variety of climbing routes to a crumbling volcanic summit (and a dizzying view).
Ditch the crowds on this lesser-traveled, 8.7-miler in the Columbia River Gorge that features shady old-growth forest, striking rock pinnacles, and a breathtaking waterfall.
This 10-mile loop in the heart of Washington’s Indian Heaven Wilderness is overflowing with wildflower meadows, summer huckleberries, and sparkling lakes. Do it as a dayhike, or backpack it with several side trip options.
This 18.5-mile point-to-point in the eastern fringes of the park follows the Pacific Crest Trail across Cascade ridgelines to picture-perfect views of Rainier.
Record numbers of hikers are expected to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. Here's what it looked like in 1985.
A new land acquisition would allow the trail to ditch the Mojave and add more mountains.
An incredible journey and an incredible beard too.
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