Do your tastes run to clearly marked trails leading from car door to car door? Then forget the Pacific Northwest Trail. This informal, typically unmarked, and in places rarely traveled route is a linkup of Forest Service trails, Native American routes, cattle paths, gravel and paved roads, clear-cuts, and more bushwhacking than you can shake a trekking pole at. Map and compass skills are required. The approximately 1,200 miles carry hikers through one of the most extraordinary and diverse collections of landscapes on earth, taking in rattlesnake-filled deserts, soggy rain forests, alpine passes, saltwater ferry rides, rural farmland, and howling-wolf wilderness.
The hiking: You can find good trails along most of the route, but some places are still as wild as they ever were. Don’t venture there unless you have the appropriate skills, strength, and sense of adventure. This includes a healthy respect for grizzly bears, which haunt most of the PNT’s route through western Montana. The guidebook lists “practical” alternatives to the “ideal” route when the latter spans too much brush or private property without easements. If you decide to go wild, respect the land you’re wrestling through and watch your Leave No Trace manners in areas where an errant boot can kill a flower, erode the banks of a tundra stream, or damage the sensitive, work-in-progress relationships between PNT planners, environmentalists, and private property owners.
Building the dream: Several elaborate volunteer vacations are scheduled annually to help with trail building, and smaller work parties go out weekly throughout the year. The PNTA welcomes your membership in the organization, your time, and your money. See Contact, below, for the address.
Guidebook: The Pacific Northwest Trail: A Guidebook, by Ronald G. Strickland, is currently available only on floppy disk or CD in Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, from the PNTA (address below; $16). The print version, complete with topo maps, will be published in 2001 (Sasquatch Books, 800-775-0817; www.sasquatchbooks.
com; $18.95). The official PNT Field Observations handbook is available for free from the PNTA (address below).
Contact: Pacific Northwest Trail Association, (360) 854-9415; www.pnt.org; firstname.lastname@example.org.