The Pacific Crest Trail

What is the PCT?

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a US National Scenic Trail. Located approximately 100-150 miles from the West Coast, the PCT stretches all the way from the US border with Mexico at Campo, CA to Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada, just north of the border.

Here are a few interesting facts (see more at the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s web site):

  • The PCT stretches over 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers). It takes approximately 530,000 steps to walk the entire length!
  • The trail spans three states (California, Oregon, and Washington), with a short incursion into Canada’s British Columbia province.
  • The trail goes through 57 major mountain passes, 19 major canyons, and over more than 1,000 lakes.
  • The highest point on the PCT is Forrester Pass, CA (13,153 ft aka 4,009 m). The lowest point is Cascade Locks, OR (193 ft aka 53 m.) The approximate total elevation gain (and loss) is 489,418 feet. A thru-hiker climbs the equivalent of Mt. Everest 16 times.
  • Major highlights include the Southern California desert, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and volcanic peaks and Alpine Lakes in the Cascade Range in the Washington State.
  • The vast majority of the trail is on Federal and public land, with just 300 miles in private land. The PCT goes through 5 national monuments, 5 state parks, 6 national parks, 25 national forests, and 48 federal wilderness areas.
  • The PCT is divided up into 29 sections, designated by their state and a letter. For example, I live near WA Section I (White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass) and WA Section J (Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass.)
  • The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) issues 50 long-distance permits per day for northbound trips starting at the southern terminus between March and May, plus 15 permits per day for southbound travel. Countless day and section hikers also enjoy the trail.
PCT map, courtesy of PCTA/Magellan

Videos

There is no shortage of videos on the Pacific Crest Trail out there, but the following three stand out and are worth watching if you want to better understand the call of the wild and the joys and tribulations of the journey.

The PCT Lingo

Backpacking is very much a sub-culture, and long-distance backpacking a bit of a microcosm, complete with its own vocabulary! Below are a few common terms and definitions. Here’s a much more expansive lexicon.