Top 10 Highlights of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

While thru-hiking the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail comes with plenty of highlights, there are a few select locations along the way that tend to really stick out long after the hike is complete.

It’s the combination of epic scenery and trail milestones that create the ultimate highlights—whether it’s the tallest peak in the lower 48 or the entryway into a whole new state, there’s daily highlights to be found on the PCT, but only a handful of places that leave footprints in your mind forever.

Southern Terminus—Campo, California
While it’s not much more than GPS coordinates on the map, the Southern Terminus of the PCT holds special significance. Located in the small community of Campo, California, and erected only feet away from the U.S.-Mexico border, for the majority of thru-hikers attempting the trail this is where their journey begins. For the rest of thru-hikers, those heading south along the route, this marker denotes the end to an epic adventure.

Hiker Heaven—Agua Dulce, California
After trekking nearly 500 miles through Southern California and conquering obstacles including intense heat, sparse water, and the vertical gain of San Jacinto and Mt. Baden-Powell, northbound hikers arrive to a little place simply called Hiker Heaven. Located in the quiet community of Agua Dulce, Hiker Heaven is offered and maintained voluntarily by trail angels Dona and Jeff Saufley and provides tired hikers with a break from the trail, a place to rest up, and is an embodiment of the PCT community.

Kennedy Meadows General Store
A couple hundred miles after Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, and after nearly 700 miles of arid Southern California travel, northbound hikers arrive at the small community of Kennedy Meadows, known best as the gateway into the Sierra Mountains. Trading in the desert landscape for an alpine environment with reliable water sources is a great feeling for most hikers heading north, and the excitement resonates throughout the Kennedy Meadows community—especially at the Kennedy Meadows General Store, which serves as a common stopover for just about every hiker on the PCT.

Mt. Whitney Summit
Serving as the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney stands impressively not far off the traditional PCT route. Technically a side-trip off the trail, nearly all PCT hikers attempt the summit of Mt. Whitney from the western approach, and it’s no small feat to do so. For northbound thru-hikers, Mt. Whitney is just the beginning to the 200-plus mile John Muir Trail ahead of them, making for a 14,505-foot intro that can’t be forgotten.

Sonora Pass
As beautiful as it’s significant in the journey, Sonora Pass winds up and down through gorgeous Sierra scenery, all the while ushering hikers either out of or into the heart of the Sierra Mountains. For thru-hikers heading north, Sonora Pass comes right after finishing the John Muir Trail and marks a quasi-passageway into a new section of the trail (Northern California). For those heading south, Sonora Pass sets a high bar for expectations continuing into Yosemite and throughout the rest of the Sierra Nevada.

Crater Lake National Park
Located in the notoriously dry region of southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is a reinvigorating sight to behold. High above the ancient caldera, thru-hikers can opt for the alternative Rim Trail for the best views. With hundreds of miles of the PCT stretching north and south from the shores of Crater Lake, no matter the direction you’re heading, the sparkling blue waters are a much-deserved sight to see.

Cascade Locks / Bridge of the Gods
To cross between Washington and Oregon, hikers must cross the Columbia River along the Bridge of the Gods. Not only is the surrounding Columbia River Gorge that separates these two Pacific Northwest States filled with enough beauty to create a postcard business, but the feeling of crossing into a new state is excitement enough to make this charming town and massive structure a total highlight on the trail.

Goat Rocks Wilderness
With full 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Pacific Northwest alpine scenery, the Goat Rocks Wilderness within the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest in southwestern Washington provides some of the best views found on the PCT. With the right weather, an optional route can take hikers up and above “Old Snowy,” lending toward unparalleled views of what makes both the Cascade Mountains and the entire Pacific Northwest region so special.

Stehekin
Less than 100 miles south of the Canadian border, the small community of Stehekin lies deep within—and lends access to—North Cascades National Park, and is only accessible by boat, seaplane or foot travel. Hikers along the PCT, especially those going northbound, are no strangers to hiking by now, and can find much enjoyment from the serene settings of Stehekin. While it’s the last stop for many northbounders, it’s just the beginning for those heading south, and either way, no one can leave without sampling the fares provided by the Stehekin Bakery.

Northern Terminus—Washington/Canadian Border
Located in a small patch of woods designating the U.S. and Canadian border, for the majority of thru-hikers attempting the trail this is where their journey ends. But for those heading south, this marks the beginning of an epic adventure, and completes two ends of an intimately connected circle.