The Pacific Crest Trail extends from the southern tip of California to the northern tip of Washington and has changed thousands of lives throughout its nearly century-long existence. From the casual day adventures to the dedicated thru-hiker, the beauty and magnitude of all 2,650 miles are ever-growing, and like all things that now transcend generations, it started with just an idea and some very passionate individuals. Whether you are planning a life-changing expedition, or just want to know more about one of the first National Scenic Trails, here’s a brief history of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Early Beginnings
While no single individual can take claim to be the sole originator of the Pacific Crest Trail, a few names come to the top of the list when speaking about the early beginnings of the trail. Catherine Montgomery, a school teacher in Bellingham, Washington is often associated with being the person who in the year 1926 first suggested the creation of the PCT. Fred W. Cleator, a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest has a long history surrounding and directly involved with the Pacific Crest Trail, and among many other things, Cleator is credited towards the creation of Oregon’s Skyline Trail. But the man whose name is most commonly associated with the PCT history, and who has received the moniker “the Father of the Pacific Crest Trail”, is Clinton C. Clarke.
The Pacific Crest Trail Conference
Clarke’s legacy stems from his 1932 creation of the Pacific Crest Trail Conference, a federation of hiking clubs and youth groups, whose impact can still be seen today through the present Pacific Crest Trail Association. The PCT Conference joined together many local advocacy clubs and groups and led to the unification of the national trail. The PCT Conference included such partners as the Sierra Club, the Boy Scouts of America, and photographer Ansel Adams. In the summer months of 1935–38, Clarke and YMCA outdoorsman Warren Rogers (who would later continue Clarke’s work after his death) organized the YMCA PCT Relays, which helped map out much of the route that is used today and proved that the PCT could be built upon a majority of existing trails.
The National Trail Systems Act
In 1965, in accordance with new national attention and development of the PCT, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for further research and protection of national trail systems. In 1966, “Trails for America” was published in accordance with federal research, and by 1968, adopting the same language the National Trails System Act was passed through Congress. Eleven years after Clarke’s death, the National Trails System Act designated both the PCT and Appalachian Trail as National Scenic Trails, ensuring future protection and laying the way for a future 45+ Scenic and Historic Trail developments.
The Golden Spike
Over its long years of completion, the Pacific Crest Trail Conference grew and expanded alongside the trail. In 1972, Rogers, who was protégée to Clarke, created the Pacific Crest Trail Club and continued for the advocacy throughout his entire life. In 1992, the Pacific Crest Trail Conference and Club were merged into one, creating the Pacific Crest Trail Association which stands today to be the definitive organization representing the protection of the trail. In 1993, shortly after Roger’s death and lifetime dedication, a golden spike ceremony was held to officially welcome the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
History in the Making
While the PCT has been designated as complete, the landscape throughout the 2,650-mile trail is ever changing. The Pacific Crest Trail Association relies on both the volunteers and users of the trail to maintain it for years to come. Leave No Trace ethics and local clubs are the backbone of this cross country trail, and whether you pack down the dirt with a thru-hike of your own or spend a weekend clearing brush and filling in fire circles, everyone who steps forth onto the trail is making a history of their own.