A Brief History of the Pacific Crest Trail


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 hiki©istockphoto/Escaflowneng 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.