The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most majestic trails in the United States. Traveling from the southern border of the United States to the northern, the trail covers roughly 2,600 hundred miles and passes through 25 National Forests and seven National Parks, and also traverses both the the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Are you drooling yet? Well, the PCT is commonly divided into five regions, each having their own intrinsic beauties, and all of which are worth exploring one at a time:
For the typical hiker heading northbound on the PCT, the trail starts in a small arid town near the Mexican border. The first part of the PCT stands as a good appetizer for all that is to come. The southern California section of the PCT starts at an elevation of 2,915 and eventually climbs up to 9,030, but most of the region is hot and humid. Crossing the San Andreas Fault and parts of the Mojave Desert, plan your water accordingly and expect to see some lizards and desert scrub.
The central California section of the PCT’s lowest elevation is at the beginning, Walker Pass, at 5,246 feet. Here, you are further introduced to the Sierra Nevada’s. Glacier lakes, expansive meadows, and dense conifer forests; this section has enough eye candy to melt a camera. And did anyone mention climbs? With eight passes reaching over 11,000 feet, including Forester Pass which clocks an impressive 13,153 feet, this can be a section where you lose the stragglers. And with conjunction with the John Muir Trail, this is possibly one of the most famous sections of the entire trail.
Sadly, your Sierra Nevada experience ends in the northern California section of the PCT. The good news though? Welcome to the Cascade Mountains. Just when you thought nothing could be better, northern California delivers with lush forests and drool-inducing views of the natural world. Bring your bear canister with you throughout this section, for black bears are a common sighting. Also known to make an appearance on the northern California side of things are the raccoon, mink, bobcat, fox, and deer.
Touted as the easiest section of the PCT, once you enter Oregon, you can take a break on the elevation. With a prominently flat topography, Oregon doesn’t lack any mountain views. Check out Mount Washington, Three Sisters, and Mount Hood as you take a step off the trail and into one of the many alpine lakes on or around the PCT. This includes Crater Lake National Park which provides campers with a picturesque spot to pitch the tent.
In contrast to the Oregon side of things, Washington provides perhaps the most rugged sections of the trail. Starting at the Bridge of the Gods at the Columbia Gorge, this trail quickly ascends further into the Cascade Range. Feast your eyes on the symbolic mega-monolith Mount Rainer and navigate your way through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Be on your toes, and pack your rain gear, because this section of the trail is commonly the wettest as well. But with Glacier Peak and everything the North Cascades has to offer, a little rain is well worth the price.
Ideally, you can do all five, but if you had to, what region would you choose? The wet climate of Washington or the arid surroundings of southern California? How about somewhere between in either the Sierra Nevada’s or Cascades? Any which way you go, prepare to be amazed and don’t forget an extra pair of socks.