The Five Regions of the Pacific Crest Trail

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:

South­ern California
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.

Cen­tral California
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.

North­ern California
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.