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.