Pacific Crest Trail

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Pacific Crest Trail
Ritter Range Pacific Crest Trail.jpg
The Pacific Crest Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, with a view of the Ritter Range
Length 2,663 mi (4,286 km)[1]
Location California / Oregon / Washington, USA / British Columbia, Canada
Designation National Scenic Trail
Trailheads Campo, California
Manning Park, British Columbia
Use Hiking
Horse riding
Elevation change 420,880 ft (128,284 m)[2]
Highest point Forester Pass, 13,153 ft (4,009 m)[5]
Lowest point Cascade Locks, 140 ft (43 m)[6]
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Moderate to Strenuous
Months Late April to Late September
Sights Sierra Nevada (U.S.)
Cascade Range
Hazards Severe Weather

The Pacific Crest Trail (commonly abbreviated as the PCT, and occasionally designated as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 km) east of the U.S. Pacific coast. The trail's southern terminus is on the U.S. border with Mexico, and its northern terminus on the U.S.Canada border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia; its corridor through the U.S. is in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long[1] and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon–Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m)[5] at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.[7] Its midpoint is in Chester, California (near Mt. Lassen), where the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges meet.[8]

It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, although it was not officially completed until 1993.[9] The PCT was conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932.[10] It received official status under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

It is the westernmost and second longest component of the Triple Crown of Hiking, and is part of the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop.


The route is mostly through National Forest and protected wilderness. The trail avoids civilization, and covers scenic and pristine mountainous terrain with few roads. It passes through the Laguna, Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges in California, and the Cascade Range in California, Oregon, and Washington.

PCT overview from Forest Service brochure

A parallel route for bicycles, the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail (PCBT) is a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) route designed closely parallel to the PCT on roads. The PCT and PCBT cross in about 27 places along their routes.


The Pacific Crest Trail was first proposed by Clinton C. Clarke, as a trail running from Mexico to Canada along the crest of the mountains in California, Oregon, and Washington. The original proposal was to link the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (both in California), the Skyline Trail (in Oregon) and the Cascade Crest Trail (in Washington).[9]

The Pacific Crest Trail System Conference was formed by Clarke to both plan the trail and to lobby the federal government to protect the trail. The conference was founded by Clarke, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Ansel Adams (amongst others). From 1935 through 1938, YMCA groups explored the 2000 miles of potential trail and planned a route, which has been closely followed by the modern PCT route.[9]

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson defined the PCT and the Appalachian Trail with the National Trails System Act. The PCT was then constructed through cooperation between the federal government and volunteers organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. In 1993, the PCT was officially declared finished.[9]

Thru hiking[edit]

Main article: Thru-hiking

Thru hiking is a term used in referring to hikers who complete long distance trails from end-to-end in a single trip. The Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail were the first three long-distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking.[11] Thru-hiking is a long commitment, usually taking between four and six months, that requires thorough preparation and dedication. Although the actual number is difficult to calculate, it is estimated that around 180 out of approximately 300 people who attempt a thru-hike complete the entire trail each year.[12] The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes most hikers between 6 and 8 months to plan their trip.[12]

The first thing prospective thru hikers have to do before attempting a thru hike is to plan out and sketch out their trip. In general the decision of which route to take needs to be considered. While most hikers travel from the Southern Terminus at the Mexico Border northward to Manning Park, British Columbia, some hikers prefer a southbound route. In a normal weather year, northbound hikes are most practical due to snow and temperature considerations. If snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is high in early June and low in the Northern Cascades, some hikers may choose to 'flip-flop.' Flip-flopping can take many forms but often describes a process whereby a hiker begins at one end (on the PCT, usually the southern end) of the trail and then, at some point, like reaching the Sierra, 'flips' to the end of the trail (Manning Park in B.C.) and hikes southbound to complete the trail. However, it is not currently possible to legally enter the United States from Canada by using the Pacific Crest Trail.[13]

Hikers also have to determine their resupply points. Resupply points are towns or post offices where hikers replenish food and other supplies such as cooking fuel. Hikers can ship packages to themselves at the U.S. Post Offices along the trail, resupply at general and grocery stores along the trail, or any combination of the two.[14] The final major logistical step is to create an approximate schedule for completion. Thru hikers have to make sure they complete enough miles every day to reach the opposite end of the trail before weather conditions make sections impassable. For northbound thru hikers, deep snow pack in the Sierra Nevada can prevent an early start. The timing is a balance between not getting to the Sierra too soon nor the Northern Cascades too late. Most hikers cover about 20 miles (32 km) per day.[12]

In order to reduce their hiking time, and thereby increase their chances of completing the trail, many hikers try to substantially reduce their pack weight. Since the creation of the Pacific Crest Trail there has been a large movement by hikers away from large heavy packs with a lot of gear. There are three general classifications for hikers: Traditional, Lightweight, and Ultralight.[15] Over the past few years the number of traditional hikers has dropped considerably.

Notable hikers[edit]

Before the PCT was planned, Martin Papendick was the first known person to hike across three states of the PCT in 1952.[16] After being one of the first to finish the Appalachian trail in 1951, Papendick hiked between July 4 and December 1, 1952, from British Columbia to the Mexican border over the crests of the mountains along the Pacific Coast, a feat he reported in a periodical under the title "Pacific Crest Trails".[17]

On October 16, 1970, Eric Ryback, an 18-year-old student, completed the first PCT thru-hike. His personal congratulations came by telegram from no less than Edward P. Cliff, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.[18] Ryback is credited, recognized, and has been honored by the Pacific Crest Trail Associated as the official first thru-hiker of the entire trail.[19] Ryback completed the Appalachian Trail in 1969 (as a 16-year-old); the Pacific Crest Trail in 1970; and a route approximating today’s Continental Divide Trail in 1972.[20] Ryback's 1971 book The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot focused public attention on the PCT. Ryback carried an 80-pound pack on his 1970 thru-hike. He had only five resupply packages on the entire trip, and was loaded with 40 pounds of food at the start of each leg. He often ran out of food and foraged or went hungry.[19] Ryback also helped the Forest Service lay out future plans for the PCT.[21]

Ryback's claim is disputed. When the guidebook publisher, Wilderness Press, stated in print that Ryback had used motor transport in places along the PCT, Ryback sued for $3 million, but withdrew the suit after Wilderness Press revealed statements from the people who claim to have picked up the young hiker along highways parallel to the 2,600-mile trail.[22] Ryback is in Smithsonian's top 9 list of people Cheating Their Way to Fame though it notes that The claims that Ryback “cheated” are still doubted by some.[23]

The first person to hike the PCT from south to north[citation needed] was Richard Watson, who completed the trail on September 1, 1972.[16] Watson was often credited as the first PCT thru-hiker, because Papendick was generally unknown, and Ryback may have accepted rides.[16] The first woman to complete the PCT was Mary Carstens, who finished the journey later in 1972 accompanied by Jeff Smukler.[16]

The first person to thru-hike the entire PCT both ways in a single continuous round-trip was Scott Williamson, who completed the "yo-yo" circuit on his fourth attempt in November 2004. Williamson traveled a total of 5,300 miles (8,530 km) in 197 days, covering an average of 35 to 40 miles (56 to 64 km) per day when not in snow – an overall average of 27 miles (43 km) per day – wearing an extremely ultra-lightweight pack, which "without food, weighed about 8.5 pounds (3.9 kg)".[24] Williamson then went on to complete a second round trip on November 28, 2006, cutting two weeks off his 2004 time.[25]

The youngest person to thru-hike the trail is Christian Thomas, who hiked the trail from April 5th 2014 through November 24th 2014 at the age of 6. He completed his hike with his mother Andrea Rego and father Dion Pagonis. [26] The youngest girl to thru-hike the trail is Sierra Burror, who hiked the trail from April through September 2012 at the age of 9. She completed her hike with her mother, Heather Burror.[27][28][29]

Other notable young hikers include Reed Gjonnes and Mary Chambers. Reed Gjonnes, who hiked the trail in 2011 at age 11, went on to complete the Triple Crown of Hiking, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.[30] Mary Chambers hiked the route with her parents in 2004 at age 10. A book about their experiences on the trail Zero Days was published in January 2008 by Wilderness Press.[31]

An autobiographical account of a woman hiking a portion of the PCT alone in 1995, at age 26, was written by Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published in 2012 and reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.[32] Her hike is the subject of the 2014 Film "Wild," starring Reese Witherspoon.

The oldest person to thru-hike the trail is not known.[33]

On August 7, 2013, Heather Anish Anderson set a new unsupported speed record completing the entire PCT in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes.

On August 10, 2014, Joseph McConaughy, a former Boston College middle distance runner, set a new supported speed record and the overall fastest time for the PCT. The distance was covered in 53 days, 6 hours, and 37 minutes.[34][35][36] This overcame the previous record of 59 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes,[37][38][39][40] set by Josh Garret on August 8, 2013, by more than 6 days. Joe was supported by a team of three hikers, Jordan Hamm (a former Boston College distance runner), Michael Dillon, and Jack Murphy.

Also in 2014, Olive McGloin (from Ireland) became the first woman to thru-hike the PCT both ways in a single continuous round-trip. [41]

Equestrian use[edit]

Don and June Mulford made the first verifiable equestrian Thru-Ride of the PCT in 1959.[42][43][44] In that year the Pacific Crest Trail stretched a poorly marked 2,400 miles from Mexico to Canada. More concept than footpath, the trail was an oft-broken, high-ridge track disappearing regularly from map and terrain. On April 19, 1959, on an empty scrub sage plain seven miles east of Tijuana, with four horses, Don and June Mulford began their journey north to the Washington/Canadian border. The Mulfords went to Hollywood for three months immediately after the ride and were featured on network television. June's old press book yields a half-dozen TV-Guide pages, and she recalls, "Art Linkletter was such a nice man. We appeared on his 'House Party' show and he had coffee with us afterward." "High Road to Danger," a syndicated TV show, made an episode on their ride. Even after returning home to the Northwest, there was continued TV coverage. A January 1961 TV Guide records their appearance on Portland's KOIN Red Dunning Show. The Mulfords even made a 90-minute movie and showed it around 12 western states for 10 years.

The Murray family – Barry, Bernice, Barry Jr. and Bennette – completed the trek on horseback on October 7, 1970.[45]


In 2008, an agreement for realignment through Tejon Ranch was reached.[citation needed]

Portland, Oregon's 40 Mile Loop proposes to extend the Springwater Corridor hiking and bicycling spur trail to connect to the Pacific Crest Trail[46] with the proposed Cazadero Trail.[47]

Notable locations[edit]

The following notable locations are found along or adjacent to the route of the Pacific Crest Trail. They are listed from south to north to correspond with the itinerary typically followed by thru-hikers to take advantage of the best seasonal weather conditions. The numbers in parentheses correspond to the numbers on the PCT overview map above.




Mount Daniel in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Adams Glacier viewed from the PCT on Mount Adams
Cascade Pass in the North Cascades National Park
Old Snowy in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, north of Mount Adams

British Columbia, Canada[edit]

Location coordinates[edit]

Pacific Crest Trail logo
Point Coordinates
(links to map & photo sources)
United States – Mexico border 32°35′23″N 116°28′07″W / 32.5898°N 116.4685°W / 32.5898; -116.4685 (United States – Mexico border)
Forester Pass 36°41′39″N 118°22′19″W / 36.6941°N 118.3720°W / 36.6941; -118.3720 (Forester Pass) highest point
Oregon – California border 42°00′14″N 122°54′36″W / 42.0038°N 122.9100°W / 42.0038; -122.9100 (Oregon – California border)
Columbia River 45°39′45″N 121°53′58″W / 45.6624°N 121.8994°W / 45.6624; -121.8994 (Columbia River) lowest point
Canada – United States border 49°00′00″N 120°47′55″W / 49.0°N 120.79869°W / 49.0; -120.79869 (Canada – United States border)

Coordinates: 42°00′14″N 122°54′36″W / 42.0038°N 122.9100°W / 42.0038; -122.9100

See also[edit]

Additional U.S. long distance trails
Connected U.S. long distance trails
Connected National Historic Trails


  1. ^ a b Go, Benedict; Pacific Crest Trail Association (2005). Pacific Crest Trail Data Book. Wilderness Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-89997-369-2. 
  2. ^ Parks, Scott (2011-04-06). " Pacific Crest Trail Data Book". Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  3. ^ "Pacific Crest Trail – Central California Online Map and Guide". USFS. 2005-04-26. Archived from the original on 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2006-09-23. 
  4. ^ "Forester Pass". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 
  5. ^ a b Sources disagree on Forester Pass's elevation. The Forest Service claims 13,180 feet (4,017 m)[3] while the USGS says 13,153 feet (4,009 m),[4] but topographic maps showing 36°41′39″N 118°22′19″W / 36.6941°N 118.3720°W / 36.6941; -118.3720 indicate a little less than 13,123 feet (4,000 m).
  6. ^ "Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail". USFS. Archived from the original on 2010-01-16. 
  7. ^ "Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail." Parks Directory of the United States. 2004 ed.
  8. ^ "Pacific Crest Trail midpoint". Wikimapia. 
  9. ^ a b c d "History of the Pacific Crest Trail". Archived from the original on 2010-01-22. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  10. ^ Gally, Sid. "The Pacific Crest Trail had its roots in Pasadena". Pasadena Star News. 
  11. ^ Berger, Karen (2001). Hiking the Triple Crown: How to Hike America's Longest Trails : Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail. Seattle: Mountaineers Press. ISBN 0-89886-760-6. 
  12. ^ a b c "FAQs". Pacific Crest Trail Association. Archived from the original on 2011-12-25. Retrieved 2006-12-19. 
  13. ^ Wilson, Kimberly (2010-07-02). "Mind the border: Feds warn Pacific Crest Trail hikers crossing from Canada to U.S.". The Oregonian. 
  14. ^ "Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Points". Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  15. ^ Jardine, Ray (2000). Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine's Guide to Lightweight Hiking. LaPine, OR: AventureLore. ISBN 0-9632359-3-1. 
  16. ^ a b c d Schifrin, Ben; Schaffer, Jeffrey P; Jenkins, Ruby Johnson (2003). The Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California. Wilderness Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-89997-316-7. 
  17. ^ Papendick, Martin. "Pacific Crest Trails". Appalachia (Appalachian Mountain Club, 1953). XXVIII: 374–376. 
  18. ^ "Ryback Returns" (PDF). Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "Fun Facts". Pacific Crest Trail Association. Archived from the original on 2012-08-28. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Medals for Miles" (PDF). Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Muir Trail Story". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  22. ^ Dropping the suit is not necessarily a confession of cheating, but could have been motivated by the difficulty of litigating the case, unavailability of witnesses, misplacement of journals, photos, and other evidence after many years.
  23. ^ Alastair Bland (April 17, 2013). "Cheating Their Way to Fame". Retrieved October 10, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Hiker Completes First Round-Trip of Pacific Crest Trail". Outside Magazine. November 18, 2004. Archived from the original on 2004-12-04. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  25. ^ "A solo accomplishment is appreciated by many". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2006-12-02. Retrieved 2006-12-02. 
  26. ^ "Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hiker". Buddy Backpacker. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Nine-year-old Monkey completes the PCT". Pacific Crest Trail Association. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  28. ^ "An Interview with "Monkey"". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  29. ^ Heather and Sierra. "Sierra Hikes!". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  30. ^ Zach Urness, (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal (27 October 2013). "Ore. girl, 13, youngest to claim hiking 'Triple Crown'". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  31. ^ Zero Days. Wilderness Press. ISBN 0-89997-438-4. 
  32. ^ Taylor, Ihsan. "Best Sellers - The New York Times". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  33. ^ "Interview with John Craig". RadioNZ.  In this interview, John was stated as being the oldest person to walk the trail but this was as a result of miscommunication. In 2010, White Beard walked the trail at 70 but he may not be the oldest.
  34. ^ "Seattle Runner Smashes Speed Record For Full Length of Pacific Crest Trail". Northwest Public Radio. 
  35. ^ "55 miles a day: Blistering pace for hiker seeking Pacific Crest record". The Seattle Times. 
  36. ^ "Run For Colin". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  37. ^ "Pacific Crest Trail (CA, OR, WA)". Fastest Known Time. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  38. ^ "PCT speed record is shattered twice". Pacific Crest Trail Association. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  39. ^ "Vegan Hiker Sets New Record On Pacific Crest Trail". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  40. ^ "Man, woman set records on Pacific Crest Trail". Seattle Times. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  41. ^ "A walk on the wild side: meet the first woman to YoYo the Pacific Crest Trail". Irish Times. 
  42. ^ Meadows, Mel (1959-09-06). Seattle Post Intelligencer.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  43. ^ Mann, Barney (2009-09-25). Portland Oregonian.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  44. ^ Mann, Barney (December 2009). PCTA Communicator.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  45. ^ Life Magazine, September 3, 1971
  46. ^ "40 Mile Loop map" (PDF). 40-Mile Loop Land Trust. Archived from the original on 2009-04-27. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  47. ^ "Cazadero Trail". Metro (Oregon). Retrieved August 16, 2013. 

External links[edit]