Pacific Northwest Trail

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Pacific Northwest Trail
On the Pacific Northwest Trail.jpg
The Pacific Northwest Trail
Length 1200 mi (1931 km)
Location Montana / Idaho / Washington, United States
Designation National Scenic Trail in 2009
Trailheads Glacier National Park, MT
Cape Alava, WA
Use Hiking
Mountain biking
Highest point Cathedral Pass, Washington
Lowest point Pacific Ocean
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Moderate to Strenuous
Season Year-round at lower elevations, summer and fall at higher elevations
Sights Rocky Mountains
Mount Baker
Pacific Ocean
Hazards Severe weather
Grizzly bear
Black bear
Steep grades
Limited water

The Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), now designated as the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, is a 1200-mile hiking trail running from the Continental Divide in Montana (connecting it with the Continental Divide Trail), through the northern panhandle of Idaho, to the Pacific coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. It traverses the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and Wilderness Coast. The trail crosses three National Parks and seven National Forests. The trail was designated a national scenic trail in 2009. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the trail. It forms part of the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop. The Pacific Northwest Trail is considered to be one of the most challenging trails in the National Scenic Trail system, and, in portions, the most destructive, as one proposed routing would destroy the habitat of designated core habitat for the last twenty grizzlies in northwest Montana.


The Boundary Trail section of the PNT in Horseshoe Basin, Pasayten Wilderness

The route was first conceived and explored by Ron Strickland in 1970. In 1977, Strickland founded the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA), the organization that oversees education, maintenance, and fund-raising for the PNT. In 2002, the North Cascades National Park / Ross Lake National Recreation Area segment was designated a National Recreation Trail.[1] The Olympic National Park segment received this designation in 2003,[2] and the Glacier National Park[3] segment received the same designation in 2005. On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the bill H.R. 146 Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 which included as a midnight rider the previously-unpopular PNT as a national scenic trail and named the Department of Agriculture as administrator of the trail.[4]

Description of the route[edit]

Beginning at Chief Mountain Customs on the United States–Canada border in central Montana, the Pacific Northwest Trail traverses the high mountains and valleys of Glacier National Park, travels across the Flathead River, up the Whitefish Divide, and through the Ten Lakes Scenic Area. It then travels south toward the Kootenai River. This forest (along with the Kaniksu and Idaho Panhandle Forests) is grizzly bear habitat.

The PNT leaves the Moyie River Valley it winds its way through forestlands, dikes, and farmlands of the Kootenai River Valley, up Parker Creek to the Selkirk Crest, and down Lions Head into the Priest Lake State Forest. The trail continues over Lookout Mountain to Upper Priest Lake and through the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. It then travels over the Boundary Dam on the Pend Oreille River, and then continues over Abercrombie Mountain and into the bustling little town of Northport, Washington on the Columbia River.

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail overview map

Next, the trail wanders along the Kettle Crest, through the mining and forested areas of North Central Washington and into the rangelands and orchards of the Okanogan River Valley. From the city of Oroville, Washington, and along the Similkameen River to Palmer Lake, the trail begins its ascent into a large wilderness area, the Pasayten Wilderness. The Pasayten, coupled with the adjacent North Cascades National Park, provides some of the most remote country available in the Lower 48 United States. The trail continues through the Mt. Baker Wilderness, then federal, state, and private timberlands and down to the shores of Puget Sound. Along the dikes and through the farmlands of Skagit County, the trail crosses Fidalgo Island across the bridge at Deception Pass State Park and over Whidbey Island to the Washington State Ferry Terminal at Keystone.

After a thirty-minute ferry ride the trail picks up in the quaint seaside community of Port Townsend, Washington and the confluence of three trails: the Larry Scott Trail, the Olympic Discovery Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail. The trails circumnavigate the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and Discovery Bay before going their separate directions, with the PNT turning southwest through the Olympic National Forest, Buckhorn Wilderness and into Olympic National Park. As the trail leaves the park and travels along the Bogachiel River it finds its way through the northern end of the Hoh Rain Forest to the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Hoh River. The trail turns north and wanders along the Pacific Coast before entering the Quileute Indian Reservation at LaPush before completing its westward journey at Cape Alava.

Other protected areas through which the PNT passes[edit]

See also[edit]

Connected National Scenic Trails
Connected U.S. long-distance trails


  1. ^ "Pacific Northwest Trail, North Cascade NP/Ross Lake NR". American Trails. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  2. ^ "Pacific Northwest Trail, Olympic Park NP Segment". American Trails. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  3. ^ "Pacific Northwest Trail, Glacier National Park Segment". American Trails. Retrieved 2016-02-24. 
  4. ^ "Obama Signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009". The New York Times. 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 

External links[edit]