By Emily Frisan
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) long and was officially completed in 1993. Named for its trail that runs mostly along the high crests of the Sierra and Cascades mountain ranges in California, Oregon and Washington, this hike is no small feat. The starting point when traveling northbound is located at the US-Mexico border near Campo, California, and the finish line is located on the US-Canada border at Monument 78. Additionally, the terrain varies greatly along the route, with the trail stretching through roadways, the desert of Southern California, nearly 60 mountain passes, 19 major canyons, and forests, and passes past roughly 1,000 lakes. The PCT also passes through 24 National Forests, 37 Wilderness Areas, and 7 National Parks.
Despite its ambitious nature, the trail is open to anyone wanting to enjoy a challenge. Some only travel a few miles, while others attempt to complete the journey. Hikers that attempt to complete the trail in one year are called thru-hikers, which typically attempt hiking from south to north, at an average of about 20 – 30 miles per day, to ultimately finish before winter sets near the Canadian border, roughly amounting to 5 to 6 months of travel. Planning ahead, emergency management, and familiarity with outdoor travel is highly encouraged for adventurous hikers. Snow load, volume of water in streams and rivers, food and gear brought, fire danger, mosquito hatch and various other factors may influence the “best” time to be on the trail.
The USDA Forest Service defines a scenic trail as “a trail of national significance which is established by an Act of Congress pursuant to the criteria identified in the National Trail Systems Act of 1968,” following the first two, Pacific Crest and Appalachian started in 1968. The PCT passes through several land management units managed by different federal, state, and county provisions, as well as Native American reservations and private lands.
Since 1977, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has protected, maintained, and advocated for the Pacific Crest Trail. In fact, the PCTA provides an interactive map for travelers to learn more about land boundaries and territories, dangers such as wildfire, and recreational activities. If you are interested in helping protect or maintain the PCT, be sure to contact the PCTA or your local land manager, or other volunteer trail maintenance groups, to learn where you may be able to help, and keep up to date with hikers who are planning on completing the journey themselves.