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pacific crest trail

A Full Guide to Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail


The Pacific Crest Trail is the second-longest hiking trail in the continental United States, with the full estimated length of the Pacific Crest Trail is currently 2650 miles long (4265 km). The length of the trail can vary as it is hard to get an exact measurement as the trail gets rerouted each year, which can add or subtract up to 10 miles. Typically it can be rerouted due to wildfires in the area, better pathways for hikers or just to add nicer scenery.

The trail starts in the small town of Campo in the United States – Mexico border and goes through California, Oregon, and Washington before it reaches the United States – Canada border in Manning Park, British Columbia.  Overall, the trail passed through 25 national forests and seven national parks.

Overall, it is estimated that 700-800 people attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail each year, and while the number is lower than those attempting the Appalachian Trail, the completion rate for the PCT vs the AT is much better as 60% of these people finish the trail in full. For the average hiker, thru-hiking the trail can take 4-6 months, with the norm being to hike 10- 20 miles per day.


What is the Fastest the Pacific Crest Trail has Been Hiked?

The current record is 51 days, 16 hours, and 55 minutes by the ultra-runner Timothy Olson, completed on the 22nd July 2021. He beat the previous record set by Karel Sabbe, who actually currently holds the fastest time record for thru-hiking Appalachian Trail. His time of completion in 2016 for the Pacific Crest Trail through the northbound route, the same way as Olson, was 52 days, 8 hours, and 25 minutes, meaning he was only beaten by a day!

It is estimated he averaged 51.3 miles a day to complete the challenge, which is more than double that of the average thru-hikers time.



Photo by form PxHere

Northbound Vs Southbound

The weather you face on the Pacific Crest Trail can be dramatically different, depending on which way you decide to go – starting in Canada and going south or starting in California and going North. If you chose to go ‘Northbound’ ( starting in California) you should begin the trail in late April, whereas going ‘Southbound’ ( starting in Canada) you would begin in late June. 90% of thru-hikers on the trail go northbound because the weather and other logistics such as terrains and landscapes mean it is less challenging to complete that way, so unless you have done the trail previously or have incredible back-packing experience, starting in California is most likely where you will begin your hike.



The Main Sections of the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is divided into 30 sections altogether: 18 in California, 7 in Oregon, and 5 in Washington. The average length of each section is around 91 miles. The trail can be broken down even further into five main sections, each with different climates and levels of difficulty.


Section 1. Southern California aka ‘The Desert’

This section is very hot and dry (hence the nickname), however, despite this it is actually really rich in flora and fauna, providing you with some very pretty and picturesque landscapes. It’s quite an easy section of the hike, it covers flat terrains, hills, and some areas that can be a bit steep, but overall the main challenge is probably the heat.

You need to be prepared beforehand water-wise as it can be very scarce to find in this section, as well as any other supplies need to combat the heat and weather conditions.

Starts: Campo (mile 0)

Ends: Kennedy Meadows (mile 702)


Section 2. Sierra Nevada

One of the more daunting sections to hikers is this one, as all of the Pacific Crest Trail on this section is above 6.500 ft.  Luckily, compared to the previous section water is a-plenty as there are lakes and streams throughout. There will be snow patches on the mountains and the weather can be a bit cold and change quickly, so keep an eye on local forecasts during this section and again plan accordingly.

Starts: Kennedy Meadows (mile 702)

Ends: Echo Lake (mile 1.092)


Section 3. Northern California

The weather picks up again in this section, it is warmer than in the Sierra – night and day – but still maintains some mountainy landscapes. The terrain is much easier however so provides a nice change of pace is after all those mountain landscapes you’ve dealt with previously.

Starts: Echo Lake (mile 1.092)

Ends: California/Oregon border (mile 1.692)


Section 4. Oregon

Considered the easiest section due to its mostly flat terrain, the section in Oregon goes through forests and lava fields with hot weather throughout, but not as hot as California. Sadly, a lot of the areas have been affected by wildfires, so a lot of the previously beautiful landscapes are now not as impressive but there is still plenty to see nonetheless.

Starts: California/Oregon border (mile 1.692)

Ends: Cascade Locks (mile 2.147)


Section 5. Washington

The landscapes of this section become very alpine and beautiful, covered with forests and mountains. While it may be full of much more rugged and difficult terrains than provided by the Oregon section, the gorgeous scenery more than makes up for it.

Washington is known to be very rainy, and cold weather is to be expected in this section, so it will be time to get your outer layers and coats on.

The Pacific Crest Trail is divided into 30 sections altogether: 18 in California, 7 in Oregon, and 5 in Washington. The average length of each section is around 91 miles. The trail can be broken down even further into five main sections, each with different climates and levels of difficulty.

Starts: Cascade Locks (mile 2.147)

Ends: The Canadian border (mile 2.652)



pacific crest trail

Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California


Permits You Need to be Able to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

Before you even attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail you need to have 3 permits: a thru-hiking permit for the PCT, a permit to enter Canada, and a California Fire Permit.

If you want to use a stove, lantern, or have a campfire in the California sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, you are going to need a California Fire Permit. This is necessary to be able to cook food or boil your water by stove e, and acts as your agreement to follow the campfire restrictions and regulations in effect in California. Keep in mind, however, this doesn’t mean you can use campfires, as they are generally not allowed in Southern California or during hot summers. Oregon and Washington do not require Fire Permits.

For more information on how to get these permits, you can go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association website here.


Accommodation on the Pacific Crest Trail



The majority of thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail pack tents and sleeping bags to sleep at night on the trail. There are many campgrounds to pick from, each with different price ranges depending on the services they offer such as Wi-Fi, showers, electricity outlets, hiker boxes, or even on-site stores.


Local Lodging

Hostels – along the trail there are many hostels to choose from if you don’t fancy a night of camping and just need some time to recharge and reorganize. Hostels can provide laundry services, food, bathrooms, showers, electrical outlets, and also a chance to bond with other hikers on the trail. They are a very affordable option and could be great if you know there are particular spots along the trail that you think will be quite difficult and putting up your tent to go to sleep in on top of that would be too much.


Motels – there is also plenty of motels that dot along the trail. They have the same benefits as hostels and can be great if you are hiking with others and want a room to be able to share as you can split the cost making them another affordable option. If you are really lucky, you can also get some that have services such as continental breakfasts, or even more excitingly hot tubs or pools!


pacific crest trail

Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California


What to Bring with You

This is a long trail with varying weather conditions, you need to plan beforehand what you will need for each section and go from there. The essential items you need to have on you when traveling the Pacific Crest Trail are :

Backpack – The item you need to get last once you have all your gear together, the backpack is one of the most important items you need for thru-hiking the PCT. It should be as comfy as possible, you will be carrying it the whole time so you need to make sure to pick something that is the right fit for you. An un-comfy backpack that rubs will make the trail much harder than it needs to be and just lead to an unpleasant experience.


Suitable Clothing – Think of all the sections you are going through, the different climates and temperatures, and weather conditions you will face, and plan clothing according to that. For example, you know Southern California, where you start the trail, is going to be hot and dry whereas later on on the trail, Washington will be rainy, you will need a waterproof jacket for that section.

Same as any long-distance hike, you also need comfy and suitable shoes. Again, this can make or break how pleasant your experience on the trail is. if you start and your feet rub straightaway that won’t be fun. You also should bring more than one pair.


Food –  Obviously you cant pack all your food for the entire journey, throughout the trail, you will need to make stops to pick up supplies for meals. However, these are some of the staple snacks that are popular with hikers, which provide high protein, calories, fat, and nutrients all of which are important to keep up while hiking the trail.

Dried Fruit



Protein Bars


Instant Noodles

Oatmeal Packets


Peanut Butter


Other Essential Items: 

Navigation – Compass, map, phone app

Sun Protection – sunglasses, hat, sun cream

Water Filter

Potty Kit

First Aid Kit


Duct tape (for repairs)

Lights source -headlight/ torch

Lighter/ Matches





Wildlife and Animals on the Pacific Crest Trail

Each of the 5 main different sections you enter on the Pacific Crest Trail host’s wildlife different from the last, ‘the desert’ is full of rattlesnakes, desert lizards, and cattle, the Sierra has marmots and sometimes even bears and so on for each section. Here are some of the main animals and wildlife you can expect to come across, however, a full list of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians you can encounter on your hike is available here.


pacific crest trail

Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management California

American Beaver

American Robin

Black Bear


Bighorn Sheep 

California Newt 

Golden Eagle

Mountain Goat

Grey Jay

Giant Hairy Scorpion 



Long Tail Weasel

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Striped Skunk

Speckled Rattlesnake

Spotted Owl


Western Black Widow

Western Banded Gecko

Western Diamond Back Rattlesnake

Western Skink



Pacific Crest Trail Safety Information



Wildlife Safety 


The majority of the Pacific Crest Trail is in black bear country, and while people seem always to be scared of attacks from these bears it is highly unlikely. In the last 150 years, only ONE person has been killed by a black bear on the PCT, and that’s taking in mind the trail covers the three states of California, Oregon, and Washington so yeah, a bear killing is most likely not going to happen.  There are also technically grizzly bears on the trail, but the chances of coming across one are slim, there hasn’t been a sighting since 2010.

If you don’t want to suffer a bear attack – avoid them, you leave bears alone they are most likely going to leave you alone too. You should never approach the bear, watch instead, and pay attention to its behaviour that can provide warning signs to you.


Venomous Snakes, Spiders, Scorpions 

If you have been bitten by any venomous creature, you should get help and go to the hospital as soon as possible. Research the possible species you could come across on the trail and what you should do if bitten by any of them.



Honestly, the main wildlife threat you will encounter on the Pacific Crest Trail isn’t bears- it’s mosquitos. Pack bug spray or a bug net to avoid being bitten by these pesky insects. there isn’t too much risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness on the PCT, but it can happen, cases of malaria for example have been documented in the state of California.


Weather Safety 


Extreme Heat and Cold

Along the Pacific Crest Trail, you are going to be passing through a range of weather conditions, from extreme heat in the beginning in California, to extreme cold in areas like Washington. Many hikers have felt the effects of heat stress and heat exhaustion during the summer months in the southern sections of the PCT. During these sections, water is also quite scarce which during hot weather can be highly dangerous. It is incredibly important you research the trail beforehand, temperatures to expect, what you will need, how much water you will need each day, etc so that you can be as prepared as possible.



Some hikers, such as early-season hikers or late-season hikers, can be caught out in the snow when they didn’t expect any, which can be especially dangerous if you don’t have the correct gear and equipment.  Always check the possibility of snowfall in the area you are going through, that way you can pack your gear accordingly. For thru-hikers following the correct season start times, snowfall should be unlikely in an extreme amount.



Each year, wildfires are becoming more and more of a threat when it comes to the Pacific Crest Trail, especially in the Sierra Nevada and during wildfire season. Wildfires can start and spread incredibly quickly, which could result in you getting trapped with very little notice. Having the California Fire Permit and following the guidelines of fire safety in the area will help you prevent any wildfire accidents potentially caused by yourself. When it comes to spotting wildfires, if you see or smell any smoke then it’s time to be ready to self evacuate. CAL FIRE’s maps also provide maps and updates on wildfires in the area.



Lightning can be very common on the Pacific Crest Trail, especially n the mountain range areas such as the Sierra Nevada, however, the actual threat of being struck by lightning is very small.  The best tip to avoid lighting is to stay away from exposed terrain, peaks, and ridgelines during stormy weather as these are the most common places lightning builds. Get out of water or away from the shoreline if you are swimming during a storm (or just don’t swim in a storm, that doesn’t seem like the best idea).


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