Hike Through California, Portland, and Seattle on the PCT

Hiking One of the great things about condo living is the "lock and leave" aspect, allowing owners to take extended vacations without worrying about the safety of their home. One of the most popular extended trips is to hike one of America's great interstate trails like the Pacific Crest Trail. About 800 people a year attempt to hike all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and about 480 of those hikers successfully complete it. People attempting to hike the entire trail are referred to as thru-hikers and are joined by a variety of short-term hikers along the way. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that more than a million people annually use some portion of the trail. They are also joined by a few people who attempt to make a round-trip hike without stopping, a feat only about 50 hikers have accomplished in the history of the PCT. The PCT, along with the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, make up the United States Triple Crown of Hiking. It is also part of the Great Western Loop, which covers almost 7,000 miles and consists of the PCT, the Arizona Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.


The 2,650 miles of the PCT are roughly 100 to 150 miles east of the Pacific coastline. The trail follows the coast from the U.S border at Mexico (a little south of Campo, California) to its northern terminus at the U.S.-Canadian border near British Columbia's Manning Park. The PCT goes through 25 national forests and seven national parks as it passes through California, Oregon, and Washington. The PCT is as accessible from San Diego as it is from Seattle, and it also covers portions of both the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The meeting point of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges outside of Chester, California, is the trail's midpoint. The elevation of the trail ranges from a low point just above sea level near the Oregon-Washington border to over 13,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada range.

History of the PCT

No one person developed the PCT; instead, it was the outcome of the work and passion of multiple people. Catherine Montgomery is referred to as the mother of the trail. Montgomery was a professor who enjoyed hiking, and a 1924 article she read about the Appalachian Trail spurred her desire to see something similar on the Pacific coast. During a 1926 meeting with mountaineer Joseph Hazard, she suggested the creation of the trail. Hazard took the idea to various mountaineering clubs throughout the Pacific region and was met with an enthusiastic response. Clinton Clarke, often referred to as the father of the trail, organized the Pacific Crest Trail Conference, uniting different trail, youth, and mountaineering groups to work together on the formation of the trail system. The conference organized YMCA groups to map sections of the trail in the 1930s. These maps, covering 2,000 trail miles, are still used today and were used as proof that the trail system could be built using existing trails. These trails included California's John Muir Trail and Tahoe-Yosemite Trail; Oregon's Skyline Trail; and Washington's Cascade Crest Trail. By 1939, the PCT began appearing on government maps.

World War II slowed down work on and promotion of the trail; however, the 1960s were a decade of transformation for the PCT. The National Trails System Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, formalized the PCT along with other trail systems like the Appalachian Trail, and work on the trail recommenced. The work was carried out by both the federal government and the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which grew out of the original Pacific Crest Trail Conference. The PCT was declared completed in 1993. Since then, 3,000 acres bordering the trail have been acquired by the Trust for Public Land.

Training for the PCT

Proper preparation is key for a successful hike. Many people focus on physical preparation but forget about the mental preparation needed; your attitude will also determine the success of your hike. From the moment you begin planning your hike, remember that things will go wrong: Weather, other hikers, injuries, and other unexpected misadventures impact hikers daily. The ability to adapt quickly is key to success. Additionally, the ability to focus on and celebrate each small step in the direction of completing your hike will help stave off boredom on the trail and shore up the resilience needed to complete the hike.

Preparing your body to withstand millions of steps is also vital. How much training is needed depends on your starting physical condition. Six months of training is the average amount needed for most hikers. Hikers will want to include aerobic activities, resistance training, and stretching during training. It's also important to practice hiking wearing the boots and gear you anticipate wearing for the hike. Every pound you carry will change how your body reacts to hiking, and it's best to start preparing early so you know before you hit the trailhead how much weight your body can carry.

Safety on the Trail

Your safety on the trail hinges on how well you prepared for hiking. Although there are a multitude of apps and other technological advances that make it easier for you to navigate and for friends and family to follow your progress, it's important to remember that portions of the trail are without cellular reception and that electronics do fail. You'll absolutely want to have well-marked paper maps. You also want people off the trail to know your itinerary and have designated check-in days. When you leave one town, make sure your emergency contact knows what the next town on your route is and when you expect to be there. Stay aware of where you are on the trail so that if you need to call 911, you can provide the dispatcher with the information needed to locate you.

Nature can be the most dangerous force you encounter on a trail. Hikers have drowned attempting to cross waterways: When you need to cross water, scout the area thoroughly before you cross, look for swift currents, and stay downriver of any logs or bushes. If you feel like you can't safely ford the water, turn back. Wildfires are another hazard. Make sure you always completely extinguish your campfire, and extinguish any unattended campfire you come across. If you are on the trail when a wildfire starts, stay alert: Wildfires move incredibly quickly. Staying to the flank of the fire is usually your safest route. Also, change into your brightest clothing, and if you need help, wave your tent. Firefighters often monitor the situation from helicopters and will attempt a rescue if they know you are there.

Notable Hikers

Many notable people have hiked the PCT. Martin Papendick, who wrote an article entitled "Pacific Crest Trails" about his 1952 hike from Canada to the United States-Mexico border, is believed to have been the first person to have hiked what would become the PCT. Officially, Eric Ryback was the first person to complete a PCT thru-hike once the trail was finished. He completed his PCT hike in 1970 at the age of 18. Ryback published a book, The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot, which brought attention to the PCT and the idea of thru-hiking. In later years, however, Ryback's claim of hiking the entire trail on foot was called into question when people began claiming that they had driven Ryback on roads that paralleled the PCT. Richard Watson was the first person to the PCT from Mexico to Canada (and he's sometimes credited as the first ever thru-hiker due to the controversy surrounding Ryback), completing his hike in 1972, the same year the first woman, Mary Carstens, completed a thru-hike of the trail. Other notable hikers include Christian Thomas Geiger, better known in hiking circles as Buddy Backpacker, who completed a thru-hike at age 6. He had completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail at age 5.

Perhaps the most famous PCT hiker is Cheryl Strayed. Strayed was 26 years old in 1995, and she had no hiking experience. Her mother had died a few years before, her boyfriend was a drug addict, and she was also battling addiction. She decided to hike a 1,100-mile portion of the PCT, from the Mojave Desert in California to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington. Strayed published Wild, a memoir about her hike and how her time on the trail changed her life, in 2012. Oprah Winfrey chose Wild as the first book in her new book club upon its publication, and actress Reese Witherspoon adapted the book into an award-winning movie. The book and the movie have inspired others to hike the PCT.

Fun Facts

The PCT is one of the longest trails in the world. However, you have limited time to hike it: Hiking is only permitted from late April to late September. This means that thru-hikers must average 20-30 miles a day to complete the trail in the allotted time. Hikers need up to three permits to hike the trail. Anyone hiking more than 500 miles needs a permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, anyone going to Canada needs a separate permit, and any hiker going through Southern California who requires a campfire for cooking must get a fire permit from the state of California. The PCT also has a parallel trail, the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail, for cyclists, but horses are allowed on the PCT. And although it's usually referred to as the Pacific Crest Trail, its official name is the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

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