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Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail (also known as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a long-distance mountain hiking and equestrian trail that runs in Washington, Oregon, and California between Mexico and Canada.

The trail follows the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range, which parallel the Pacific Ocean by 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 km). The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles (4,260 km) long and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon-Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m) at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.

Pacific Crest Trail overview map

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It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, although it was not officially completed until 1993. The PCT was conceived by Clinton C. Clarke in 1932; however it was not given official status until the National Trails System Act of 1968.


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


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).

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.

In 1968, President Lyndon 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.

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 are the three long distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the "Triple Crown of hiking. 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.

View of Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail

View of Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail

The first thing prospective thru hikers have to do when thinking about attempting a thru hike is planning their trip. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes most hikers between 6 and 8 months to plan their trip. The first decision during the trip planning process is to decide the route to take. Most hikers travel from the Southern Terminus at the Mexico Border north to Manning Park, British Columbia, but some hikers travel southbound. In a normal weather year, northbound hikes are most practical. 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 is often the term used to describe beginning at one end (on the PCT, usually the southern end) of the trail and then, at some point, like reaching the Sierra, going to the end of the trail (Manning Park in B.C.) and hiking southbound to finish the trail.

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. 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 so they will be able to reach the opposite end of the trail before weather conditions make sections impassible. However, the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada can prevent an early start. The timing is a balance of not getting to the Sierra too soon nor the Northern Cascades too late. Most hikers cover about 20 miles (32 km) per day.

In order to reduce their hiking time to increase their chances of completion 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 classifications for hikers: Traditional, Lightweight, and Ultralight. Very few hikers are traditional hikers anymore. The Pacific Crest Trail Association cites Ray Jardine's book Beyond Backpacking as a great resource for hikers during the planning process. Beyond Backpacking is a "how-to" book for ultralight hikers. In this book Jardine explains how to trim every extra ounce from one's pack weight by doing everything from cutting extra straps off your pack to eating only food that does not have to be cooked.

Notable hikers

In 1970, Eric Ryback, a 17-year-old student, was credited as the first thru-hiker on the trail and his 1971 book The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot focused public attention on the PCT. Wilderness Press, publisher of guide books "The Pacific Crest Trail: Volume One and Volume Two", raised in those books specific doubts about Ryback's claim and produced evidence that he accepted rides for some of the journey. Ryback and Chronicle Publishers sued Wilderness Press but the suits were dropped in 1974.

Pacific Crest Trail logo

Pacific Crest Trail logo

The first person confirmed to have thru-hiked the entire PCT, as well as the first person to hike from south to north, was Richard Watson, who completed the trail on September 1, 1972. The first woman was Mary Carstens, who completed the journey later in 1972 accompanied by Jeff Smukler.

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)". Williamson then went on to complete a second round trip on November 28, 2006, cutting two weeks off his 2004 time.

The youngest person to successfully thru-hike the trail is Mary Chambers, who hiked the route from April-October 2004 at the age of 10. She completed the trek with her parents, Barbara Egbert and Gary Chambers. Egbert authored a book about their experiences on the trail, entitled Zero Days. It was published in January 2008 by Wilderness Press.

Equestrian use

In 1959, Don and June Mulford made the first verifiable equestrian Thru-Ride of the PCT. The year was 1959, and 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 Bernadette—completed the trek on horseback on October 7, 1970.


In 2008, an agreement for realignment through Tejon Ranch was reached.

Portland, Oregon's 40 Mile Loop proposes to extend the Springwater Corridor hiking and bicycling spur trail to connect to the Pacific Crest Trail.

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