This is a question I’ve gotten from folks here and there, and while I thought it was fairly straight-forward, it turns out it’s harder for some to wrap it around their heads than others.
What IS the Pacific Crest Trail?
In the most basic of descriptions, the PCT is a long-distance, scenic trail that runs from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. It runs the ‘crest’ of these states, namely their main mountain ranges: The San Andres Fault, the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascades (from Cali to Wash). The trail is mostly traveled by backpackers but it is also an equestrian trail. Most hikers that use the PCT do so in small chunks, either in day-hikes or longer ‘section’ hikes, that could be anywhere from 20 miles, to 100 miles, to 1000 miles. Hikers that attempt to complete the entire trail in one go are called Thru Hikers.
Beyond that, we need to lay down what the PCT is NOT:
It’s NOT the Pacific COAST Trail. There is no Pacific Coast Trail. California, Oregon, and Washington all have ‘Coast’ trails, but they’re not connected, and they’re barely complete in each state.
It’s NOT an organized event, with check-points and coordinators. The Pacific Crest Trail Association doesn’t even control much of the trail, aside from issuing permits (that apply to each park/forest the trail travels through), recruiting volunteers to maintain the trail, and promoting trail etiquette. They have no ‘official’ powers.
It’s NOT in the middle of nowhere. Well, it kind of is. The PCT runs near and through many towns on its 2,560 miles, but it still travels hundreds of miles of wilderness. The fact that the trail is connected to towns is what allows for so many successful thru-hikes. Hikers use these towns to resupply, recharge, and return to the trail with vigor. (The CDT, Continental Divide Trail, however, does not run through very many towns and is considered the most difficult of the Triple Crown of long-distance trails).
If you’re still curious, check out the PCTA website, where they have a wealth of information, including:
Thanks for reading!