How to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

pacific crest trail


The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a beast that stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada offering hikers stunning views along the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges. The trail challenges hikers with almost 60 mountain passes and six different ecozones; it takes most people about five months to complete in a thru-hike, hiking the whole trail along the West Coast in one season. If you are thinking about tackling the PCT, here are some things to consider.

Choose a Starting Time

Northbounders usually start between mid-April and early May, while southbounders generally begin late June to early July. Choosing a starting time based on these common dates is a good idea because if you start too early or too late you are more likely to run into heavy snow and bad weather.

Apply for Permits

If you plan to hike more than 500 miles, then you need a permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association. This permit should cover you for most of the trail, but additional permits may be necessary to hike specific areas, like Half Dome; you will also need a permit to enter Canada. For shorter distances, check to see what permits are required to hike that area.

Prepare for the Trail

Begin training for your hike three to four months before your starting date; practice carrying a heavy backpack while hiking mountains or stairs. Locate post offices along the trail where you can pick up packages along the way and arrange to have a trusted friend mail supplies at designated times.

Bring the following supplies:

  • Stove and fuel
  • Clothing for all types of weather
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • First-aid kit
  • Tent and sleeping bag
  • Food
  • Compass or GPS and map
  • Sunglasses
  • Flashlight
  • Fire starter
  • Knife
  • Tools for purifying water

Plan to hike with at least one other person and always follow the trail.

Hiking the PCT is an exciting and challenging way to experience the West Coast. Whether you tackle the whole trail or a smaller portion, expect to experience difficulties and triumphs along the way and enjoy the wild beauty of nature.