Hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) is one of the most rewarding ways to experience the west coast of North America. Indeed, it’s a rite of passage worthy of rafting the Grand Canyon – the PCT is 2,653 miles of stunning nature, from the bottom of California to beautiful BC.
Yes, hiking the PCT makes it possible for you to walk from San Diego to Canada. And pass through 25 national forests, 7 national parks, mysterious woods, majestic mountains, and some of the most stunning nature on the planet while you do it.
Of course, hiking the PCT is no cake walk. You don’t need to be a Navy SEAL to make this journey, but you’ll want to be in good shape – of the body and the brain. It’s part mental, and part physical. These 9 tips for hiking the PCT can help you prepare to be tested by this challenging, yet highly rewarding, hiking trail.
Visit PCTA.ORG FIRST
Wait – I know you’re in a mad rush to get decked out at The North Face and buy a couple hundred Cliff’s Bars. But take a moment and visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s section that explains the basics of hiking the PCT.
You’ll likely need permits – and that’s a ‘you WILL’ need permits if you’re a thru hiker and/or intend to give it 500 miles or more.
At the very least, you’ll need a Pacific Crest Trail map and probably a guidebook. And have a gander on the site – you’ll find the answers to pretty much any questions you have about hiking the PCT on the site, including safety, packing tips, budgeting and how to find a hiking partner.
As a rough guideline, it will cost you at least $4,000 to hike the Pacific Crest – and upwards of $8,000 the further you go. There are rest stops along the way.
Pacific Crest Trail Association: Essential Links
These links are some of the most important resources to visit before hiking the PCT:
Research The Trail – Don’t even think about hiking the PCT without visiting PCTA’s ‘Discover the Trail’ section. You’ll want a basic layout of the sections you’re covering, for example, as some are more challenging than others. You’ll need to know this so you can set a rough distance you want to cover daily, the supplies you’ll need, and some of the challenges that might pop up.
The best time to start the PCT, if you’re a thru hiker heading north, is mid-April to mid-May, by the way. Heading south? Think June or July. Remember, there will likely be snow on some sections in late spring – and Southern California gets really F**king hot if you get a late start going north.
Train Your Body – Hiking the PCT isn’t like climbing Everest, but you’ll still want to be in good shape. Test your gear long before you hit the trail. Start hiking daily – load up everything you plan to take on the trail and strap it on your back. Now walk about town for 3 hours. Can you manage? If not, you may want to rethink your packing strategy.
Get Your PCT Maps/Guidebooks – We’ve already talked about this. The PCT is well-marked (and you likely won’t need GPS), but you’ll definitely need a PCT map and, more likely, a guidebook to help you make the journey.
Mitigate Your Risk – Look, there’s risk in everything you do (so says the guy who went great white shark cage diving in Mexico!). Hiking the PCT isn’t BASE jumping off Mt Everest, but extreme heat, cold, lightning, falling rocks and wild animals are among the many hazards the Pacific Trail can throw at you.
Solutions? Plan ahead – learn first aid, and have a kit with you, along with other safety gear you may need. Again, visit the PCTA resources we’ve discussed. Also, consider that a twisted ankle can be fatal if you’re hiking alone. That’s one of many reasons why you’ll probably want to hike with a buddy.
Leave No Trace – This is a basic of doing ANYTHING in the wilderness – to say nothing of leaving nothing behind while hiking the PCT. Read the PCTA’s section on how to Leave No Trace on the Pacific Crest Trail long before you lace up your hiking boots.
And seriously, unless it’s a life or death situation, please don’t start a campfire on the Pacific Coast Trail in the heat of summer. Use a portable stove instead.
Plan For Distances – There are some long stretches on the Pacific Crest Trail where you’ll be without water sources. You need to plan for these. Check with the PCT’s Water Report to keep abreast of where you can get water along the way.
Look Out For Wildfires – California and the Pacific Northwest are no strangers to summer wildfires. They’re a common reason parts of the PCT closer in summer. Do your part and learn the basics of fire on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Get Potty Trained – When you gotta go, you, well, you know how this goes. The good news is that most folks are pretty good about that when hiking the PCT. Here’s the scoop on how too…fill in the blanks yourself. Peace and much love.
Join the PCT Family – The Pacific Crest Trail wouldn’t work without the passion and commitment of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. You can donate to the PCT or support it any variety of ways, including as a PCT volunteer – a great way to meet like-minded people.
Parting Thoughts For the Pacific Crest Trail
Remember, when hiking the PCT, your most important gear isn’t something you buy on REI. It’s that thing between your ears – your brain is by far the biggest factor that will make or break your experience on the Pacific Trail. Money helps too, along with time, training, proper gear and someone cool enough to join you on this unique journey.
Hiking the PCT is no picnic. It takes more than a few sacrifices. If you want to stay at the Hilton, you’re in the wrong place.
But you’re on this website ’cause life is about those moments that take your breath away. The Pacific Crest Trail is full of those. In fact, some of the people who try the PCT have stories of their own that might bring you to tears and remind you that, in the end, one day you will die.
Try not to shed a tear while watching this tribute to Andy ‘Astro’ Lyon – an 18 year old with terminal cancer who opted to hike the PCT rather than do chemo that would briefly prolong his time in this life.