Frequently Asked Questions
How long is the trail?
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) long.
Is the trail finished?
The trail was officially completed in 1993. A "golden spike" ceremony was held in Soledad Canyon in southern California to mark the occaision. A few sections of the trail are along roadways. The management plan for the trail calls for continuous trail tread for the entire length of the trail. Work is underway to secure a trail corridor for the sections which are still temporarily located along roadways. In a few instances the trail may be rerouted in the future to follow a better route along the crest of the mountains.
What is a National Scenic Trail?
A national scenic trail is a trail of national significance which is established by an Act of Congress pursuant to the criteria identified in the National Trail Systems Act of 1968 (as modified). Congress has created several National Scenic Trails since the first two (Pacific Crest and Appalachian) were created in 1968. There are other categories of trails within the National Trail System including National Historic Trails and National Recreation Trails.
Why is the trail named Pacific Crest?
The trail generally runs along the high crests of the Sierra and Cascades mountain ranges in California, Oregon and Washington.
Has anyone ever hiked or ridden the whole trail?
Many people have hiked the entire trail, some hiking the entire trail in one year. The hikers that attempt to complete the trail in one year are called thru-hikers. At present about 200 people attempt to hike the PCT each season, generally hiking from south to north. They usually start at the Mexican border in April and end on the Canadian border in September. Only a few equestrians have ever ridden the entire trail.
Can anybody travel on the PCT?
The trail is open to the public for foot and equestrian travel only; bicycle and motorized vehicles are not permitted. Persons who camp overnight along the trail often may need a backcountry permit in several of the management units. Other areas may require an entrance or parking permit. Please check with the local area manager for specific site information.
Is a permit needed to travel on the trail?
Many of the wilderness areas, National Parks and other special management areas require an overnight use permit. Please check with the local area to determine if a permit is needed and where it can be obtained. Persons undertaking a trip of 500 miles or longer should contact the Pacific Crest Trail Association for a permit.
Can you have fires on the PCT?
Fire permits are needed in many areas, and fire closures may exist during extremely dry times of year. Above certain elevations or in some areas fires are not permitted. Please check ahead of your trip to determine if a fire permit is needed and where it can be obtained.
When is the best time to be on the trail?
It depends on the time of year and seasonality of various physical factors such as snow load, volume of water in streams and rivers, fire danger, mosquito hatch and a myriad of other factors which may influence the "best" time to be on the trail. Some would argue it is always a good time to be on the PCT.
Is it dangerous?
The trail traverses through some of the most extreme wilderness in the continental USA. Trail users should be prepared for any emergency and accordingly plan ahead. It is best to be familiar with outdoor travel by reading about the area you may be traveling in and learn about potential hazards. Basic understanding of how to prevent hypothermia and heat exhaustion or how to avoid and treat poisonous plants and animals among other potentially life threatening situations can help to ensure that your time on the PCT will be rewarding. Always letting others know where you are going and when you plan to return is a basic premise when traveling in remote areas.
Do you have to carry water?
Water is essential when traveling on the PCT. Depending on what location you are in, time of year and if there are water sources along your travel route will help determine how much water to carry. Filter and purify all water obtained from any natural source along the PCT.
Can I buy food along the trail?
In a few cases, the PCT passes through or near towns and resorts where supplies can be purchased. In other cases the trail users may need to get off the trail and travel to a town. Contact the PCTA website (www.pcta.org) for additional information on resupplying along the trail.
Who is responsible for managing the PCT?
The PCT passes through several land management units managed by different Federal, State, County, Native American Sovereignties, and private lands. The overall responsibility for managing the PCT is with the Department of Agriculture (lead) and the Department of Interior. This responsibility has been delegated to the Pacific Southwest Regional Forester ( Mailroom_R5@fs.fed.us )
How do I learn more about the PCT?
There are many good sources to learn about the PCT, past and present. The most complete information about the trail is with the Pacific Crest Trail Association website at www.pcta.org.
Can I volunteer to help the PCT?
Many groups help to maintain and support the PCT. Contact the Pacific Crest Trail Association or your local land manager or other volunteer trail maintaining groups to learn where you may help.
What about other trails and campgrounds near the PCT?
There are numerous trails, campgrounds and other recreational opportunities along or near the PCT. Check out the websites or call local land management units.
Will my cell phone work on the PCT?
Don't count on it! Coverage varies by service provider and type used but recent thru-hikers estimate that they had coverage abut 70% of the time on the PCT.
Will I need any special equipment to use the PCT?
If you are planning a thru-hike (a continuous hike of the PCT in one season), at some point or another you will need to have an ice ax and know how to use it. You should have a map and compass and know how to use them.
Are there huts and shelters on the PCT?
Only a handful. Plan to carry your own shelter (small tent, tarp, etc.) and be prepared for wet weather, particularly on the northern half of the PCT.
Is it dangerous near the PCT's southern terminus at the Mexican border?
There is significant illegal border crossing activity near Campo, California and throughout the first 30 or so miles on the PCT. You should avoid camping near the border, especially if you are traveling alone.