Pacific Crest Trail

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Welcome to the Cleveland National Forest Pacific Crest Trail Page

Many hikers will begin their Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) journey on the Cleveland National Forest heading north, and in many instances, they have questions about the road ahead. Below, you will find tips, must-know facts, permit information, gear recommendation, and proper trail etiquette as it related to the trail along the Cleveland. Many of the hikes listed can be done in one day.


Pacific Crest Trail California Section A

Though not officially finished until spring of 1993, the Pacific Crest Trail was deemed a National Trail System in 1968. Spanning a vast 2,663 miles in length, the PCT begins on a low hill near Campo (elev. 2,915′) and runs northbound towards the Canadian Border in British Colombia. The first 110 miles of this trail is known as Section A, which starts in Campo and traverses through the Cleveland National Forest. It then passes through Lake Morena County Park, tunnels beneath Interstate 8, and climbs through chaparral, scrub oak and pines to the rim of the Laguna Mountains. Along the way hikers get rewarding views of San Diego, Mexico, the Anza-Borrego Desert, several mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean and vast open meadows and cattle ranges.



For those interested in backpacking long distances along the PCT on the Cleveland, it is advisable to consult various resources before beginning. Those looking for permits or proprietary information can contact the Descanso Ranger District at (619) 445-6235. They can further advise on seasonal expectations, good overnight camping options, current trail hazards, and what to expect. Permits are required to hike the PCT through the Cleveland and beyond. For more information on permits please see below.


Day Hiking

There are a variety of entry and exit points, each one offering different mileage and level of difficulty. These can be done as day hikes, or multiple day hikes. The PCT spans 110 miles through the Cleveland but many hikers choose to hike point to point, or trailhead to trailhead. To select the correct hike for you, please see some of the popular options below:


Permit Information

COVID-19 Update for PCT Travelers on the Descanso Ranger District: 

All PCT hikers, section and long-distance, are encouraged to cancel and postpone their hikes in order to reduce exposure to other visitors, Forest Service employees and volunteers, and our local communities. 

At this time, the Pacific Crest Trail remains open through the Descanso Ranger District. Certain recreation facilities on the Descanso Ranger District are closed for employee and visitor safety. Facility closures along the PCT include the following: 

Mount Laguna Area: 

  • Burnt Rancheria Campground 
  • Laguna Campground     

All issued PCTA long-distance permits are still valid for the portion of the PCT through the Descanso Ranger District.

Additional PCT questions pertaining to the Descanso Ranger District, please call (619) 445-6235. 


LONG DISTANCE HIKING (over 500 miles): Those looking to travel 500 continuous miles or more can apply for a long-distance permit through the website. Long distance permits are limited to 50 individuals per day to start from the Southern Terminus during peak months (March-June).


SECTION HIKING (less than 500 miles): For those looking to hike less than 500 miles with a starting point located near or within the Cleveland National Forest, please note the permitting system has changed. Those without a PCTA long-distance permit looking to disperse camp along the PCT on the Cleveland National Forest must obtain a wilderness visitor permit for the 2021 season. Permits are required March 1, 2021 through May 31, 2021.


Cleveland National Forest PCT Permit Information:

  • To obtain a wilderness visitor permit, please fill out the form and email it to the Descanso District Office.
    Permits will be issued and approved via email by administrative staff at the district office. No permit requests will be processed by phone, fax, or mail. Visitors must print the permit and have it with them on the trip.
  • Wilderness and visitor permit applications are accepted one month prior to their effectivedate. For example, a permit application asking for a March 1 start date can be submitted no earlier than February 1st at 12:01am PST. All permit applications are accepted on a first come first served basis. The Descanso District Office is staffed Monday-Friday. All permits submitted on Saturdays or Sundays will be reviewed on Monday.
  • Only one individual can be assigned to each wilderness visitor permit. Five (5) permits will be issued per day from March 1, 2021 through May 31, 2021.
  • Permit holders are required to abide by the start date listed on their permit.
  • The wilderness visitor permit is valid for all portions of the Cleveland National Forest: mile 13.5 to mile 53.2 (north of Pioneer Mail Picnic Area), and mile 112.7 to mile 124.8. This permit does not authorize access across non-forest land. There is a 59 mile gap (miles 53 to 112) of non-forest land between the Descanso & Palomar Ranger Districts.
  • Dispersed camping is prohibited within the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area (mile 40 to mile 53). Developed campgrounds on the Cleveland National Forest are tentatively reopening January 30th. By using a wilderness visitor permit, you agree to abide by all terms of the permit, and all laws, rules and regulations as you pass through the Cleveland National Forest. That means you must follow all local, state and federal regulations related to COVID-19. These regulations could change at any time and could range from mask requirements and camping restrictions to travel restrictions.
  • Call the Descanso Ranger District Office at (619) 445-6235 or visit the Cleveland National Forest dispersed camping webpage for more information.
  • Those hiking through the San Bernardino National Forest, will require a separate wilderness permit. Contact the San Jacinto Ranger District in Idyllwild at (909) 382-2921 or the Mountaintop Ranger District in Fawnskin at (909) 382-2790. Be aware that Mount San Jacinto State Park has a similar wilderness permit system; they can be contacted at (951) 659-2607.
Must-Know Facts
  • Wood or charcoal fires are never allowed outside of developed campgrounds or picnic sites. However, portable stoves or lanterns that use gas, kerosene, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are permitted unless elevated fire conditions prohibit their use.
  • Few natural water sources are available. Recreation sites with water sources include Boulder Oaks Campground, Cibbets Flat Campground, Burnt Rancheria Campground, and Desert View Picnic Area. Please check the water report for Penny Pines Trailhead.  Pioneer Mail Picnic Area water is non-potable and must be treated if used. Desert View Picnic Area water system is not working and thus the water is shut off.
  • Please be prepared with water, food, and equipment. Incidents occur when hikers are unprepared for the challenges of the trip. . Cell service can be limited. EMS response time can take hours or days.


Resupply Locations

Along the Cleveland's 110 mile portion, you may need to resupply your stock, find lodging, or pickup goods at a USPS. Below you will find a list of locations that offer a variety of services:


Additional Resources

PCT Water Report

PCT Maps

PCT Association