Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking, According to the Experts
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is a National Scenic Trail in the western United States that runs along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The trail's southern terminus is at the U.S. border with Mexico, and its northern terminus is at the border with Canada. In total, the trail runs for 2,653 miles through spectacular public lands, including 25 national forests and 7 national parks. For hikers who can't commit to a full thru-hike, Pacific Crest Trail section hiking offers a manageable way to explore this iconic trail.
What is the Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking?
A while back, we asked Gossamer Gear's brand ambassadors what the best section hikes are for the Appalachian Trail. As many of them have also taken on the Pacific Crest Trail and experienced its life-changing magic, we wanted to draw upon their experiences once again for tips on the best Pacific Crest Trail section hiking. Get ready to lace up your boots and hit the trail!
1. Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking according to Emily Schrick
Brand Ambassador Emily "Squishy" Schrick began backpacking and hiking in Washington's Cascade Mountains during college to help manage her stress. In 2018, she completed a northbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. When we chatted with her, she made a case for northern California, specifically the 100 miles from I-5 (Castella) to Etna.
Here's what Emily has to say about the best Pacific Crest Trail section hiking:
"I know you are probably thinking this suggestion is way out of left field. How could this be one of the best PCT sections when there is the Sierra and Washington to compete with? Well, I am here to give northern California a little bit of love. On my thru-hike, I had some challenges in NorCal, including walking through smoky air for a few hundred miles. But, the major takeaway I had from this section of trail was that it had some of the most beautiful views I had seen since the Sierra, despite the smoke. I can only imagine how gorgeous it is on a clear day! The trail also passes through three designated wilderness areas during the stretch: Castle Crags, Trinity Alps, and Russian, all of which are visited way less than the John Muir Trail (JMT) corridor in the Sierra. If you like pretty, swimmable blue-green lakes, subalpine meadows, views of volcanoes, and handfuls of exposed ridges after climbing up through the forest, this section of trail is for you!"
Emily also provided some insider tips for this particular Pacific Crest Trail section hike. In her own words:
- Make the side trips to Porcupine Lake and Paynes Lake, each about 1/4 mile off of the PCT. Both have lovely campsites!
- If you need to bail for whatever reason, there are a few lightly traveled roads to help you out along the way.
- You can always hitch-hike, but having a shuttle car for this section hike will give you more peace of mind and flexibility.
- Looking for good grub before or after your hike? Check out Denny Bar Company in Etna and Mike & Tony's in Mount Shasta.
2. Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking according to Steven Shattuck
A self-proclaimed "CPA nerd by profession, mountain man at heart," Brand Ambassador Steven "Twinkle" Shattuck thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. He has also hiked significant portions of the Appalachian Trail and Contintental Divide Trail. He shared some thoughts with us on hiking through Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Here's what Steven has to say about the best Pacific Crest Trail section hiking:
"The PCT cuts right through Glacier Peak Wilderness, going up high in the mountains and down into the low valleys several times. This section of the trail was so green and full of life, it really made an impact on me. Glacier Peak is often overlooked, yet it is as beautiful a peak as there is along the PCT, and the trail through the wilderness area is remote and stunning. Wilderness areas often offer the gold standard in long distance backpacking, and Glacier Peak Wilderness is a prime example of this."
Some bonus knowledge Steven shared with us about this section? Glacier Peak is one of five volcanoes in Washington, and has nearly 7,500 feet of prominence.
3. Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking according to Francis Tapon
Brand Ambassador, Francis Tapon, is the author of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America and The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and in 2007, became the first person to do a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail. He's also walked across Spain twice.
Here's what Francis has to say about the best Pacific Crest Trail section hiking:
"The best section hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, to me, is Goat Rocks Wilderness because everyone will (rightfully) pick the John Muir Trail, but the Goat Rocks is nearly as spectacular and has far fewer people!"
4. Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking according to Arlette Laan
Brand Ambassador, Arlette Laan, has thru-hiked the John Muir Trail (2002), the Pacific Crest Trail (2003), the Continental Divide Trail (2004), the Appalachian Trail (2005), the Arizona Trail (2009), The Grand Enchantment Trail (2012), The Te Araroa in New Zealand (2015), The Long Trail (2015), and the Hayduke Trail (2017). She's also hiked about 900 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail in two sections (2007, 2012), and completed the Florida Trail in two sections (2013, 2017).
She concurred with Francis on the best Pacific Crest Trail section hiking, and shared a little of her history with the trail:
"For the PCT, I'd recommend the Goat Rocks area in Washington. I love all of Washington, but that section is pretty epic. I actually never got to see it during my original thru-hike in 2003 since it was completely socked in. It had been raining since I crossed over the Bridge of the Gods and I attempted to cross the icy snow still left on the trail to the ridge wearing the last of my dry clothes. My shoes had no grip, and not being able to see where I would slide to if I fell down, I decided to retreat and bail out via another trail. Years later, I came back to that section and saw Mount Adams and the Goat Rocks in all their glory. It was so cool!"