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?
In another blog, 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 a quarter-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 Continental 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
Francis Tapon is author of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons From Backpacking Across America and The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. He has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. In 2007, he 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, became the first woman to hike all 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S. in 2022, roughly 18,000 miles. This effort included the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003, Continental Divide Trail in 2004, and Appalachian Trail in 2005.
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!
Resources to Help You Prepare for Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking
If you're preparing for your own section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, make sure to check out the Light Feet blog for additional resources and trail stories to inspire you.
Here are a few articles to get you stared:
- 5 Trail Hacks for Beginner Thru-Hikers
- What Camera Should I Take on My Thru-Hike? How to Choose.
- Crossing the Sierra in the Summer of 1944
- Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
- 8 Tips & Tricks for Solo Hiking Trips
- Post-Trail Depression: You're Not Alone and There’s Help
We also recommend grabbing a good trail read:
- New Book “Adventure Ready” Is Your Dream Adventure Buddy
- Barney Scout Mann Shares Trail and Writing Wisdom Through PCT Memoir “Journeys North”
Gear Up for the Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking
Of course, you'll want to make sure you're outfitted with the best lightweight gear for your journey ahead.
The Mariposa 60 and Gorilla 50 make excellent backpacks for section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
We also recommend a Lightrek Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella for keeping cool on exposed ridgelines and the LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles for comfort and stability on high-mileage days.
Learn more about additional trail gear for your PCT section hike in some of our Light Feet gear highlights:
- An Ultralight Deep Dive into the Gossamer Gear Shelter Family—Everything You Need to Know!
- Have Your Best Pee Yet With the Gossamer Gear Exclusive Kula Cloth
- Pack Liners vs. Pack Covers: Which to Use for Backpacking