The Pacific Crest Trail is a stunning, long-distance hiking trail.

The PCT, as it is often known, traverses 2,650 miles through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. It is host to some of the most beautiful nature in the world. From the California desert to the spires of the Sierra, and the Volcanoes of Oregon, thru-hikers are exposed to the beauty of nature every step of the way.

It is not nature alone that drives people to spend 6 months of their life hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is much more than that. The diverse aspects of the PCT make up an overall experience that is indescribable to many.

In 2018 I undertook to complete the entire Pacific Crest Trail. While I have shared in another post about the most beautiful parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, I also wanted to share the highlights of the PCT that aren’t just a specific beautiful place.

Below are my top 10 highlights from the Pacific Crest Trail:

#1: The simplicity of life
Camping in the woods

Life becomes easy and straightforward on the trail. I woke up when I wanted to, walked until I was tired and ate when I was hungry. All my belongings fit into my backpack and the biggest worry is “where do I sleep tonight” and “will I run out of food before town?”

The trail is about what you make of it and going with the flow of things. Gone are office politics, schedules and being somewhere at a particular time. There’s nothing but freedom and the goals you set for yourself.

#2: The stars become your ceiling
Camping under stars

Along the Pacific Crest Trail, you end up sleeping in some incredible places. The trail gives you complete freedom in being able to choose where you will rest your head for the night. Places regular people glimpse at in magazines were my bedroom, while stars and the Milky Way were my ceiling. On the PCT I slept on top of mountains, beside wild alpine lakes and underneath canopies of magical ancient forests.

#3: The joy of getting stronger everyday
Hiking with mountain in the background

I still remember how I would be so tired after hiking 10 miles in a day in the beginning of my PCT experience. Now, 10 miles is a distance I can do in 3 hours without a break as part of a standard 25-mile day. It’s hard to describe this bizarre happiness in seeing yourself grow physically stronger and experiencing that your body can endure so much and still continue.

#4: The perseverance through hardship
Hiking up a steep trail in Sierras

While hardship is probably not one of the highlights on the PCT, the pride that comes from making it through those hard days is. There was a lot of hard days on the Pacific Crest Trail and those happen to be the days I remember the most clearly. The day with the soul sucking heat, steep hills and empty water bottles.

The night with the unruly wind and cold, forced to sleep with my tarp collapsed right on top of my body. The freezing rain that caused me to spend all afternoon shivering in my sleeping bag. Those days weren’t fun in the moment, but looking back it’s those days that make me smile. It’s the joy and pride of being able to put up with anything that is a true highlight of the PCT.

#5: The moments spent with incredible friends
Sharing dinner in a cabin

Meeting people along the PCT is one of the biggest reasons why hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is such an incredibly memorable adventure. One of my most fond memories was getting into town and renting a cabin together with fellow thru-hikers. We had a great time going shopping and making an impromptu taco dinner together.

I can still remember the laughter and the jokes exchanged over dinner and endless wine, just enjoying each other’s company like we were old friends. It’s funny how quickly the strangers you meet on the trail become lifelong friends.

#6: The Trail Angels
Cheesecake server on a platter

Imagine a hot day in the desert where the only water is in caches that generous people have left behind for hikers. Imagine the blistering heat and the fatigue as we trudged along. Then picture us seeing a sign that said “Easter Dinner Service 2 miles ahead – 10:30 to 2:30”. We half ran the two miles and came upon champagne, wine, steak and cheesecakes served on real plates with proper cutlery.

I will never forget moments like these from the PCT, nor am I able to explain the happiness I felt from such simple gestures. So many times, when I was ready to lay down and quit, incredible strangers were there to pick me up. So many times, people went out of their way to help hikers push through. Anything from a simple bottle of water, some oranges, or the sight of a BBQ full of burgers alongside the trail made everything seem simple again. I can’t express how thankful I am of all those Trail Angels on the PCT, their acts of generosity make the Pacific Crest Trail just that much better.

#7: The freedom to explore
Rock climber on top of Castle Crag cosmic wall

The trip is yours so make the best of it. One day, I decided to take the time off of hiking and hired a guide to climb up a famous multi pitch route in Castle Crags. It turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of my trip. The PCT was never just about hiking to me, it also consisted of all the adventures I encountered along the way and the trips I chose to take. Whether it was going on a road trip to Death Valley or climbing a crag at a crag, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail will give you the freedom to choose your own adventures.

#8: The random, unexpected adventures everyday
Hiker hitchhiking on the side of road

One thing I loved about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is that every day I woke up to face a different adventure and had no idea how the day would go. Every day, hikers meet different people, see interesting places, face new situations and overcome problems. From trying to hitch on a quiet road to walking by a random zoo on the side of the trail, so much happens on the PCT and every small adventure adds up to make the whole experience unforgettable!

#9: The ridiculous amount of food you can enjoy
Eating pie and ice-cream at restaurant

Hikers end up burning 5,000-6,000 calories in an average day of hiking. You get really hungry; really, really hungry all the time. When you get to town, you make up for the on-trail deficiency in calories with lots of hot food and ice cream. I have eaten 3 pints of ice cream in a day, plus all three meals. I ordered two dinner entrees in one sitting. It was definitely a big perk to be able to indulge in whatever food I wanted. Not good for the wallet though.

#10: The small, silly moments
Hiker laying down in front of sign

One of my friend’s had a thing where he would lay down in front of different landmarks along the trail for a photo. He asked me to take a photo for him here. After I took a few shots, I gestured at our other friend standing beside me and quietly we backed away. Meanwhile, still shouting instructions like “don’t move, I’m almost done!” We ran off to leave him lying there in the dirt shouting “hurry up, the ants are getting closer”. After he found out, the two of us laughed so hard at him and soon he joined in. Those little silly moments become something you will never forget; turning a corner singing at the top of your lungs to find someone sitting there, doing silly dances, explaining to a confused Uber driver that my destination is indeed the side of this dirt road and I am going to walk from here.

In the end, the PCT is a life-changing experience, and every thru-hiker will have different memories and highlights. These are my top 10 highlights of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail over six months! It was incredible to reflect on the little things that actually mattered so much on this incredible adventure. I hope this gave you some insight as to what it is like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail!

Written by: David Xiao – you can connect with David on Instagram @TrailingAdventures or check out his writing at www.trailingadventures.com