Something like this: “Why would you ever do that?”
Because I think in everyone’s mind, I took a pack and started walking down a road all the way to Canada. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in reality is one of the longest continuous footpaths in the world, a trail that goes through some the most beautiful sections California, Oregon, and Washington have to offer.
Without accounting for the adventures, friendship and freedom of it all, the natural beauty alone makes this trip worth taking. The following are what I think are the ten most jaw-dropping places the PCT passes through.
Just 40 miles from the barren international border between Mexico and the USA, which is the starting point of the Pacific Crest Trail, lies Mount Laguna. You will all of a sudden look up and see pine trees and pine cones the size of your head. Next thing you know, you are hiking on the ridge above the world, the endless stretch of the Anza-Borrego desert stretching as far as the eye can see. I made sure to stop and camp on the ridge to take in the surreal beauty of the sunset and the stars. It was the first time the PCT gave me a glimpse of what the trail had to offer.
A mere 180 miles into the desert is an 11,000 feet peak, Mount San Jacinto. As quickly as you descend into the land of cacti and tumbleweed, you soon hike back into pine and rocks to get your first taste of high elevation. I spent the night on the San Jacinto peak in a small shelter. To our disappointment, the night we got there was rainy and cloudy. I am so glad we still decided to get up early the next day because the sun broke out in the morning. The light brushed onto everything below, creating a land of unbelievable beauty. This was truly a highlight of the PCT.
How many people can say that they have cowboy camped on top of a mountain? Not many that I know. Cowboy camping is when hikers camp in open-air, neglecting to set up their tent for the night. Mount Baden Powell is a highlight of the PCT because it is an ideal location for camping on a summit! It’s a short distance from the trail and the view is gorgeous. Hike up the steep switchbacks and find a big log to breaks the wind on the summit. Lay down, make some dinner and watch the sun set as it turns everything it touches to gold. This was hands-down the most beautiful sunset of my PCT experience.
Along the Pacific Crest Trail through the Sierras you will find little pieces of paradise. The grand meadows, alpine lakes and outlandish rocky peaks make up dream like landscapes over and over. Since I couldn’t name the entire Sierra section as one of my top ten’s, I have to pick one place and that would be Bishop Pass. Bishop pass lies just off the PCT, yet was one of the most impressive passes I hiked over. Bishop Pass is one of the side trails people use to get off the mountain and head into town for their resupply. I started my hike early in the morning and witnessed incredible alpenglow over the granite walls surrounding the pass. After walking by many waterfalls and streams up the steep switchbacks I arrived at a meadow, just in time for the sun to peak out of the wall-like mountains, creating a dramatic scene. It was so surreal and unexpected, that it rested an unforgettable moment of my PCT hike.
I could’ve gone on about many places in the Sierras, but I wanted to move on to share other spectacular parts of the PCT. Senora Pass is usually what people describe as the northern edge of the Sierras. It is interesting that the landscape changes as you head north within the Sierras, with the jagged, granite peaks replaced by lush rolling hills and multi-colored rocks. Wildflowers grow everywhere, making the entire area lush and dramatic. I think one of the most exciting parts about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is being able to watch the landscape change as you hike and constantly discovering new things you may not have expected.
An experience at Hat Creek Rim could be broken down into two extremes: love or hate. The days temperatures are often the deciding factor as to which extremity you will be feeling. Lucky for us, we got rained on. I didn’t take the time to set up my tent properly, which made for an exciting night of getting up and fixing it throughout the night. Despite the trouble, I was still on the love side of the equation. Once the rain passed, the scenery was vibrant and unforgettable. Walking along the edge of the bluff offered grand views of sun beams breaking through clouds, wildflowers painting the landscape ahead, and stunning views of both Mount Shasta and Lassen. This was a magical moment on the PCT.
Castle Crags is one of Northern California’s treasures. Simply put, it’s a unique forest of granite spires located in the Mount Shasta area. As you climb out of the valley on the PCT, you are rewarded with the massive granite forest that draws you in and leaves you wandering through the unique features. Up for a side trip and feeling brave? Hire a guide to take you up the easy but heart pounding five pitches of the Cosmic wall.
The Three Sisters Wilderness is a major highlight of the Pacific Crest Trail because of its incredible space-like atmosphere. This barren, volcanic landscape transports hikers to a section of the PCT that seemingly passes through planet Mars. The lava rocks and obsidian create some difficult hiking but make up for it in their other-worldly beauty. Hiking through the smoky forest fire season also adds to the alien like landscapes.
Goat Rocks is commonly expressed as the prettiest part of Washington, and therefore one of the prettiest parts of the PCT. For me, this was especially true on our side-trip to Old Snowy Mountain, an easy trip to a peak that took us above the clouds and showed us what it was like to stand on top of the world. After that, comes Knife’s Edge, a ridge-walk with steep drops on either side, making the 360-degree views significantly breathtaking on a clear day. Our trip along the Knife’s Edge was replete with fog, however this added some adrenaline and new beauty to the section.
Glacier peak has an element of inconceivable beauty that can transform overwhelmed and exhausted hikers into inspired individuals shaken with euphoria. The stunning landscape presented by Glacier Peak can bleed the cold misery out of any hiker. The peak basks in blazing orange twilight before nightfall. There is nothing more beautiful than witnessing a moment like this after a long day. It makes you realize yet again why you have spent the last six months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you have ever wondered what the Pacific Crest Trail is like, maybe this will give you an idea. Maybe you will start to understand what it is like to see something so unexpected and beautiful that you forget about the miles worn on your body and heart. The emotions felt on the Pacific Crest Trail made it a journey that will forever stay in my heart, helping to define who I am today. I hope that now you can understand why I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and why everyone should consider it.