Distance: 2,650 Miles
Average Completion: 4-5 Months
Typical Hiking Season: April -September
Typical Direction: South to North
Starting Location: Mexican Border, Campo, California
Finishing Location: Canadian Border, Manning Park, British Columbia
Highest Point: Forester Pass, 13,153 Feet
Elevation Gain: 489,418 Feet
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Overview and Information
Basic Trail Information
Distance: 2,650 Miles
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is one of the most iconic long-distance trails in the world. The PCT is one of eleven trails in the United States to be designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail. The 2,650-mile long trail goes from the Mexican border near Campo, California to its northern terminus across the Canadian border in Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia.
There are several different estimates about the official length of the PCT. According to Halfmile’s Pacific Crest Trail Maps, the actual length of the PCT is 2,658.9 miles. The route passes through California, Oregon and Washington and finishes in British Columbia. The PCT goes through 6 National Parks, 25 National Forests, and 48 federally designated Wilderness Areas.
The PCT is famous for its thru-hiking attempts. A thru-hike is hiking the entire trail continuously from end-to-end. Depending on the previous winter’s snowfall, hikers attempting to thru-hike the PCT will typically start their hike in April and take an average of four to five months to complete. Traditionally, thru-hiking has not been exceedingly popular or even very well-known. Recent novels and movies have contributed to the popularity of thru-hiking in recent years.
What is the Triple Crown of Hiking?
The PCT is one of three trails that make up the Triple Crown of hiking. The Triple Crown is not an official award or association, it’s an honor-based title earned by hikers upon a thru-hiking completion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Appalachian Trail (AT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT). All three of these trails are long-distance trails designated by the United States Congress as National Scenic Trails. Here are some statistics about the three trails:
- Over 7,930 Miles of Hiking
- Over 1,000,000 Feet of Elevation Gain
- Covers 22 States
- 11 National Parks
Completing the Triple Crown of hiking is an incredible accomplishment. Some hikers have even been able to complete all three trails within one year. To put this accomplishment in further context, less than half the people that attempt a thru-hike of the PCT actually complete it, about 25% complete the AT, and less than 50 people a year attempt the CDT.
PCT Hiking Directions
The vast majority of thru-hikers make a northbound (NOBO) attempt of the PCT. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), northbound hikers make up more than 90% of total thru-hiking attempts. Northbound has long been the traditional route and also makes sense for a variety of logistic considerations that we discuss in the Southbound Section of this page. Hiking northbound is definitely more crowded which could be a pro or a con. Many hikers regard their favorite part of a thru-hike as the friends they made along the way.
Hiking the PCT southbound (SOBO) is much less common. With that said, there are people that do it every year. In our talking to hikers, there are usually two main reasons to do a southbound hike: solitude and badassery. Especially given how popular the PCT is getting, a southbound hike will be immensely more private than the traditional northbound route. Hiking the PCT is badass, but doing a southbound hike is regarded as being a little more challenging than a northbound hike. If you’re thinking about southbound hiking the PCT, definitely read our blog post about it.
A flip-flop means that you’re still hiking the entire trail within a hiking season but you don’t take a traditional north or southbound route. Flip-floppers will hike specific sections of the trail at strategic times of the season. For example, hiking through the desert section when it’s not traditionally scorching hot, or the mountainous regions when there’s guaranteed to be no snow. Flip-flopping allows hikers to start their thru-hiking attempt later in the year.
Section and Day hiking the PCT are great ways to experience the trail without taking 5 months out of your year. Lots of people complete the PCT in their lifetime by hiking it in much smaller sections. One of the most popular sections (and one of our most favorite) is the John Muir Trail, a 210-mile section in central and southern California. Here’s a whole page about everything you need to know on the John Muir Trail.