Sierra views along the PCT.
Sierra views along the PCT.

What’s the best weeklong hike on the PCT?

A friend and I are planning to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail next summer. We'll have a week; what are the best sections for a trip like this?

Sierra views along the PCT.

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Less crowded than the Appalachian Trail and better marked than the Continental Divide Trail, the PCT might just be the Goldilocks of long-distance National Scenic Trails.

More than half of the 2,650-mile-long trail is in Wilderness Areas that offer primitive, backcountry hiking. As Mark Larabee, managing editor for the Pacific Crest Trail Association observes, “Spending a week backpacking will literally just be scratching the surface of this amazing experience. Some people spend their whole lives section hiking the PCT, ticking off place after place.”

Assuming you’re fit enough to take on any trail segment and weather isn’t a factor (some of the trail can be packed with snow through July), here are a few suggestions based on state:  

Sierra Nevadas, California
“For my money, you can’t beat the breathtaking scenery of California’s Sierra Nevada in summer,” Larabee says. “The Ansel Adams and Desolation Wilderness Areas are my favorite.”

Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon
Along with Broken Top to the south, this trio of volcanic peaks in the Oregon Cascades are known for their glaciers. Lush forests in the section of trail from Three Sisters Wilderness to Mount Jefferson Wilderness teem with Douglas, silver, and sub-alpine firs; hemlock; vine maple; huckleberry; and rhododendron. Streams course through the landscape, including the Wild and Scenic Squaw Creek whose headwaters emerge here.

Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington
Mount Adams Wilderness to Goat Rocks Wilderness offers a solid section hike from the Northwest’s second-highest peak, with terrain similar to that in Oregon. En route you’ll hike through Packwood Glacier. Named after the numerous mountain goats that inhabit the crest of the Cascade Range, you may spot a few on the way to Goat Rocks. 

A transportation tip: By its nature, the PCT is a point-to-point hike. If you’re hiking for a week, you’ll need to arrange for drop-off and pick-up. If you plan a loop, you’ll need to consult regional trail maps beyond those of the PCT.

If you’d like to do further research, the best trail knowledge is collected in guidebooks (yes, actual books!), many of which are available through the PCTA shop.

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