Hiking the Pacific Crest and related trails
All content copyright © 2010-2018 Frank Revelo, United States copyright office registration number TX-7931345
- Pacific Crest Trail Organization (PCTA)
- Official organization, which issues necessary permits and sells trail guides (which contains black and white maps), the official databook (170 grams), and color 1:63,360 maps printed on water-resistant paper. The trail guides provide interesting background material on geology and history, but are not necessary if you have the color maps. The databook is essential, unless you are carrying something equivalent, like the PCT Atlas books. Pages from the databook can be removed and trimmed to fit a 9" x 6" Aloksak. By trimming unneeded sections, weights of the color maps can be greatly reduced, so that it becomes possible to carry all the maps for each section from the start, and thereby avoid maildrops. Weights for the trimmed maps for the various major sections are as follows:
- Campo to Lone Pine : 350 grams
- Lone Pine to Lake Tahoe : 180 grams
- Lake Tahoe to Ashland, Oregon : maps not yet available, probably about 230 grams
- Oregon : 230 grams
- Washington : 265 grams
[Update as of 2013: Now that almost everyone has a smartphone and many people have a mapping GPS as well, paper maps are probably unnecessary for the PCT, other than for the High Sierra section in early season, when the trail is obscured by snow and depending on electronic maps alone would be dangerous, since the electronics could fail. Other than when snow-covered, getting lost on the PCT is very unlikely. See the GPS page for more on this topic.]
- PCT Water report
- Report on water supplies in Southern California. Updated before and during each spring hiking season. Sometimes also includes reports on snow conditions and mandatory trail detours due to fires, washed out trails or other reasons, along with links to Halfmiles maps for these detour routes.
- Pocket PCT by Paul Bodnar
- PCT guide in pocket-size edition. I ordered the 2nd edition (2011), but have not yet used it. 108 grams.
- Crow's Town Guide
- Combine with the PCTA maps, the Pocket PCT guide and the water report (only needed for Southern California) for a complete guide to the PCT.
- PCT Atlas
- Combination of maps and data book information. I used the black-and-white first edition of the PCT Atlas for Southern California (Campo to Mojave) and the color second edition for the rest of California (Mojave to Ashland). Both worked well enough. Each second edition PCT Atlas books weighs about 180 grams, and so would be slightly lighter in weight than the combination of equivalent PCTA maps and databook pages, assuming you hike the entire section covered by a PCT Atlas book. The PCT Atlas also contains crude town maps. The maps in the PCT Atlas second edition are made by shrinking 1:24,000 USGS maps by 50%. This makes the contour lines and text very difficult to read. Also, the maps only show the trail itself, with very little of the surrounding area compared to what is shown on the PCTA maps. The PCTA maps are thus greatly superior in my opinion. The elevation profiles on the PCTA maps are also much more accurate than those in the PCT Atlas. For most of the PCT, accurate maps are not that important. However, if you plan to cross Fuller Ridge or the Sierras when they are snow covered, I would recommend using the PCTA or Tom Harrison maps rather than the PCT Atlas. Because it is a perfect bound book, the PCT Atlas cannot be folded and stored in an Aloksak, so as to be both protected but usable during rain. This is another reason to prefer the PCTA maps wherever rain is a possibility (Oregon and Washington).
- Tom Harrison Maps
- Publishes a 1:42,240 map for the San Jacinto wilderness. Highly recommended for crossing Fuller Ridge when it is snow-covered, unless you have a mapping GPS. I bought my copy at the ranger's office in Idyllwild, but there is no guarantee they will always have it in stock. Best to buy in advance. 20 grams. Weight could be further reduced by trimming away everything except the Fuller Ridge parts.
- Yogi's PCT Planning Guide and Handbook
- Good information about water sources, towns and other resupply points, transportation, mixed together with endless annoying opinions. Pages can be removed and trimmed to fit a 9" x 6" Aloksak. Or just copy the information you need onto a separate sheet of paper.
- Halfmile's PCT maps and other info
- Free PCT maps. Because these maps must be printed on a color printer, they are probably no cheaper than the PCTA maps, nor will they be as water-resistant. This site also has a table of hiker reports of PCT cellphone coverage for Verizon, ATT, and T-Mobile.
- Web site dedicated to PCT.
- Hiking the John Muir Trail
- Includes info on transportation to/from trail.
- Tahoe Yosemite Trail
- Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, a trail that runs parallel to the PCT.
- Guthook Guide to PCT Guides
- Describes the alternative PCT map and guidebooks in detail.
- List servers for PCT and other trails.
- Eastern Sierra Transit Authority
- As of 2011, daily bus between Lone Pine and Bishop, with stop at Independence, and Mon-Tue-Thu-Fri bus between Bishop and Reno. Another bus runs south to Mojave and Lancaster. 800-922-1930.
- San Diego Transit
- Buy day pass on bus that runs from airport to downtown, then transfer to trolley with this day pass and go to El Cajon transit center. Finally, route 894 runs from El Cajon transit center to Campo, at 3:45pm as of 2011.
Ideas for those who dislike hitchhiking and want to minimize resupply hassles:
- Send resupply package to Warner Springs before starting out from Campo. No other resupply boxes until Kennedy Meadows, which will be sent from Mojave. Instead, resupply at stores along the way. Start date for southern California section should be Thursday or Friday, to avoid hitting towns on weekends when inns might be full.
- Deer Springs and Devil's Slide trails from Idyllwild are both long ascents, but there should be water at the top in April/May, and thus no need to carry much water uphill.
- Take the jeep road at mile 259, which eventually leads into Big Bear City. Pick up the trail again by taking Van Duysen road out of town (thus skipping part of the official trail). Alternatively, continue down the trail to Van Duysen road and walk into town from there and then walk back to the trail on that same road.
- Acorn trail to/from Wrightwood is not too long and has plenty of shade, and hence is not too difficult even when ascending with a full load of food. The spring at Guffy Campground is very reliable, so no need to carry much water uphill.
- Walking into Mojave along Oak Creek road (from where the trail intersects Willow Springs Road) takes about 3.5 hours. This road has litle traffic, especially early in the morning. No shade, but possible to camp in privacy in the desert scrub anywhere along the way, at least until you start seeing the first buildings of Mojave. Alternatively, if you really want to hike the PCT section between Willow Springs road and Highway 58, it is possible to take the dirt road that parallels the railroad tracks into Mojave. To get back to the trail, there is a bus that runs several times a day between Mojave and Tehachapi on Highway 58, which will stop at the Cameron Canyon Road exit if requested (Kern County Regional Transit, 800-560-1733 or 661-862-8894, $2 in 2011). Or hike back along the dirt road that parallels the railroad tracks (if you do this, you can use an underpass to cross highway 58 and intersect the PCT at the point where it stops paralleling highway 58 and begins to ascend the hill north of highway 58). Prepare and send resupply packages for Kennedy Meadows and either Vermillion Valley or Mono Hot Springs from Mojave.
- The walk down into Lone Pine from Horseshoe Meadows trailhead (Central California) is about 20 miles long, shadeless and usually hot and sunny during May and June. However, the walk is all downhill. So provided you bring along plenty of water and start early, it isn't too bad of a walk even on a sunny day, or such was my experience. As you walk, you can try hitching, if there is traffic along the road. Getting back to the trail from Lone Pine can be quite difficult on weekdays during May and June, and hiking may be required if the road is closed to cars due to rock falls. It will not be necessary to go into Lone Pine if you carry enough food out of Kennedy Meadows and average 15+ miles per day. Hitching from Lone Pine to Horseshoe Meadows is much easier in August, for those who plan to section hike the High Sierras separate from the rest of the PCT.
- If you are too early for Vermillion Valley, the walk to Mono Hot Springs is only about 10 miles, half on a trail and half on a quiet road.
- Both Red's Meadow and Tuolomne are closed in May and early June, so it will be necessary to walk to Mammoth Lakes. This is about 10 miles on a road that will be free of traffic in the early season.
- From Mammoth Lakes to Echo Lake Resort is almost 200 miles, and the first part of this section involves huge ascents/descents. Thus sending a resupply box from Mammoth Lakes to northern Kennedy Meadows resort might be adviseable, though I have never done this. The walk from Sonora pass to northern Kennedy Meadows resort is about 10 miles along the highway.
- The Truckee Transit shuttle bus runs twice daily (9:45 am and 3:45 pm as of 2010) from the west end of Donner Lake to Truckee. Get off at the Safeway/Save-Mart stop and the post office is about two blocks south, on the other side of I-80. Or continue to the transportation depot and take the Greyhound bus into Reno. Prepare and send resupply packages from here to Belden and perhaps also Old Station and Castella.
- It is possible to walk to/from Ashland (Oregon) via the Bull Gap trail (shown on the PCTA map for this section) and then the Ashland Loop road, which eventually runs into Morton Street in downtown Ashland. Total distance is perhaps 18 miles, with about 4000 feet of descent. Prepare and send resupply packages for Oregon from here, such as Crater Lake and Big Lake Youth Camp. The walk back up to the trail from Ashland will be difficult, or such was my experience, due to large elevation gain and the need to carry both enough food to get to Crater Lake plus enough water to get to the Mount Ashland inn spigot (thru-hikers typically reach Ashland in late July/early August, the hottest time of year). One possibility is to eat in town, drink several liters of water there, wait until the food and water is digested, then start the ascent in the late afternoon with 3 liters of water in your pack. This should be enough to get half way up the mountain. Finish the ascent the next morning, before it gets hot, and resupply with water at the Mount Ashland inn.
- Send resupply boxes from Cascade Locks (Oregon) to White Pass, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and Stehekin. White Pass and Snoqualmie are within 1 mile of the trail. Stehekin is 10 miles from the trail down a quiet dirt road, and a shuttle bus runs along this road several times daily (at least until end of September). That leaves Skykomish as the only problem stop.
- Skykomish (Washington) is a mandatory stop for most hikers, unless they want to carry a very heavy food load from Snoqualmie. However, Skykomish is 13 miles distant down a busy highway with narrow shoulders, thus walking is not recommended. During heavy hiking season, the local trail angel normally shuttles hikers to the trail sometime in the morning. Thus an alternative to hitching would be to make camp near the highway so as to arrive there early in the morning, and then get a ride back to town with the trail angel after they drop off hikers. The next day, get a shuttle back to trail from the trail angel. The trail angel typically asks for donations for these shuttles, which is perfectly reasonable in my opinion. Obviously, this strategy assumes the trail angel will be making a shuttle run, which in turn assumes there are other hikers in town one day ahead of you—this is only likely during prime hiking season (usually early September for this stretch of the trail). I did not try this strategy myself, but rather hitched into Skykomish. It took about a half-hour to get a ride. The next day, the trail angel gave me and a dozen other hikers a ride back to the trail in the back of a pickup. We passed some other hikers trying to hitch from outside the Skykomish store. One of these hikers was a very pretty young girl, of the sort who usually get rides quickly. None of these hikers was able to get a ride back to the trail within 2 and in some cases 3 or more hours of trying. (The trail angel made a second shuttle run for them after dropping us off.) Thus Skykomish ranks as one of the more difficult hitchhiking locations on the entire PCT, at least with respect to getting back to the trail from town.
Below are some of the hotels where I've stayed. All of them are acceptable quality, and some are especially nice. Prices are for one person and include any taxes.
- Warner Springs Resort, $80 (2011), warnersprings.com, 760-782-4200.
- Idyllwild Inn, $64 (2011), 888-659-2552.
- Nature's Inn in Big Bear City, $50 (2009).
- Motel 6 in Big Bear City, $55 (2011), 909-585-6666.
- Pine Motel in Wrightwood, $63 (2009).
- Motel 6 in Mojave, $38 (2011).
- Dow Villa Hotel in Lone Pine, $60 (2011), dowvillamotel.com, 760-876-5521.
- Seneca Motel in Chester, $45 (2012), 530-258-2815.
- Motel Etna in Etna, $53 (2011), 530-467-5338.
- Motel 6 in Medford (local bus access from Ashland), $48 (2011).
- Motel in Stevenson, WA. I forget the name. Approximately $80 (2009).
Tahoe Rim Trail
Runs along the crest of the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. Tahoe Rim Trail Organization is the official organization. They sell a guide book and maps, or these can be obtained at REI. The Tom Harrison map alone is sufficient, though the guidebook has some interesting background information.
Several ways to access the TRT from Reno (or to access Reno from the TRT, by going in the opposite of the direction described):
- Take Greyhound to Truckee. Then take local TART shuttle bus (runs frequently) from Truckee to Tahoe City.
- Take the RTC bus from Reno to Carson City, then hike into the mountains via Ash Canyon trail. From North Carson Street, turn onto West Winnie Lane, turn right at Ash Canyon Road, turn right at Wellington Street West, then turn left onto a jeep trail. Follow this trail into the mountains until it intersects with the TRT.
- Take RTC bus from Reno to Carson City, then hike into the mountains via Hobart Road. Get off at stop for Western Nevada Community College. Take West College Parkway, turn right on North Ormsby Road, turn left on Combs Canyon Road, follow this road a mile or so, turn left on Numaga Pass Road, turn left on Hobart Road. Follow Hobart road until it turns into bike trail and follow this until it intersects with the TRT.
- Take RTC bus from Reno to Carson City, then take the BlueGo bus route 21X to Spooner Summit (where the TRT crosses Highway 50). Or continue to South Lake Tahoe, then transfer to route 23 to get to Heavenly, Nevada (where the TRT crosses Highway 207).
- South Tahoe Express bus runs from Reno airport to South Lake Tahoe. Use the BlueGo bus route 23 to get to Heavenly, NV.
- North Lake Tahoe Express bus runs from Reno to various locations on the north side of Lake Tahoe, including Tahoe City, which is on the TRT. Requires reservations.
- Rim to Reno Trail (created 2012) allows access to the Tahoe Rim Trail from Reno. From South Virginia, take Arrowcreek Parkway, then Thomas Creek trail (across from Hunsburger Elementary School). See here for description and link to partial GPX (at Wikilocs) of part of this new trail system. I haven't yet hiked this trail, so I don't know how well it works.
Since the western part of the TRT coincides with the PCT, the TRT can be used to get between the PCT and Reno.
Thru-hikers doing the PCT receive permits from the PCTA which include Desolation Wilderness. Otherwise, a camping permit is needed for overnight stays there. However, this is something of a nuisance for someone hiking clockwise who won't know their exact arrival date at Echo Lake. Obtaining an overnight permit upon arrival at Echo Lake would mean hiking or hitching 10 miles down a busy highway to the South Lake Tahoe Ranger station, then hiking, hitching or taking a taxi back to Echo Lake, and this assumes permits are even available. Two workarounds:
- For strong hikers, camp south of Echo Summit, and thus south of Desolation wilderness, the first night. Then hike 27+ miles and camp north of Desolation Wilderness the second night.
- For average hikers, camp south of Echo Summit, and thus south of Desolation wilderness, the first night. The next day, turn west at the north end of Lake Aloha, then west again at China Flat, and camp west of Desolation Wilderness the second night (20 to 24 miles of hiking, depending on first night's campsite). The next day, return to China Flat, head north from there, reconnect with the TRT at Middle Velma Lake, and camp north of Desolation Wilderness the third night (about 20 miles of hiking). The route just described has the advantage of bypassing the north slope of Dick's Pass (9380 feet elevation), which is often snow-covered until late in the season. It has the disadvantage of descending the north slope of Mosquito Pass (8600 feet elevation), which may also be snow-covered until late in the season.
There are small stores along the trail at Heavenly, Nevada and Echo Chalet, California. Tahoe City has a large supermarket. Tahoe State Recreation Area (530-583-3074) campground is just east of Tahoe City and has hot showers for a fee. The BlueGo bus route 19 runs frequently between Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe, where there are large supermarkets.
Water is in short supply on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. Be sure to fill up whenever a water source is encountered. For a moderate paced hiker with 6 liters carrying capacity, the following reliable sources should be sufficient (clockwise from Tahoe City):
- Tahoe City (spigots at campground and elsewhere)
- Watson Lake.
- Gray Lake.
- Ophir Creek.
- Marlette Campground well.
- Spigots at fire station on road walk through Heavenly, Nevada.
- Star Lake.
- Round Lake.
- (plentiful water sources from Truckee River through Desolation wilderness)
- Miller Creek.
Afoot and Afield Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide by Mike White (2006) provides many additional hiking routes in the area.
The American Discovery Trail runs coast to coast. It intersects the PCT at Lake Tahoe, then runs for a short way along the Tahoe Rim Trail.