Hiking the Pacific Crest and related trails

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:

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.

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):

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:

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):

Afoot and Afield Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide by Mike White (2006) provides many additional hiking routes in the area.

Other trails

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.