Where can I get maps for the trail?
Is water readily available and do I need to treat it?
There are long waterless stretches and paying close attention to water issues is critical. Backcountry water should be treated or filtered. Read about this in our page about PCT water issues.
Do I need a permit?
Possibly. Permits are required for overnight travel in all wilderness areas, National Parks, CA State Parks and other restricted areas along the trail. You can obtain a permit from the agency on which your PCT trip originates. For example, if you plan to travel from Echo Lake to Castle Crags State Park, you would need to contact the Eldorado National Forest since your trip would begin in that forest. They would issue a permit good for your entire trip. The PCTA issues long-distance permits for people that are heading out on trips of 500 miles or more. Compete information is available on the official PCT permit page.
Is the trail well marked?
The trail is generally well marked to the standard that it’s supposed to be signed to. This is a wilderness trail and signage is kept to a minimum. Signs should be present at all trail junctions and road crossings. Beyond that, there are rare “reassurance markers”. You may travel for miles between seeing a PCT symbol. That’s generally by design. Unfortunately, some signs are also stolen or destroyed. You should have maps along and be able to navigate through unsigned sections. We wrote an in-depth article about PCT signage in the Summer 2013 Communicator magazine.
Yes and no. The trail does not close for the winter. It just gets blanketed in snow and becomes the realm of backcountry skiers. While it’s not practical to travel most of the trail during the winter, it’s not officially closed. It DOES close temporarily for things like forest fires and broken bridges. These closure orders are put in place by the local land agencies and we list them on our trail closures page.
Are there check-in points along the trail? How do the registers work?
On the PCT, your safety is your own responsibility. While there are permits, no officials are actively monitoring or keeping track of your location. You should provide your itinerary to family or friends and check in with them frequently.
Trail registers up and down the trail are an informal system of notebook logs. PCTA does not have a list of where they are and they’re generally not placed for the explicit purpose of tracking trail users. We recommend signing them but know that they are generally not a part of a system that’s designed for determining your location should you go missing. Please do not rely on them for that purpose. They’re simply a fun way to record and share your thoughts and a great way to communicate with those behind you. Still, they could be used if you go missing, so it’s a good idea to sign them.
You’re dreaming of the trail and you don’t want to go alone. Online, you may have luck finding partners on the PCT social media channels and through the Pacific Crest Trail Hiking and Backpacking Meetup Group. In person, attending events, volunteering and just spending time on the trail are great ways to connect with like-minded outdoors people. If you’re a thru-hiker, most people recommend starting the trail solo and finding partners among your fellow hikers.
How do I find a ride to the trail?
Transportation logistics can be a major headache. We have extensive advice on our PCT transportation page.
We say that the Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long. Is it? Probably not, but no one knows for sure. The tread moves every year, sometimes adding or subtracting miles at a time. Various places on the internet declare more specific lengths. Take them with a grain of salt. The PCT has never been mapped with tools that would provide a truly accurate distance for the trail. What data sets that do exist were generally gathered with consumer level tools and do not take in to account the various changes that happen every season. Years ago, PCTA decided to settle on a number. We can’t re-print t-shirts and remake trail signs every season as the tread moves. The Pacific Crest Trail is around 2,650 miles and that’s accurate to within 10 or so miles.
Trail magic – lending support to long-distance PCT travelers – is a practice that’s been on the rise over recent years. It has many forms: a ride into town; a cold soda at the trailhead; a shower and a bunk. Many trail users consider these to be remarkable acts of kindness and a positive influence on the trail experience.
However, a certain form of trail magic is inadvertently impacting the PCT and our community. When left unattended, food and beverages stashed beside the trail create a litter problem and introduce wildlife to human food. These caches often become eyesores as trash collects and is strewn about by animals, wind and people. They are often illegal on public land and limited resources are wasted removing them. By contrast, refreshments offered in person to long-distance travelers may be more easily contained and cleaned up.
The PCTA and our trail management partners do not endorse the practice of leaving unattended caches of food and beverages along the PCT. When considering appropriate forms of trail magic, please recall Leave No Trace principles, including being considerate to other visitors, respecting wildlife, and disposing of waste properly.
Water caches, especially in very dry stretches of the PCT, are a separate and more complex matter. Please read our essay about water caches.
What is TR. NO. 2000?
Prior to the PCT’s designation as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, a traveler along the Pacific Crest Trail System might have been walking from Forest Service trail number 101, to State Park Trail number 6902, and so on. These trails became connected, along with a fair dose of new construction and road walks, to make what we now know as one continuous route. Subsequently there was a push to standardize trail marking from Canada to Mexico. Every trail has to be assigned a number for agency records, and it was determined there ought to be a consistent logic in the numbering of national scenic trails. Hence the Appalachian Trail, in cross-agency nomenclature, became trail number 1000, and the PCT number 2000.
Now what about the question of abbreviations? The signage manual states that abbreviations are to be avoided if possible; however, “TR.” is a Forest Service-approved abbreviation for trail, and “NO.” for number. After considering all this, new directional signs naming the PCT should say PACIFIC CREST TR. NO. 2000.
The Pacific Crest Trail ends next to Boundary Monument 78 on the US/Canada border. The International Boundary Commission informs us that it was the 78th Boundary Monument from the Pacific along the line of the 49th Parallel. Many monuments have since been added in between the original monuments to increase visibility along the border. Most of the boundary work in the area was done between 1901 and 1905.
A note about personal safety
Trail angels exist up and down the PCT. They are self-appointed volunteers and are not affiliated with our organization or the U.S. Forest Service. Anyone can call themselves a trail angel and offer a ride or a bed. PCT hikers and riders should use caution and good judgment when coming in contact with new people. Read more on our page about safety, crime and wilderness travel.