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.
Does the PCT close?
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 trial are great way 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.
What’s the true length of the Pacific Crest Trail?
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.