Pandemic leaves 2021 Pacific Crest Trail season uncertain

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected people across the world. For those of us who enjoy the PCT, our inability to visit has laid bare the importance of the trail and the value we get from its open and wild spaces. All of us at the PCTA appreciate how disappointing the pandemic has been on aspiring long-distance PCT travelers and the people who benefit from them.

We’re saddened to announce that applications for the 2021 PCT Long-distance Permit will not open as planned in October.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, we don’t know whether it’ll be safe to hike or ride long-distances next year. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we plan to update everyone about potential 2021 permits by January 15.

Photo by Rahel Moesch

As of Aug. 20, there were 477,331 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all counties that the PCT crosses, and 14,005 people had died of the disease in California, Oregon and Washington, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

For these reasons and after consulting with our agency partners, we agreed that we can’t predict whether long-distance trips will be appropriate in 2021. We will wait and see how the situation develops and will not accept permit requests until we’re certain we can fulfill them.

Our hearts truly go out to everyone who has been affected by COVID-19, including the 2020 PCT Long-distance Permit holders. We understand how disappointing it has been for all of you who hoped and dreamed of spending time on the trail. You planned and sacrificed, and this awful pandemic got in the way. We’re truly grateful that so many made the safe and responsible decision to stay home.

We know many of you who cancelled trips this year were hoping for special accommodation next year. Federal land management agencies have decided not to provide priority access to 2020 PCT Long-distance Permit holders. If the permit system opens for trips in 2021, it will be administered the same as in previous years: equal opportunity for all. Everyone will have the same chance at getting a PCT Long-distance Permit in 2021.

“The COVID-19 virus has upended our lives and created so much uncertainty,” said Beth Boyst, PCT Administrator for the U.S. Forest Service. “As we manage for these unprecedented challenges, we concluded that the variable situations and actions hikers took in 2020 have created a complex situation where there is no clear fair strategy to award 2020 permit holders priority over others. Also, it is important that 2021 permit issuance be timed in a manner to ensure compliance with each state’s travel guidance.”

At the PCTA, we understand that long-distance trips require intense, advanced planning. Knowing whether you will have a permit is a crucial part of trip planning. We get that. But we simply don’t know what the future will bring. Thank you for your understanding as we navigate this difficult situation together.

To receive future updates, sign up for PCTA’s emails. Do you have questions about PCT Long-distance Permits? Read our permit page for more.

Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.