Congratulations to the 2023 Pacific Crest Trail Photo Contest Winners

Every year, members of the PCT community donate their photos of the trail to us. Over the years, these photos have grown into a huge archive of more than 15,000 images of the Pacific Crest Trail and the people who travel it. We’re grateful for these images, because they serve an important role in our collective work to protect, preserve, and promote the PCT. When trying to describe the trail to others, many have said “You just have to see it to understand.” Your photos allow countless other people to fall in love with the trail’s awesome beauty—and share the experiences of those who have been there.

We’re happy to showcase the winners of this year’s Pacific Crest Trail Photo Contest. A panel of judges led by longtime PCTA volunteer and former board member Lee Terkelsen sifted through hundreds of submitted photos to choose the “best,” with quotes added because there were many other fantastic photos and the final choices weren’t easy. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lee and the other judges who are listed below.

Finally, we’d also like to thank our partner companies who generously provided prizes for the three overall winners:

First Place Overall Winner

1ST PLACE OVERALL WINNER: “Mount Adams Paintbrush” by James Parsons. (Click to view larger image.)

From the Photographer: Sunset after a 31 mile day that began at snow line on the now distant Mount Adams. We made camp with an incredible view near the Knife’s Edge, Goat Rocks, Washington. I had passed this scene of Mount Adams about a half mile before camp. After eating dinner and relaxing, did I have enough left in the tank to hike back here for this shot? Turns out, barely, but I’m glad I did. This is my favorite landscape image of my thru-hike. I know how rare it is to even see these mountains from here, given the frequent clouds and wildfire smoke in Washington. But to be given perfect visibility, a great sunset AND peak wildflower bloom is just pure great luck. This evening was in contention for best on trail.

Second Place Overall Winner

2ND PLACE OVERALL WINNER: “Eye to Eye” by Christopher Thompson. (Click to view larger image.)

From the Photographer: We saw many horned toads throughout the desert, but only this majestic Blainville’s Horned Lizard was completely unphased by my presence in his world. In hopes of seeing eye to eye I got down on my stomach in the hot desert sand to spend a moment with this creature that seemed utterly at home and ready for anything. California Desert—Scissors Crossing—Northbound Mile 75.

Third Place Overall Winner

3RD PLACE OVERALL WINNER: “Forester Pass” by Christina Strasser. (Click to view larger image.)

How the Contest Was Judged

The six judges went through four rounds to determine the winners. The judges did not meet in person or online to discuss the results. In the first round, all 350+ photo entries were viewed. When a judge chose a photo for first place, it received five points, four points for second, three points for third, and two points for an honorable mention. The photos that received the most points were sent back to the judges for consideration until, after four rounds, the entries were narrowed down to the winners.

Category-Winning Photos

Click on the first photo in each category below to view a slideshow of the winners. Once the slideshow is open, click either side of the photo to view the next or previous photo. (Note: for some photos, you may need to scroll down to view the photo’s description.)

Trail Majesty Category Winners

1st Place: Moonset – Jon Anderson
2nd Place: Sunset Above Belden – Michael Irving
3rd Place: Mt. Adams near Killen Creek – Kevin Dickson
Honorable Mention: A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Christopher Thompson
Honorable Mention: Crater Lake Sunset Panorama – James Parsons
Honorable Mention: Sunrise at Rae Lakes – Scott Pope

Human Spirit Category Winners

1st Place: Bubble Wrap on Glen Pass – Del Gray
2nd Place: Journaling Near Gomez Meadow – Kevin Devaney
3rd Place: Brother and Sisters – by Kira Rudolf
Honorable Mention: Crossing Senger Creek – Jon Anderson
Honorable Mention: That First Step Is A Doozy – Philip Kollas
Honorable Mention: Singing In The Rain – John Meehan

Equestrian Category Winners

1st Place: Kern River Crossing – Dylan Gordon
2nd Place: Riders at Seldon Pass – Ulrich Arnold
3rd Place: Taking in The View – Gillian Larson
Honorable Mention: On The High Road – Christopher Thompson
Honorable Mention: Heading To Cutthroat Pass – Jodi Johnson
Honorable Mention: Llamas on the PCT – Conrad Lowry

Trail Work Category Winners

1st Place: Saw Training – Michael Lewis
2nd Place: SCA PCT Team Sonora Pass Steps – Jay Watson
3rd Place: – Trail Worker Near Etna, CA – Michel Godbout
Honorable Mention: Kicking Off PCT Days – Maria Geraldine Ignacio
Honorable Mention: Saw – Adam Gunis

Flora Category Winners

1st Place: Sunrise Beauty Overload – Kathy Dudgeon
2nd Place: Green Thistle Flower – Conrad Lowry
3rd Place: Golden Aches – Del Gray
Honorable Mention: Colorful – Philippe Liezi
Honorable Mention: Corn Lily Close Up – Jocelyn Dowdy
Honorable Mention: Twisted Pines – Adam Gunis

Fauna Category Winners

1st Place: SoCal Lizard – David McCoy
2nd Place: Daybreak – Emilie Vachon
3rd Place: Basking Snake – Gillian Larson
Honorable Mention: Deer Spotted from the Tent – Isabel Bonavoglia
Honorable Mention: Pika – Ulrich Arnold
Honorable Mention: Busy Ground Squirrel – Larry Bettinger

Photo Contest Judges

Lee Terkelsen – Former editor of the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator.

Roger Gong – Owner/Chief Photographer of Country Roads Studio in Tulare, CA.

Dave Thurber – Retired commercial photographer from Visalia, CA

David Velasquez – Owner/Chief Photographer of Sequoia Skye studio in San Francisco, CA.

Linda Wozniczka – Amateur published photographer who enjoys taking pictures from Fresno, CA.


Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.