Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

Snow information

How much snow will be found in the mountains varies widely from year to year. Hikers and riders may encounter snow in the early-season, especially in the shade and north side of passes. In the shoulder seasons, fresh snow brings new challenges and dangers. These pages will help you become better prepared.

Snow cups on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo by Philipp Kobel

Photo by Philipp Kobel

This information is primarily for the Pacific Crest Trail hiker. Snow usually makes the trail impassable for equestrians.

It’s important to be prepared. Proper research, planning, and training can go a long way towards helping you manage snow on the PCT. Snow and the attendant flooding snow-melt can easily ruin your trip. Either avoid these problems by waiting for the snow to melt, or prepare with proper training, physical fitness, knowledge, and attitude.

Snow changes the nature of your trip. It shifts the Pacific Crest Trail from a normal summer backpacking trip to something closer to mountaineering. There are few absolute truisms on the trail. Other’s prior experience should be used merely to inform. Introduce yourself to snow travel slowly, cautiously and be sure that you have options. Just because someone else did it, doesn’t mean that you’ll be ok.

Crossing some snow is practically a given during the course of a thru-hike or thru-ride.

Fundamentals of snow travel

Prepare and you’ll be safer, less anxious and have more fun.

  • Build personal experience. If you expect to be on the Sierra or Cascades when there is snow on the ground, it is wise to go there the preceding year to see what it’s actually like. Reading about it or looking at photos is not the same as being there.
  • Obtain in-person training. Take a class or learn from an experienced friend. Snow travel is complex, skill intensive and risky. Don’t assume that other hikers will train you. They might lack skills, or you might find yourself alone and exposed.
  • Plan for the worst: nasty storms with horizontal, wind-driven rain or snow, steep pitches of slippery snow, out-of-control snowy descents, horrifying whitewater creek crossings, snow-blindness, deep post-holing,…
  • Always have options. Never put yourself in a situation where you have to do something dangerous. Having options lets you operate within your own personal levels of risk tolerance.

Avalanche danger

Traveling the PCT when it’s covered in snow means exposing yourself to potential avalanche risk. The PCT was not designed for travel when snow is on the ground. In many places, it’s unwise to travel the trail during these conditions. Areas along the trail are well known for their avalanche danger. Seasonally, specific snow travel and avalanche preparedness skills are critical. It’s highly unwise to unknowingly expose yourself to this hidden danger.

Cold temperatures, freezing rain, and early winter snowfall compete with many hikers’ desire to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in one season. We’ve seen the results when “summit fever” outweighs rational thought. Your decisions may not only put you at risk of serious injury or death, they can put the lives of rescuers in peril as well.

Real-time snow information

We recommend these websites for snow data along the trail:

Fresh snow.

Heavy snow can be a safety threat.

Weather forecasts

We recommend weather.gov for forecasts. Use the interactive maps to click on the location that you want a forecast for. Be sure to read any weather warnings or alerts that appear. Many people will want to read the Forecast Discussion and Zone Area Forecasts that are found under the “Additional Forecasts and Information” header.

A few places along the trail have snow-focused meteorologists who provide localized predictions for skiers and snowboarders. They generally stop forecasting in the spring.

↑ Back to top
Photo by: Henrik Frederiksen