Guidance for Visiting the PCT During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This page provides guidance for visitors to the Pacific Crest Trail. Please read our main COVID-19 page for more.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues in 2021.

Despite assurances of a vaccine in 2021, we will continue living with the coronavirus throughout the year.

Being active in nature is one of the best ways to stay physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic. If you’re careful, time outside can be a relatively safe activity with little opportunity for virus spread.

But the Pacific Crest Trail is more popular than ever—and time spent on the PCT (especially long-distance hikes) can potentially expose you to large groups and occasional indoor environments—such as when resupplying or sheltering from storms.

The less you travel, the fewer risks you take.

The longer your journey on the PCT, the greater the risk of contact with the virus—and the greater the risk of transmitting it to others.

We encourage you to stay close to home and stick to shorter trips. There are countless amazing weekend or week-long trips along the PCT that don’t require resupply, hitchhiking or being indoors with other people.

By staying local, you will reduce the risk of virus transmission. Staying close to home and not mixing with others is crucial to decreasing COVID-19 transmissions, hospitalizations and deaths.

It’s important to remember: PCT travel is non-essential.

If you travel on the trail, please take these important steps to protect yourself and others:

  • wear a mask over your nose and mouth when passing others on the trail
  • keep at least 6 feet away from those not in your household
  • wash your hands frequently
  • avoid large groups of people

Comply with local, state and federal guidelines and laws.

Any PCT travel must comply with local, state, and federal guidelines and laws. Please also consider the desires of communities near the trail. Check with public health agencies for information near your starting point, along your route, and at your planned destination.

Be aware that local conditions may change—even after you start your trip. You may need to alter your plans or go home abruptly should local stay-at-home orders go into effect during your journey. Stay informed of the most up-to-date information.

 Here are state guidelines as of March 9, 2021:

  • California: All individuals living in the State of California are currently ordered to stay home or at their place of residence, except for permitted work, local shopping or other permitted errands, or as otherwise authorized. Persons arriving in California from other states or countries, including returning California residents, should practice self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Gatherings have a maximum of 3 households. 
  • OregonResidents of Oregon should stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countriesPersons arriving in Oregon from other states or countries, including returning Oregon residents, should practice self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Safety restrictions are currently on a county-by-county basis. Gatherings in Counties with “Extreme Risk” have a maximum of 2 households.  
  • Washington: Non-essential travel is discouraged. Persons arriving in Washington from other states or countries, including returning Washington residents, should practice self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. A 14-day quarantine is required for anyone returning to Washington state after visiting the United Kingdom, South Africa and other countries where a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, 501Y.V, has been circulating. Phased safety restrictions vary by region. Gatherings have a maximum of 2 households. 

Where can I go on the PCT?

  • While much of our public lands and undeveloped recreation areas remained open in 2020, places could close at any time. Services and facilities may be limited. As operations vary and change on a place-by-place basis, check with local areas for specific details about their operations, including campgrounds.
  • Have a plan B. If you get to the trailhead and it’s too crowded, head elsewhere. Many places along the trail have been very crowded—it’s okay to leave if you feel unsafe. You can return during a less popular time or hike a less famous trail.

What types of trips are safest?

  • Day and overnight stays that do not require resupply and are near your home are the best option.
  • There are many great weekend or week-long trips on the PCT that can be done without resupply and minimize the risk of virus spread.

Keep your goals conservative and manage your risk—search and rescue teams are already strained.

You can reduce risk in a lot of ways, such as not socializing with people outside your household, avoiding difficult stream crossings, not having campfires, avoiding scrambles over rocks, not going cross-country, not jumping across creeks or any action that could result in injury or require the help of first responders. Accidents place unnecessary stress on first responders, search and rescue teams and hospital staff who are already strained from the pandemic. Please don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk of exposure.

What is a safe group size for my PCT trip?

  • The CDC recommends recreating with members of your own household.
  • Please limit group size to six people or fewer.

What should I know when traveling to the trail?

Traveling long distances to get to the Pacific Crest Trail increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Shorter trips that avoid time indoors is the best way to protect yourself and others.

  • If you live far away from the PCT, hiking a trail in your area is a great idea in 2021.
  • If you are traveling from other states or countries, please follow all CDC, state and local guidelines, which may include a self-quarantine for 10-14 days after arrival and before you head to the PCT. Plan your budget to allow for two weeks of quarantine before traveling to the PCT.
  • When taking short trips, bring all your own food, water bottles and hygiene supplies (including toilet paper and hand sanitizer) from home and take your trash with you when you leave.
  • If you’re feeling unwell at all, don’t attempt a PCT hike or head into the backcountry. COVID-19 (and other illnesses) can get worse very quickly, and you don’t want to be miles from the nearest road if that happens. By staying put, you’ll also be minimizing the spread of disease. If you’ve had a COVID test and are waiting on the result, don’t hike.

What should I do to stay safe on the trail?

  • Maintain at least six feet of physical distance between parties. (More if possible.)
  • Bring a mask. Wearing it is essential if you cannot maintain the six-foot distance, such as at a trailhead or passing people on the trail.
  • Avoid congregating. This includes parking areas and points of interest like overlooks and waterfalls. Don’t linger if others want to appreciate it too.
  • Avoid shared facilities such as picnic tables, group campsites, cabins, toilets, bear boxes and fire rings. If they are closed, please don’t use them.
  • Wash hands frequently with biodegradable soap and water, away from a water source, for at least 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitizer often.
  • Take your rest breaks away from the trail so others don’t have to pass you closely.
  • Symptoms like shortness of breath, a dry cough and headaches are common at high altitude. They are also symptoms of COVID-19. Quarantine and get a test so that you can be sure you don’t have the virus before you continue.

Can I still provide trail magic?

Providing hikers with food, rides and places to sleep is a cherished part of the PCT experience—but during the pandemic, it’s not safe to be close to strangers and share this experience. Any activity that congregates people is discouraged to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.

And remember, it is never okay to leave food and beverages stashed beside the trail, which often attracts wildlife, then becomes litter. This is the perfect time to let hikers experience the self-reliance and inward reflection that the PCT is intended to provide.

How can I be safer if I’m traveling long distances?

By choosing to travel long-distances in 2021, you are assuming added risk not only to yourself, but to others. You must be safe and self-sufficient. Even if you believe you are healthy and safe, please consider others.

2021 is not the year for social experiences on the PCT.

Know that 2021 is not the year for a social journey on the trail. Everyone loves the camaraderie of connecting with others and forming a “trail family,” and everyone loves hanging out together at campsites, dining together in trail towns and sharing the cost of a hotel room. This isn’t the year for that. Plan on enjoying the solitude the trail provides.

If non-essential travel is permitted and seems justifiable when you’re ready to take your trip, here’s some advice:

The less you go into town, the better—you’ll the lower the risk of becoming sick and spreading the virus to others.

The shorter your journey, the fewer places you visit, the lower the risk. This year we encourage you to think about trips where you resupply less often than the 30+ trips into different towns that a normal thru-hiker does. By its very nature, long-distance hiking has you traveling from place to place and resupplying often. If you are sick you could potentially infect more people. People should plan to be more self-reliant than in previous years, which means fewer resupply points along your journey.

While outside is safer, long-distance hiking requires you to go inside, which can be dangerous.

You’ll greatly reduce your risk if you can avoid going indoors with people who are not in your “social bubble,” your “pod,” or your household.

This is the time to be self-sufficient. Long-distance hiking in 2021 is going to be harder than in previous years and people should only attempt it if they’re up for the additional challenges. The greatest risk of transmission isn’t when you’re hiking alone or at a safe distance from others—it’s when you’re in close proximity to other people. The longer you’re in close proximity, the higher the risk.

  • Visit resupply locations only when you can walk to them. This could include some long road walks. Be extremely cautious and do not walk on roads that don’t have shoulders or safe places to be. Walking on the interstate is illegal.
  • Riding in a car with someone is a high-risk activity: you’re in a small, enclosed space for a long period of time. As a long-distance hiker with a higher duty than most, we discourage this risky behavior.
  • Carry more food and clean yourself and your clothes on the trail following LNT practices.
  • Visit fewer towns. And when you do resupply, be extremely diligent in limiting your inside time. Be especially observant of social distancing (and wear masks at all times) at grocery stores, post offices, and laundry facilities. Rest on the trail instead of in town.
  • Do not share hotel rooms with people who are not in your household trail group.
  • If you do have to ride in a car, perhaps because it’s a true emergency, one way of reducing the risk is to limit vehicle occupancy, always wear a mask, and avoid long rides. The shorter your exposure the better.
  • Rent a car for yourself rather than ride public transit or in someone else’s car.

Risk management includes planning for the worst.

  • Have savings so that you can quarantine for 14 days in a hotel room by yourself should you develop symptoms, such as a cough, or if you are exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
  • While “trail names” or nicknames, are common on the PCT, you should keep a record of the real names, phone numbers and email addresses for anyone you spend time with. Should you develop COVID-19, you or your support person has the responsibility to notify all of your recent contacts to tell them they should quarantine and test. You’ll need people’s real names and contact information to do that. You should gather this information from anyone you spend significant time with—including people you might have a meal or ride in a car with, not just the people in your hiking pod.
  • Like always, leave a detailed trip and communications plan with a support person at home. They should know when and where you will be in town next. If you become severely sick, this support person may be the person to call 911 for you.
  • Long-distance hiking is often more dangerous than a typical backpacking trip. It’s your duty to manage risk and avoid needing help. Especially this year, a rescue might not come. And there may not be hospital space for you.

How can I help?

Not everyone will be able to return to the trail at the same time. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to safely hike or ride your horse on the PCT in your area, be considerate of those who can’t.

Continue to practice Leave No Trace principles. And watch our video on Safe and Responsible Use of the PCT.

If you’re financially able to, support the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Because of the pandemic, our 2020 trail maintenance program was severely curtailed. The trail needs your help now more than ever.

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