The very best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Path

“You don’t have to be an avid hiker to enjoy a hike on the PCT,” said Eli Boschetto, author of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon. “In many places it is very accessible and can be hiked in smaller sections that visit some of the most scenic spots.” With 2,650 miles of path to traverse, the Pacific Crest Trail is daunting to many for the entire west coast despite its convenience. For those who like the idea of ​​exploring the PCT but are not mentally or physically prepared for the full Cheryl Strayed Wild experience, there are plenty of short hikes to consider. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, none of the following routes were directly affected by the recent forest fires. From the North Cascades to the Sierra, here are our most popular day hikes along the PCT.

Kendall Katwalk

(Photo: July 7th / iStock)

Length: 12 miles round trip

Difficulty: Exhausting

Starting point: Kittitas County, Washington (47.4278, -121.4135)

This challenging trail is one of the longer hikes on the list and offers incredible views of the wilderness of Washington’s alpine lakes. Rugged peaks and overgrown forests are adorned with wildflowers in summer and lively foliage in autumn. Best done between June and November, this hike has an elevation gain of 2,700 feet that stretches for nearly seven miles and offers 360-degree views of the rocky cliffs and surrounding wilderness. To get to the trailhead, head east on I-90 and take Exit 52 to Snoqualmie Pass, where you will find a marked parking lot on the Pacific Crest Trail. Though only about an hour from Seattle, travelers can also sleep in the quaint town of North Bend, about 23 miles west of the trailhead.

Chinook Pass to Crown Point

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: July 7th / iStock)

Length: 16 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Starting point: Between Enumclaw and Naches (Yakima County), Washington (46.872222, -121.516389)

This Mount Rainier hike may be the longest on the list, but it’s also one of the most scenic stretches of the PCT. The eight-mile (8-mile) path from Naches Peak Loop Trailhead in Chinook Pass to Crown Point in the Norse Peak Wilderness features many alpine lakes and expansive meadows – including Sheep Lake, Sourdough Gap, and Basin Lake – as well as moose and mountain goats. Once you reach Bear Gap Junction, continue along the PCT to the Bullion Basin and Crown Point for views of mountains, wildflowers, and wilderness. Make sure you collect a Northwest Forest Pass either online or at a local Forest Service office before you set off.

Indian sky path

Mount Rainier Summer(Photo: July 7th / iStock)

Length: 3.3 plus miles one way

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Starting point: Skamania County, Washington (46.047000, -121.756300)

A favorite with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, this hike begins at Cultus Creek Campground on the border of the Indian Heaven Wilderness in the South Cascades, about 100 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon. Begin on Indian Heaven Trail 33 at the campsite, where blueberries and wildflower meadows are accompanied by views of Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks, an extinct volcano in the Cascade Range to the north. The hike has a significant elevation gain of 1,500 feet, but you can cover a few extra miles by continuing on the PCT at either Deer Lake or Cultus Creek Trail 108 for a loop. Make sure you have a Northwest Forest Pass on hand.

Timberline Lodge to Zigzag Canyon

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: Michal Balada / iStock)

Length: 5 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Starting point: Government Camp, Oregon (45.332892, -121.711432)

This Mount Hood round-trip hike is best known for its wildflowers and stunning grassland, and is best done between July and October. The trail is ideal for bird watchers and casual hikers. It’s moderately traveled and the nearly 885 foot elevation gain makes for quite a significant workout. For the more serious hiker, head past Zigzag Canyon to Paradise Park – an area filled with scenic alpine meadows – by taking Paradise Park Trail 757, which is about four miles away.

McKenzie Pass to Little Belknap

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: ChrisBoswell / iStock)

Length: 4.6 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Starting point: Sisters, Oregon (44.260404, -121.810006)

About 18 miles west of Sisters town, this hike begins where the PCT crosses Route 242 at McKenzie Pass. Hike through ancient lava fields with expansive views of the Three Sisters Range and Mount Washington before encountering the breathtaking panoramas of Black Butte and Black Crater at the summit of Little Belknap Crater. As the trail is quite rocky and exposed, temperatures can get high. So choose this route in spring or autumn. A newly implemented Central Cascades approval system will be postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19. So be sure to find out about the permit requirements before you set off next year.

Mount Ashland Meadows

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: James Shaw / Creative Commons)

Length: 8.1 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Starting point: Jackson County, Oregon (42.07349, -122.69715)

This section is a favorite of Matt Wastradowski, co-author of Moon’s Pacific Northwest Hiking Guide. As the highest mountain in the Siskiyou Mountains, Mount Ashland offers panoramic views of Black Butte, Mount Shasta and the surrounding Klamath National Forest. Start at the Pacific Crest Trailhead, where it intersects with Mount Ashland Ski Road, and make your way through a mixture of forests and meadows for the first few miles before making your way to Grouse Gap, a popular shelter and picnic spot , opens. Since the trail is mostly flat and the meadows offer easy turning points, it is a great hike for families with children.

Castle Dome via the Crags Trail

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: Larry Zhou / iStock)

Length: 5.6 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Starting point: Castella (Shasta County), California (41.162455, -122.298590)

This short route in Northern California is known for its exposed granite boulders and expansive valleys. From the entrance near Vista Point Road, follow the sign that says Crags Trail. The trail becomes harder to distinguish when you enter Castle Crags Wilderness in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, where you’ll find monolithic cliffs, crevices, and jagged rock formations, as well as unbeatable views of Mount Shasta in clear conditions. Those unsure of the 2,100 foot vertical drop can head a few miles west at the PCT intersection (about a mile in) and still get great views of Castle Crags. No permit is required and dogs and bikes are not allowed.

Carson Pass to Lake Winnemucca

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: AlessandraRC / iStock)

Length: 5 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Starting point: South Lake Tahoe / Kirkwood, California (38.694303, -119.988829)

About 30 miles south of Lake Tahoe, this popular trail is leisurely enough for both families and beginners. The trail is known for its beautiful wildflowers in summer but also in autumn when the leaves change and the weather cools. Lake Winnemucca is an ideal lunch break and popular for swimming and fishing. If you’re hiking with young or older parents, there’s always the option to shorten this and stop at Frog Lake instead. Just get there early as this hike is very popular with locals and the parking lot on California Highway 88 fills up quickly.

Storm Canyon Lookout to Kwaaymii Point

Pacific ridge trail(Photo: Bob Perry / Creative Commons)

Length: 11.2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Starting point: San Diego County, California (32.896192, -116.448812)

Located in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area less than 100 km east of San Diego, this longer hike is suitable for day hikers and amateur backpackers. The hike begins at the Storm Canyon Vista Trailhead along the Sunrise Highway and heads north on a wide path with little difference in altitude, past the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area, the site of a historic stagecoach route. On a clear day, enjoy breathtaking views of the Anza-Borrego Desert and the surrounding Cleveland National Forest throughout the hike. There are also plenty of campsites scattered along the way.

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