When it comes to prestigious hikes like the PCT, timing is crucial. Hikers need to do their due diligence before they embark on the PCT as it can be dangerous.
The PCT or Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most globally revered hiking trails, and hikers worldwide plan for the year when they decide to set foot on it. For a significant part of the year, the trail is blanketed in snow, which makes it slightly more difficult to navigate the paths, but there are ideal times for hiking on this trail as well.
For northbound hikers, the best time to hike the PCT is from mid-April to the early days of May. For hikers in the south, the hike starts from late June to the early days of July. These are the times when the trail is easiest to navigate, and the snow is not as big an obstacle as in other months.
The trail at the PCT is around 2650 miles long, which is a large distance to cover entirely on foot. Generally, it takes about five months for most people to complete the hike, which is why careful planning and consideration go into when people should start hiking. Ideally, people want to be out of the trail before snow makes it too treacherous to navigate easily, and this is why it is essential to know when to start the trail.
There is a lot to know about the PCT trail and why it is such a huge deal for people to complete this hike. Here are some commonly asked questions which could help you clear your mind about the PCT Hike.
When Should You Hike The PCT If You Are Northbound?
For Northbound hikers, the ideal time to start the trail is around mid-April to early May. Most hikers who start the trail at this time can make it through in September when they can avoid most of the difficulties that hikers face in terms of harsh weather situations and potential disasters. Northbound hikers begin the trail from the Southern Terminus in Campo, CA.
When the hike ends, the hikers finish around the Northern Terminus in Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada, around August or September. The shortest time in which people have completed this hike is two months, and they can begin slightly later than other people but the trail begins to show difficulties in weather conditions as time passes and so even people who can complete the trail sooner should consider getting on it as early as possible.
When Should You Start The Hike If You Are Southbound?
For Southbound hikers, the best time to begin the trail is late June or Early July since the snow is not as big an obstacle at this time, and the hikers can experience a vast number of weather conditions, all of which are bearable. The snow covering the Northern Cascade Mountains begins to recede in July, making the trail safe for hikers.
Hikers in the Southbound trail finish around the fall months, and even they are advised to begin the trail around the recommended times to prevent experiencing harsh terrain and conditions. It is advised for most hikers to switch to the Southbound Trail if they cannot begin in May if they are Northbound. This way, they can avoid the obstacles of snow that can cover the terrain and make it difficult to navigate it. Similarly, Southbound hikers who have commitments around the fall months can start early from the Northbound site so they can meet their goal of hiking the PCT without compromising on their commitments.
The only concern regarding the Southbound hike is that it is illegal to set foot in the USA from Canada through the PCT. Southbound hikers, therefore, usually start their hike from Harts Pass in the USA. The Hart’s Pass is also sometimes blocked off by the snow late into June, which foils plans for some people, especially because they cannot start the trail northbound either since that hike begins much sooner.
How Long Is The PCT Hike?
The entire hike on the PCT is 2650 miles. This is a massive distance to cover and easily takes people anywhere from four to five months before they can complete it. Seasoned athletes can finish the trail in as little time as two months, and many of these athletes set goals to cover at least thirty miles a day, and only then are they able to complete the trail in a shorter time. People also have challenges in a place where they compete against each other to see if they can finish the hike in less than 100 days. This is a difficult feat to accomplish, which is why people often train for many months before taking up this challenge and hiking to their heart’s content.
However, if people want to enjoy the scenic beauty and take time to finish their recluse while they relax properly, the entire hike will take around five months to complete. Unless you are an athlete or competing for something, we suggest that you take your time in completing the PCT trail since you will want to remember all the things you saw. It is ideal for imprinting the experience in your mind.
How Long Do People Plan For The PCT?
It is famously known that training to hike the PCT often takes longer than the actual hike. Most people who have some experience with challenging trails tend to plan and train for 6-8 months beforehand. Many people also make spontaneous decisions when they see that the conditions are favorable if it is something that they have been planning for a while.
It is important to note that there are a lot of factors that come into play when you are deciding to trek such a difficult path. For example, many people will need to take an off from work and inform their workplaces beforehand that they will be unavailable for a few months. These people often have to start planning sooner since they probably have to navigate their work situation and make ample preparations that ensure no losses occur in their absence.
It is also important to note the general climate and weather conditions in the area before you plan such a task. Both the Northbound and Southbound terminals can experience harsh weather conditions that block off the trail even in the safer months. However, in some years, the snow also begins to melt early, as early as March, for the Northbound people, so it is important for them to keep up with the news and plan accordingly to ensure they stick to the right plan.
What Do You Need For The PCT Hike?
Of course, you need to be well-prepared to go into a trail as difficult as the PCT. You should visit the permit page for the PCT first to apply for the permit that allows you to hike on the trail. You should apply for this permit at least three weeks before the start of the trip. You can even visit the local ranger station to get your permit. For some beginning terminals, no permit is required, so you need to know where you plan to start and end, so you have the relevant paperwork in hand first.
Other than that, you will need to pack essentials. These include sun protection, preferably with a high SPF, flashlights, extra clothing to act as insulation, extra food and water, repair items, matches/lighter and other sources of fire, and a tent/tarp or something that can provide shelter. While carrying a map and a compass is also a good idea when hiking the PCT, you should know that the trail is fairly straightforward and easy to spot when it is not blanketed in snow. So keep a map and a compass handy just in case, but if you start the hike right and the conditions are favorable, you might not need to use them.
Depending on the season you plan on taking up the trail and the kind of weather conditions one can expect, you might need items such as an ice axe, climbing rope, or snowshoes. Make sure you are aware of the present conditions of all the sections of the trail, so you prepare yourself accordingly. Icy roads and snowy areas can be dangerous if someone ends up falling on them, and this is where being well-prepared really helps.
How Difficult Is The Trail?
Here are some hard facts: around 50-60% of people who attempt a thru-hike of the PCT fail to do so. This is not to say that it is not possible or that they were not well-prepared; there are a lot of factors in question that determine how long someone would last on the trail. Some people get fatigued, some run out of money, and some might even suffer from an injury or illness. If none of that, then five months is too long a time for some people to stay away from home, and they just want to leave mother Nature behind and go back.
According to the PCT Association Website, around 8516 people have completed the hike so far, and many of those people have actually managed to complete it more than once. Therefore we know that it is possible. However, it might take a few attempts to get there.
Some people attempt the flip-flop method for difficult trails like PCT. This includes covering different sections of the trail as the seasons get better and there are fewer obstacles instead of all at once. This way, you can see all the trails without risking too huge a commitment.
What Happens if You Start The Trail In March?
Many Northbound hikers believe that if they start the trail early, they can have a head start and end before everyone else. They do this to avoid the congestion from too many people in the ideal months.
While hiking the PCT in March may not be a bad idea every time, we need to realize that the trail is still quite treacherous in March, and the beginning is not as easy as it is in late May and early June. The snow in many parts of the trail is still melting, and therefore the trail has a lot more obstacles to offer if you start in March. Other than that, if you start the trail early, some of the later parts of the trail are still covered in snow and difficult to navigate through compared to how they are after a month or so.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks