How Long To Hike The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), is a popular thru-hiking trail that runs from California on the U.S border with Mexico, all the way to the USA and Canada border in British Columbia. This is one of the most esteemed trails long-distance hikers wish to do and is certainly one for your bucket list. However, if this is the first time you are hearing of the PCT trail, you might be wondering how long it takes for one to hike the PCT.

The PCT is 2650 miles long and takes about five months to complete for an average long-distance hiker. While some elite athletes have completed the trail in as little as two months, they are the exception. You shouldn’t be on the trail for longer than 5 ½ months, as the weather can become dangerous.

Apart from the length of the PCT hike, you will also need to have many things to prepare before starting the hike. One of the essential things is obtaining a permit for the PCT hike. This will need to be applied for in advance, and without a permit, you cannot hike the PCT.

How Long Does It Take One To Complete PCT Hike?

It takes the average hike roughly five months to hike the entire PCT trail. While this might seem to be an extensive time, you must bear in mind that you will be walking for 2650 miles, crossing three states, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

Many people choose to do a flip-flop hike of the PCT, meaning that they don’t start at one point and complete the entire thru-hike from there. Instead, they do the PCT in sections, eventually covering the whole trail. Why would they do it like this?

By doing a flip-flop hike of the PCT, you can avoid hiking in bad weather, such as snowstorms or dry spells altogether. Instead, you can start with the more manageable parts of the hike and return to the more difficult parts when the weather has improved. A flip-flop approach is an ideal solution for some.

However, other hikers prefer to have a set starting and finishing point. They have two options to choose from when hiking the PCT. They can either start in California and do a northbound thru-hike. Or, they can begin in Canada and do a Southbound thru-hike.

There are several differences between these approaches of the PCT. Which one you choose to do is ultimately up to you. However, we have given you a breakdown of the pros and cons of both approaches below.

Southbound VS. Northbound PCT Approach

There are two ways to hike the PCT. You can start in the South, in California, and hike north, finishing on the Canadian border. Alternatively, you can begin at the Canadian border and hike South to California. There are pros and cons of both approaches.

When To Start A Southbound PCT Hike

Ideally, you should start your hike in June or July at the latest, as you want to be through the mountains before the snowfall resumes. A good milestone is to reach the South Kennedy Meadows by late September to avoid getting caught in the snow and have accessibility to supplies along the route.

However, you should avoid starting your hike too soon, as the late snow might become a problem. The snow can fall higher up in the mountains as late as May. Late snowfall poses a possibly fatal risk, and therefore, you should only start hiking in June.

Hiking the PCT with a Southbound approach poses several problems. First, it is illegal to enter the USA from the Canada border through the PCT. This means that you will have to start your hike in the USA. However, the mountain pass you will start your hike at in this case might be closed due to snowstorms as late as the end of June.

Therefore, if you wish to hike the PCT with a Southbound approach, you will have to choose the perfect time to start the hike. You must prepare for a snowy start. Because of the uncertainties connected to starting your hike in the North, most people choose to make a Northbound approach to the PCT.

When To Start A Northbound PCT Hike

When making a northbound approach to the PCT, you should aim to start between April and May. But, again, you don’t want to start your hike too early. This might cause you to become trapped in late snowfall in the Nevada mountain ranges or the creeks being flooded due to melting snow.

You should also aim to finish the trail before the first snowfall. This means completing your hike by October at the latest. It is best to hike outside of the snow season, as you may have noticed. Getting caught in an early or late snowstorm can be fatal.

When approaching the PCT from the South, you will encounter many other hikers, as this is the more popular approach. Therefore, campsites and accommodation might be full. It is best to book your lodging in advance.

Although a Northbound approach of the PCT is more popular, it does not come without dangers. Therefore, preparation and research are critical for both approaches. In addition, there is specific equipment that you must take on your hike to the PCT.

What Equipment And Gear Do You Need For The PCT?

Certain things are essential when hiking the PCT. Then some things are fantastic to have in case of emergency. Here is a list of items you must take with you when hiking the PCT, regardless of your starting point:

  • A sleeping bag made for 15°F to 20°F conditions. Hyperthermia is a serious concern when hiking the PCT. Therefore, you will need a sleeping bag that is warm and light enough to carry for long distances.
  • A space blanket. Not only are they super lightweight and compact, but they are incredibly efficient at keeping you warm.
  • An ice ax and hiking crampons are valuable tools when hiking through the mountains. They can be lifesaving if you get caught in a snowstorm or need to pass through thick snow.
  • Water purification tablets are a great helper if you have to drink questionable water. This is more likely to happen if you hike the PCT with a southbound approach, as the desert will have fewer water spots.
  • Another thing you will need for the PCT hike is the correct documentation. You must acquire a permit allowing you to hike the PCT. These permits need to be applied for in advance, as they can take up to three weeks to obtain.
  • You will also need cash. How much money you will need for the PCT thru-hike depends on your spending habits. However, you will have to prepare at least $4000 for the hike. In addition, you will also have to have funds prepared for emergencies, such as injuries, sickness, or replacements for gear if you lose yours.

This is just some of the equipment you will need when hiking the PCT to ensure you have a safe and pleasant experience. However, it is best to talk with people who have completed the hike to get the best tips and guidelines. 

Conclusion

The PCT can be approached from the North or South. However, most people prefer a Northbound approach, as the start of the hike is more manageable, and the weather conditions might be better.

There is a lot of preparation involved with hiking the PCT, and you need to prepare a lot of equipment and funds for hiking the PCT. Generally, people take about five months to complete the PCT hike and require roughly $4000 to do so.