September 11th, 2017
The 5 Best Day Hikes Along the Pacific Crest Trail
Don't have five months to hike the entire PCT? Get a taste with one of these accessible day hikes.
The Pacific Crest Trail offers scenic views and challenging hiking through mountains, rainforests, and desert landscapes as it runs from Mexico to Canada through three states and seven national parks.
Many hikers who complete its 2,650 miles (4265 km) find the journey to be a life-changing experience. But even if you don't have several months to devote to the trail, you can still experience some of the awe of the PCT by dropping in for day hikes along the route. These are some of the most easily accessible day hikes available on the trail.
Crater Lake Rim (Klamath Falls, OR)
For day hikers who want a vigorous workout with impressive views, the portion of the PCT that passes through Crater Lake National Park is ideal. Drive to the Rim Village Visitor Center and hike north along the trail to take in the iconic views of the country's deepest lake—just be aware that this road is closed during the winter months. Or, head to the Watchman Overlook parking lot and join near one of the park's most famous peaks. The PCT runs for six miles (9.7 km) along the rim of the caldera.
Eagle Rock (Warner Springs, CA)
Southern California residents and visitors can jump on the PCT at the trailhead near the Warner Springs Fire Station on Route 79. From there, walk for 3.2 miles (5.1 km) south to a rock formation that looks shockingly similar to an eagle spreading its wings. This portion of the trail is hotter and more exposed than most of the PCT, so be sure to bring plenty of water and avoid hiking it during the scorching summer months.
Crown Point (Enumclaw, WA)
Crown Point in Washington offers views of Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in the state. For a seven-mile (11.3 km) loop route, begin at the parking lot of Crystal Mountain Ski Area and take the Bullion Basin Trail up the hill until it meets the PCT. From there, walk south along the ridgeline to Crown Point. When you're ready, continue onward and take the Silver Creek Trail back down. This part of the PCT is forested and mountainous while also affording views of wildflower meadows. It's quite rainy at times, so be prepared with a water-repellant pack.
Columbia River Gorge (Cascade Locks, OR)
The Columbia River Gorge area offers a wealth of options for day hikes on the PCT and nearby side trails. Begin at the famous Bridge of the Gods that links Washington and Oregon and take in the stunning views of the river and the gorge from the PCT's lowest point. Hike north on the PCT for less than three miles to reach Gillette Lake. Or head south from the bridge for roughly two miles, then switch to the Dry Creek Falls Trail for a quarter-mile to reach the falls. The Gorge area increased in popularity after the 2014 movie Wild filmed a scene with Reese Witherspoon here, so expect possible crowds, especially when weather is nice during the summer.
Deadfall Lakes (Weed, CA)
Many PCT veterans consider the Klamath area in northern California to be one of the trail's most underrated regions since it's not overly crowded but still offers great mountain views. A good moderate jaunt for summer day hikers begins at Parks Creek Trailhead (where Forest Route 42N17 meets the PCT) near Mt. Eddy. The walk to Deadfall Lakes is three miles (5 km) of grassy terrain with a slight elevation gain along the edge of the mountain. Black bears are common in the wildflower meadows throughout the area.
Climate regions and weather conditions vary greatly on the Pacific Crest Trail, so be sure to check the forecast and prepare appropriately. Avoid visiting during the heart of winter, unless you're hiking one of the desert sections in California.
While Eagle Creek is here to provide tips and insights on travel, we cannot accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information. Always conduct your own research and use your best judgment.
Related links (from Eagle Creek's blog):
Trekking The Trail of the Moment: What to Pack for Pacific Crest
America's 6 Best Winter Hiking Trails
by Scott Shetler
Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, offbeat destinations, urban adventures, and everything in between. He blogs about his travels at http://quirkytravelguy.com.