Featured photo: The Tree Houses of Skamania Lodge. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail can mean a chance to explore new destinations – and new accommodations.
Not long ago, a headline touting charming towns and eco-friendly lodging on the Pacific Crest Trail might have raised some eyebrows. Hikers in the early aughts weren’t in it for the comforts.
This growing interest, which has endured even through COVID-19, has inspired more varied experiences than the traditional gritty thru-hike. Curious trekkers can now find guided tours, scenic lodges, and historic destinations along the way that have thrived with a healthy wave of traffic — and longer stays in one place.
In 2021, there’s another reason to consider a slower, shorter, and more thoughtful route on the PCT. The chaos of COVID-induced shutdowns throughout 2020 have meant less maintenance on the trail itself and fewer thru-hiking permits. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has not yet finalized plans for the 2021 season, but encourages patience:
“To succeed in 2021, you must accept uncertainty and a tougher, less social, more self-sustained trip,” PCTA staff wrote in a statement on the website. “We recommend postponing long-distance travel on the PCT until 2022.”
If you feel the pull of the PCT, this guide is meant to inspire future bucket list trips with suggestions for shorter, more leisurely treks that you can take this year. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: The Basics
Before we talk experiences, let’s brush up on the basics:
Where is the Pacific Crest Trail? The “PCT” is a 2,560-mile hiking and equestrian path that stretches from Campo, California on the Mexico border to Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada, passing through California, Oregon and Washington.
How long does it take to hike? Thru-hikers typically take 5 to 7 months, but as we’ve alluded, you don’t have to hike it all at once. Many people find more enjoyment in hiking sections at a time.
Is a permit required? It depends on how you plan to use the trail. Thru-hikers and those who plan to trek through certain sections will need a permit. You can find more info here: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/
Pacific Crest Trail Maps
Modern hikers have many more options than those of the pre-smartphone era. But that doesn’t mean you should rely on technology. As hiker-reported data shows, cell service is imperfect. Moreover, you may not find the detail you need to navigate. The Pacific Crest Trail Association recommends carrying a physical map of the section you plan to hike for the best information about nearby trailheads and hiker resources. Here are our recommendations:
Explore These PCT Towns
Dozens of lively towns dot the trail from Campo to Manning Park. The towns below are for those who want to savor the experience. We picked destinations that invite hikers to linger for a dip in the local lake, a stroll through historical landmarks, or even a tee time with a view.
A former gold rush town now famous for its apple pie, Julian looks like a movie set for an old Western with rows of wooden signs and log-accented storefronts set against the mountains. Hiking trails, alpine lakes and clear skies make it a hidden gem among adventurer and amateur astronomers.
“The Gateway to Death Valley,” Lone Pine is an outdoor playground with a touch of Old Hollywood. Between old film sets, golf courses, and hiking trails, you’ll find daring adventures like hang gliding and more serene activities like birding and fishing.
This historic town on the California-Nevada border lies 30 miles from the PCT, but leisurely hikers will find it worth the detour, if only for the natural hot springs. Alpine lakes, trout streams and town events add to its revitalizing appeal.
A modern alpine town 12 miles from Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a central homebase for those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail who want to explore a variety of terrain. Between stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater rafting, live music and a thriving foodie scene, you may want to stay awhile.
An hour from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the PCT, Ashland is as celebrated for arts and culture as it is proximity to nature. Here you’ll find Michelin-starred dining, museums, and the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival alongside fly-fishing streams, horseback riding and tranquil parks. The town is even close enough to the PCT for day hikes.
Positioned at the core of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Stevenson is a prime jumping-off point for exploring the southern Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount St. Helens and other outdoor treasures. Zip-lining, golf, kiteboarding and huckleberry picking await at this outdoor-friendly retreat in Washington.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail once meant almost exclusively camping – with the occasional night in a motel to regroup and restock. Now, many hikers choose to make their lodging part of the experience. These recommendations cater to mindful travelers who want to support local, eco-minded providers:
Skamania Lodge – Stevenson, Wash.
The Setting: A family-friendly resort on 175 acres of natural forest near the Columbia River Gorge, near enough to the Pacific Crest Trail for day hikes.
Why We Love It: Skamania rewards its guests for opting out of energy, water, and chemical-using services by offering nightly credit. The lodge also offers several mindful travel packages, some of which celebrate Essential Heroes and local artists.
Quiet Mind Mountain Lodge Retreat Hotel – Julian, Calif.
The Setting: A tranquil retreat 15 minutes outside downtown Julian.
Why We Love It: This earth-friendly resort, guided by Bhuddist principles, encourages self reflection and union with nature. Services include meditation, yoga, restorative healing, forest bathing and spa treatments, and the eco-friendly restaurant serves Italian-inspired, plant-based meals.
De La Cour Ranch – Lone Pine, Calif.
The Setting: A mountainside ranch at base of the Sierras, 15 minutes from the heart of Lone Pine.
Why We Love It: This working, sustainable farm allows guests to participate, inviting them to share in the tending of farm animals, vegetable gardens, and — when in season — lavender harvesting. We love the opportunity it offers to feel connected to the Pacific Crest landscape beyond “passing through.” The ranch welcomes pets and offers horse camping for PCT trekkers enjoying the trail on horseback.
Walker River Lodge – Bridgeport, Calif.
The Setting: B&B overlooking the Walker River on Main Street Bridgeport.
Why We Love It: This family-run lodge makes the extra effort to run sustainably, using ceramic mugs in-room instead of plastic cups and eco-friendly toiletries. Guests can also use the hotel’s free bike rental program to support more of Bridgeport’s local restaurants, shops and recreation without needing to call a cab. Hikers taking a break from the PCT will appreciate the hot tub and heated swimming pool (open seasonally).
Natural Retreats Tahoe – Truckee, Calif.
The Setting: A collection of high-end, full-service vacation rentals along Lake Tahoe and near downtown Truckee, each offering easy access to lake activities. Homes range from cozy cottages to modern cabins with hot tubs and fire pits.
Why We Love It: We love the idea of taking time to explore a single destination at length, supporting the local community and minimizing time in transit. Natural Retreats makes this easy with family-friendly properties that have all the amenities of home to allow for longer stays — whether for a month, or even a summer. Most homes also lie within walking distance of local activities, like the beach or downtown Truckee. All guests receive local recommendations from the on-site concierge team.
Chanticleer Inn – Ashland, Ore.
The Setting: A craftsman-built B&B two blocks from downtown Ashland and four blocks from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Why We Love It: Oregon’s longest operating B&B, the Chanticleer maintains its historic charm while operating with a modern mindset toward sustainability in every detail — from gardening practices to cleaning products. Breakfast, served daily, is prepared with consciously sourced, locally grown, organic fare. The inn itself, built in the 1920s, will delight lovers of architecture with its classic porch swing, walls of windows, stone paths, and vintage design accents, like a retro turntable.
Palm Hotel of Ashland – Ashland, Ore.
The Setting: A modern hotel with a youthful vibe and high-end amenities, including a heated saltwater pool and a row of cabanas. You’ll need an Uber to visit downtown Ashland, but you’ll get there in less than 5 minutes.
Why We Love It: The Palm pays as much attention to its environmental policies as it does its accommodations. Some of what it calls its “seriously eco-friendly” practices include using rainwater barrels and requiring fully electric vehicles on-site, from lawn mowers to leaf blowers.
For those eyeing a shot at thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the future, guided hikes are a great opportunity to get used to the terrain and learn from seasoned pros. Here are a few of our favorite opportunities:
What to Know: This 4-day trek for women covers 32 miles, starting at Little Crater Lake near Mount Hood, Oregon and ending in Breitenbush Lake.
Why We Love It: This long-weekend length gives hikers a chance to experience the trail and gain confidence before committing to a solo trek. Women can transfer skills they learn to other backpacking trips, opening up a world of adventure in the mountains.
What to Know: This 8.5-day hike covers 65 miles in the Northern region of Yosemite National Park. Starting at Leavitt Lake near Sonora Pass, the trek takes ends at Tuolumne Meadows in the Yosemite High Country.
Why We Love It: This full-service tour makes less-traveled areas of the PCT accessible to hikers who don’t have intimate knowledge of the region. Tours include food, equipment, lodging and gear, allowing hikers to enjoy the crowdless trails, alpine lakes and waterfall views.
What to Know: These flexible half- or full-day tours take hikers through sections of the trail in Southern Oregon, where views include Table Rocks near Central Point and Grizzly Peak. Guides provide transportation from your lodging, water and snacks.
Why We Love It: For hikers looking to start from the Southern Oregon area, these flexible tours offer an easy way to get familiar with the trail, ask questions of an expert, and get some advice before continuing solo.
What to Know: This 22-day full pack hike covers the popular John Muir Trail in a small group setting, averaging about 8 to 10 people. The tour covers all meals, transfers, porters, equipment and permits, among other inclusions.
Why We Love It: This immersive hike gives trekkers a chance to explore some of PCT’s most scenic terrain, including Mount Whitney. The full-service trek is a great one for hikers looking for guidance on what to bring, and how quickly to move through altitude changes.
Did we miss your favorite town or eco-friendly lodge on the Pacific Crest Trail? Have another idea you’d like to see covered? Drop us a note at email@example.com.