Section Hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail): Oregon + Washington


Mar 17, 2021
Hello community! I just found out I can take a sabbatical this summer (July + August), so I decided to follow my long time dream and head out west to hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). I won't have time to thru hike the whole trail, but I'm hoping to do a generous chunk of the northern section (Oregon/Washington). I am very excited! I have been daydreaming about going on this adventure for about a decade. It feels surreal to actually start planning it.

My questions are:
  • Permits: I missed the two PCT permit application deadlines and release dates. I believe permit applications re-open tomorrow (January 11, 2023). My understanding is that because I plan on hiking over 500 miles, I still need to apply for the long distance PCT permit, even though I am not doing the whole thing. I am hoping that because my starting trailhead is not one of the Terminuses, I might still have a chance of snagging a permit. Alternatively, if that doesn't work, I will try to get a patchwork of local permits. Has anyone tried that either of those options below?

  • To Crater Lake or To Not Crater Lake: I have two months total. I definitely want to do all of Washington, and a chunk of Oregon. Would it be a huge shame to miss Crater Lake in Oregon? I think timing/pacing and transportation-wise, it would be easier for me to start in Bend, Oregon and hike north. I would still get to do Three Sisters Wilderness and Mount Hood in Oregon. Do people have thoughts on missing Crater Lake? I live in New York, so if I wanted to do Crater Lake, I think I would have to fly into Medford, OR and then book a private tour bus to get to Crater Lake (sounds expensive). If I go to Bend, there are some direct flights from NYC, and then I saw that there are some PCT trailheads nearby (I imagine I could take a cab, try to find a trail angel, or carpool with hikers re-supplying in Bend to get to the trail). I also worry that if I start in Crater Lake, I might be pressed for time (hiking from Crater Lake to Canada in 8 weeks sounds ambitious - but not impossible).

  • Trail difficulty and Timing: From what I am reading, Washington is quite challenging due to the mountainous terrain and changes in elevation, while Oregon is considered to be one of the easiest parts of the PCT. My idea is that I would hike a portion of Oregon for about 2 - 3 weeks to get my "trail legs," and then head into Washington and give myself 5- 6 weeks to complete the hike through WA. Does that sound reasonable to anyone whose completed this section of the PCT?

  • Daily mileage: My longest backpacking trip to date was 70 miles (Isle Royale National Park), and my longest mileage in a single day was 17 miles (in Yellowstone National Park, after getting spooked by a grizzly bear). I am 31 years old and in good, active shape, but I don't have many opportunities to hike at elevation since I live on the East Coast. Usually on week-long backpacking trips I'd say I average 12-15 miles a day. Is it safe to assume I'd be hiking about 12 - 15 miles a day at the beginning, and then slowly increasing my mileage as I get my trail legs?

  • Expected challenges: From what I've read, it sounds like I should expect a LOT of mosquitoes (especially in July in Oregon) and be prepared to re-route in the event of wild fires. I have zero experience hiking in snow, so I am hoping that entering Washington in mid-to-late July and ending in late August would allow me to avoid snow. Is that a safe-ish assumption? I know it really depends on the snow each year, but curious if other have thoughts here. Any other big challenges I am missing?
Thanks everyone! I appreciate any advice on any of the questions above. My priority right now is deciding on where in Oregon to start the hike (Crater Lake NP vs. Bend/Three Sisters), and applying for a permit.
I can't really answer your questions, but I'll try with the caveat that I've never hiked the PCT or really done any research about the logistics. I live in KY so I do have some knowledge of east coast to west coast hiking. There are not a lot of PCT hikers here, you might also try asking these question at

Mileage: I do a lot of backpacking in the Smokies and southeast Appalachians, 10 miles days with a 1-2000 feet of elevation are easy. When I go out west, I notice the elevation. I can still do 10 mile days without a problem, but I'm more aware of the miles. It is likely that your first week will feel a lot harder than you expect just because of the difference in elevation. You will likely get used to this in less than a week.

Crater Lake: it is beautiful, but I would not plan my whole summer around this one place. I've never hiked the PCT in OR or WA, but I've seen trip reports/photos. You will have plenty of great places/memories even if you skip Crater Lake.

Trail Difficulty: I would just plan on short days to start with the understanding that there is a lot of daylight in July/August. The more you hike, the further you will go :)

Mosquitos and fires are very dependent on the weather/snow, it is really hard to predict what August in the NW will look like for either. For example, I have been killed my bugs in Aug in SEKI and not noticed them at all. Year to year matters a lot, same with fires.

If I were you, traveling from the east coast, I would go with the easy travel to begin with, so I'd probably skip Crater Lake and start in a place like Bend that is easy to get to and has lots of people doing the trail.

Good luck and if you do this, you owe me a trip report :)
Crater Lake is cool, but it's a long way from anything, so you'd have a great day, followed by a week or two of mundane until reaching Three Sisters. I'd just start in Bend.

The only local permit thats hard (e.g. non-self-issue-at-trailhead) is the central Oregon wilderness areas. Fortunately you can bypass that if you get the PCTA permit. Would recommend getting that now before they all get gobbled up.

Unless you are unusually sensitive, elevation will not be a problem. You will be below 7500 the entire time; most people don't suffer ill effects at that elevation. Drink more than you think and you'll be fine.

Miles come easy on the PCT. I don't know what you're comparing to on the east coast, but a 15 on the New York AT is like a 20 on the Oregon PCT aside from a few spots. Though keep in mind, "Oregon is easy" is a meme propagated by thruhikers who have trail legs and an invincibility complex :) It also refers more to southern Oregon. Although it's not as difficult as anything you'll find out east, northern Oregon has its fair share of challenges.

Bugs. Will be bad, at least in spots. If you start in Bend, you maybe miss the worst of the endless stagnant lakes on the southern Oregon flats. On the other hand, first hatch sucks everywhere in the Mountain West. Full body armor.

Fires: if you're on trail in August, odds are you will be fire affected, either by smoke or outright closures. Stay flexible with your plans, have a WIDE corridor of maps downloaded to your phone, and be prepared to change plans on the fly.

Snow: idk. Check satellite imagery and snotel data. Goat Rocks will certainly hold snow. The official PCT is stupid and risky there; take the route over the shoulder of Old Snowy instead. I'd guess Mt Hood would also have some snow, and maybe Three Sisters too.

Have fun!
I would also skip Crater Lake. One of my least favorite national parks for sure (and I'm from OR)
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