The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is the jewel in the crown of Americas scenic trails, spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through three western states. It reveals the beauty of the desert, unfolds the glaciated expanses of the Sierra Nevada, and provides commanding vistas of volcanic peaks and glaciers in the Cascade Range. The hiking trail also passes through historic mining sites and evidence of man's endless quest for natural resources.
The northern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a stout 810 miles along ridges of glacial and volcanic peaks. From Sequoia National Park, the popular John Muir Trail descends from nearby Mt. Whitney (elev. 14,494 feet) to join the PCT. The trails share the same tread for most of the way to Highway 120 in Yosemite National Park’s lush Tuolumne Meadows (elev. 8,690 feet). Along this mostly wilderness stretch, the route repeatedly descends deep canyons only to ascend to high saddles. The PCT crosses eight named passes above 11,000’ in this section, the first being Forester Pass (elev. 13,180 feet), the highest point on the entire trail.
After crossing SR180 at Sonora Pass (elev. 9,620 feet), the altitude changes diminish in amplitude, and the trail soon begins a generally sub-alpine, relatively level traverse that stays close to the Sierra crest until this section ends at Interstate 80 (elev. 7,200 feet). There is some volcanic rock south of Yosemite, but notable amounts are encountered from Sonora Pass to Echo Summit at Highway 50, and again near this sections end north of the Granite Chief Wilderness.
North of Donner Summit (elev. 7,200 feet), old volcanic flows and sediments bury most of the ancient bedrock of the Sierra Nevada crest, making travel in this section potentially dusty in late summer. Beyond the North Fork of the Feather River, the Sierra Nevada yields to the southern Cascade Range.This is prime logging country (as are most of the PCTs lands north of here), and the trail crosses many back roads. Midway through the southern Cascade Range, the PCT crosses SR89 and traverses Lassen Volcanic National Park, overseen by Lassen Peak (10,457 feet). Further north, the PCT follows the waterless Hat Creek Rim toward majestic Mt. Shasta.
Rather than continue north through the dry southern Cascades beyond Mt. Shasta, the PCT turns west toward greener lands, dropping to cross the Sacramento River (elev. 2,130 feet) at Interstate 5 before entering Castle Crags State Park and the Trinity Alps. The trail reaches 7,600 feet elevation in the mountains connecting the inland Cascade Range with the coastal ranges, winding north through the Marble Mountains before descending to the Klamath River (elev. 1,370 feet). It climbs again to the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains and traverses east, entering Oregon near this section’s end at Interstate 5 near Siskiyou Summit (elev. 4,310 feet).
The best time of year to experience this section of the Pacific Crest Trail is from June to September. Keep in mind that June can still be snowy at upper elevations, but mid-July through early September is usually snow free.