Across the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll encounter almost everything nature has to throw at you. Snow, rain, howling wind in some parts; bleak, dry, and arid desert in others- even active volcanoes! Stretching from one US border to another, through California, Oregon, and Washington, the Pacific Crest Trail comes in contact with lots of different things, including national parks. Which national parks will you trek through on the PCT? Find out now!
How Many National Parks are on the Pacific Crest Trail?
There are a total of 6 national parks that the Pacific Crest Trail passes directly through. The trail also crosses 26 different national forests and 48 wilderness areas! At pretty much every moment on this part of the trail you are trekking through protected and wild land. This means you’re surrounded at all times by the most gorgeous, undeveloped, and sometimes dangerous land in the American West. If you want to get away from it all for a few months, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is the way to do it!
Pacific Crest Trail and National Parks: NOBO List
You’ll run directly through some of the parks, but just grace the borders of others. It’s also worth mentioning that the national forests, recreation areas, and wilderness areas you’ll journey through have just as much to offer as the national parks do. Still, each time you enter a national park while thru-hiking on the PCT, it’s a treat! Here is every national park you will encounter when doing a NOBO (northbound) thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail:
1. Sequoia National Park (Mile 740)
Along the first 600 or so miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll come within 20-50 mils of a couple of different National Parks- Joshua Tree and Death Valley- but won’t actually enter them. But, around Mile 678 (roughly the location of Kennedy Meadows Campground), you’ll be in Sequoia National Park, the first National Park the Pacific Crest Trail runs directly through.
Known for the Sequoia trees that give it its name, this park is very popular with nature lovers of all kinds. It’s packed full of the most incredible giant tress, granite cliffs, and even some spectacular caverns. Many people consider it to be an absolute paradise. If you’re bringing a camera on your Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, it’ll get a lot of use here!
At this point, you’ll be on the legendary John Muir Trail section of the PCT. This 200+ mile section will take you through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, some of the most incredible mountains not only in America but around the world! The section in which you’ll be in Sequoia National Park is pretty small, but full of wonder nonetheless.
2. King’s Canyon National Park (Mile 752)
Further along the John Muir section of the trail, you’ll cross into King’s Canyon National Park, which shares a border with Sequoia. In King’s Canyon, you’ll be treated to many of the same views as in Sequoia but without the crowds. It’s harder to access by vehicle, leaving most of King’s Canyon to those who love the adventure and serenity of the backcountry.
You’ll spend much of your time on this part of the trail at an elevation above 10,000 feet. This will give you some pretty breathtaking views of the canyon as it spreads out below you. It’s a dramatic, roadless wilderness that you’re likely to remember for the rest of your life!
3. Yosemite National Park (Mile 903)
At Donohue Pass, you’ll enter the world-famous Yosemite National Park. This is where famous rock features such as Half Dome and El Capitan are located. The Yosemite Valley was the focus of a lot of John Muir’s writings, and when you’re there, you’ll know why. The land is absolutely wild and stunning.
In Yosemite, you’ll trek through Tuolumne Meadows, a rare spat of civilization. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, it’s one of the best places on the national scenic trail to resupply, replace gear, and receive some mail! If you’re hurting for some creature comfort after 900 miles on the trail, there are a few resorts in the area where you can recharge for a night or two, such as the Red’s Meadow and Vermillion Valley Resorts!
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park (Mile 1347)
About 600 miles later (and possibly a few pounds lighter), you’ll cross into Lassen Volcanic National Park. Here, you’ll be in the presence of the volcanic mountain, Lassen Peak. Though it hasn’t erupted in over a century, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to several other volcanoes, underground hot springs, and some of the most unique scenery on the entire Pacific Crest Trail.
5. Crater Lake National Park (Mile 1,815)
Having left California behind and traveled far into Oregon, you reach Crater Lake National Park. Reaching Crater Lake means you’ve completed about 68% of the Pacific Crest Trail on a NOBO journey. Crater Lake is one of America’s most unique national parks, formed by a violent volcanic eruption.
Nearly 600 meters deep, Crater Lake is America’s deepest lake; it’s also the ninth-deepest lake in the world. Native Americans are said to have seen the eruption happen 7,000 years ago, and stories from eyewitnesses have been passed down through generations. Without a doubt, this is one of the most striking and historical points on the Pacific Crest Trail!
6. Mount Rainier National Park (Mile 2,313)
A few hundred miles later, in Washington state, you’ll encounter the iconic Mount Rainier. One of the most popular national parks in the country, Mount Rainier is home to incredibly diverse flora and fauna. You’ll be able to dip your feet in freezing streams made up of melted snow as you trek along ridges on the edge of the park.
You’ll also be wandering through the Goat Rocks Wilderness, a roadless area spanning over 100 thousand acres. If you’re lucky, you might even spot one of the mountain goats that give the area its name. This section of the Pacific Crest Trail is filled with alpine lakes, rocky ridges, and some of the most serene and empty miles you’ll walk. Make the most of it by turning into a Ralph Waldo Emerson-Esque nature poet!
7. North Cascades National Park (Mile 2,572)
The North Cascades National Park Complex includes the North Cascades, Ross Lake, and Lake Chelan areas. The Pacific Crest Traill crossest through the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area portion of the complex. This area, of all the National Parks in the lower 48, might have the least roads, resorts, or signs of civilization. It’s an absolutely massive place, with almost no roads- but a healthy population of bears and cougars.
Assuming you start in April and keep up a decent daily hiking mileage, you should be getting there between August and October, which is the best time to visit North Cascades National Park. You’ll be treated to phenomenal weather, clear skies, and insane views the entire way.
Although you won’t be in the complex for very long, you will get to see some fantastic streams and rivers. The final stretch of the trail runs parallel to Ross Lake, though technically not within the borders of the National Park. Along that last 75 miles or so, you’ll get to enjoy alpine lakes, views of glacial peaks, and the satisfaction of completing the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail!
There are a total of 6 national parks along the Pacific Crest Trail, from Sequoia in California all the way to North Cascades National Park. Completing the trail is a feat for anyone, no matter what their experience or how long they take to finish. If you want to tackle the PCT, you’ve got hundreds of miles of training and hiking exercises ahead of you- but it’s worth it! We hope you enjoyed reading!