and Weather
on the PNT

The PNT in the Buckhorn Wilderness. Photo by Tyler Yates. All Rights Reserved.

The 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail has an east-west orientation. This creates a narrow weather window compared to other National Scenic Trails. The best weather for long-distance trips on the PNT generally occurs between mid-June and mid-September. Trails are typically snow free from all but the highest elevation areas by July. In the Puget Sound, the PNT offers year-round access.  

The Rain Shadow Effect

The weather and climate across the trail corridor can vary greatly by geographic area, elevation, and season. The major mountain ranges of the PNT create rain shadows with drier and warmer east sides, which can approach desert-like climates, and much cooler and wetter west sides, which may contain rainforests.

Annual Weather Variations

Larger, annual weather patterns have caused drought to occur in the Northwest, creating conditions where wildfires are more likely to occur. When this happens, land managers alert the public with elevated fire danger levels. They may take additional steps to protect natural resources by temporarily banning campfires or certain camp stoves.

Temperatures on the PNT can vary greatly with summertime highs in the 80s and 90s in the daytime, and cooler, sometimes freezing, temperatures at night. In the mountains, storms are common; always be prepared for a few days of rain and wind. At higher elevations, it is possible for temperatures to drop below freezing or for snow to fall, even in summer.

Annual variations in snowfall will affect the weather window for the Pacific Northwest Trail from year to year. For example, above average snow years may cause snow to persist on high elevation trails longer. You can read more about snow on the PNT, and how it affects the hiking season, here.

In the Northwest, the transition from mild weather in summer, to severe winter weather in fall, can happen very suddenly. Early fall storms can bring feet of snow, or cold heavy rain, which make backcountry conditions more difficult. Enough snow and ice can accumulate in a single storm to make steep trails dangerous, even impassable. The weather in the Northwest also becomes much wetter, more extreme and unpredictable. Snowfall and high winds can occur more frequently in the mountains.

During winter, high levels of precipitation falls on the Olympics and Cascades with heavy rains at lower elevations and large amounts of snowfall at higher elevations.

For those prepared for snow travel, many trails along the PNT offer year-round opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, and backcountry camping. Use caution, much of the PNT travels through avalanche terrain. You should always check the avalanche forecast when snow is present before your visit. Winter camping and avalanche skills and equipment are recommended and may be required for even short trips on the PNT in winter.