Visitors from across the world travel to the Northwest to explore the Pacific Northwest Trail. Whether you are planning a day trip, a section hike, or a Crown-to-Coast adventure, getting to this remote trail, with necessary permits, could be considered part of the PNT adventure.
Some trailside communities along the PNT are serviced by transit–an excellent option for those traveling without personal transportation, such as international visitors and long-distance hikers. Bus and train are both popular ways to reach trailheads from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and other metropolitan areas. This guide will discuss transit options on the PNT and how to reach major destinations along the trail corridor.
- Getting to the Eastern Terminus
- Getting to the Western Terminus
- Getting to the midpoint of the trail
- Transit in the greater Puget Sound area
- Transit on the Olympic Peninsula
Getting to the Eastern Terminus
The eastern terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail is located at the Chief Mountain customs parking area, (just north of the Chief Mountain trailhead) in the northeast corner of Glacier National Park in Montana. The terminus can be reached via the Chief Mountain International Highway, just south of the US–Canada Border.
The majority of thru-hikers start here in Section 1 and travel westbound.
Getting to Glacier National Park By Train
AMTRAK’s historic Empire Builder route has service between Portland, Seattle, Glacier National Park, and Chicago. The AMTRAK station in East Glacier is the closest to the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Getting Backcountry Permits
Backcountry permits are not available at East Glacier. The closest Ranger Station, for those without a vehicle is the Two Medicine Ranger Station, an eleven mile walk from East Glacier. It is open daily from late-May to mid-September. You can read more about permits needed for the PNT, here.
The Saint Mary Visitor Center may be a more convenient location to collect a permit for those traveling by car. It is open daily from late-May to mid-September.
Getting to the Chief Mountain Trailhead
The easiest option is to arrange a ride with a friend or private taxi and simply get dropped off at the trailhead to begin your trip.
Those arriving in East Glacier by train will need to find private transportation–the Park and its partners do not offer shuttle service to this area at this time. Note that hitchhiking is illegal in our National Parks.
Another option is to hike 97 miles north along the Continental Divide Trail, in Glacier National Park from the Two Medicine Ranger Station (where you will need to pick up your backcountry permit). By trail, Many Glacier is 71 miles away from this point, and it is possible to purchase resupply items, or to mail a resupply box here, and then resume your trip north to the eastern terminus.
Getting to the Western Terminus
The western terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail is located in Olympic National Park at Cape Alava in Section 10. Located on the Pacific Coast, the terminus is also the westernmost point in the contiguous United States.
Cape Alava is a three mile hike from the Park’s Ozette Ranger Station.
Getting to Ozette using Personal Transportation
The easiest option to reach Ozette Lake and other destinations in Olympic National Park is to use personal transportation (see area map). For section hikers, it is possible to leave a vehicle to hike Section 10 and then to use a private shuttle to return back to Ozette. Note that the Ozette Campground is located here and a friend or family member providing a ride might also be interested in joining you on a camping or backpacking trip in the Park.
Getting to Ozette by Transit
Public transportation can be used to travel between Seattle and all major trail towns on the Olympic Peninsula.
It is not possible to reach Ozette by public transit. If you plan to use transit to reach Ozette, you will also need to book a private shuttle or find other private transportation to travel the remaining 30-50 miles from the nearest bus stop. Note that hitchhiking is illegal in our National Parks and that app-based rideshare may be unavailable in Port Angeles and points west.
From SeaTac Airport in Seattle, it is possible to get to Forks, Clallam Bay, or Neah Bay via a series of buses and a ferry. You can find the Jefferson Transit and Clallam Transit schedules online, or via Google Maps, using the ‘transit’ filter.
Getting to Ozette by Private Shuttle
A private shuttle operated by the Olympic Hiking Company can now be used to travel between Ozette and the nearest transit stations on the Olympic Peninsula. You can find a schedule of the shuttle’s route between Oil City and Neah Bay, here. The shuttle operator is usually able to accommodate quick drop-off requests for PNT hikers at bus stops along the route at Neah Bay, Clallam Bay or in the trail town of Forks, so that they can use public transit to reach Seattle and other destinations.
Olympic Hiking Company can also arrange custom shuttle trips throughout Olympic National Park. Please note that all shuttle trips must be booked in advance.
Getting Wilderness Camping Permits
Wilderness Camping Permits are required for all overnight stays in Olympic National Park wilderness (backcountry) year-round. Visit Olympic National Park’s website and our Permits and Fees page, for more information.
Wilderness Camping Permits may be obtained at:
Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. 3002 Mt Angeles Rd., Port Angeles, WA 98362. For questions call: (360) 565-3100.
Quinault Wilderness Information Center at the Pacific Ranger District – Quinault office. 353 South Shore Rd., Quinault, WA 98575. Phone: (360) 288-0232 (closed in winter)
Staircase Ranger Station in Olympic National Park at the end of the Staircase Road (USFS 24) on the western end of Lake Cushman near Hoodsport, 98548.
If you are not passing by a park wilderness office on your way to Ozette, or if you plan to arrive early or late, call the WIC to find out the best way to get your permit.
Getting to the Midpoint of the PNT
The approximate midpoint of the PNT is in the city of Oroville, Washington, in Section 5. It can be reached using a series of public transit systems, including the OCTN.
You can find transit schedules for trips between Oroville and Seattle, Spokane, or Omak, here. Learn more about transit in Okanogan County, here.
Transit in the Puget Sound Area, Sections 7 & 8
Public transit is ideal for those on a human-powered adventure. Skagit Transit offers routes between the trail side communities of Concrete and Anacortes and other areas in Section 7 and Section 8.
Whatcom Transit offers routes between Alger (mile 917) and Bellingham and other destinations along I-5, in Section 7.
Transit Between Sections 8 & 9
Whether you are traveling between Whidbey Island (995P) and Port Townsend (1000P) on foot or by vehicle, the Keystone Ferry is a convenient option. The Washington State Department of Transportation is the best source of information for sailing schedules and for making advance reservations (recommended for vehicles).
For PNT thru-hikers, this scenic route is the most popular way to travel between Section 8 and 9. For those dedicated to an entirely muscle-powered adventure, a small number of PNT’ers have kayaked across the Sound.
Transit on the Olympic Peninsula,
Sections 9 & 10
On the Olympic Peninsula, Jefferson Transit and Clallam Transit provide service between the trail towns of Port Townsend–Port Angeles–Forks and beyond. Public transit can be used to connect these areas to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Jefferson Transit has service between the trail town of Port Townsend and Discovery Bay, waypoint 1015P and also to mile 1018, approximately one mile north of 1019P in Section 9. Jefferson Transit also has service along the Olympic Coast between the trail town of Forks and Queets.
A private shuttle may be booked in advance to reach the western terminus and other destinations in Olympic National Park.
Note: app-based rideshare may be unavailable in Port Angeles and points west.