Frequently
Asked
Questions

About the Pacific Northwest Trail

The PNT at a Glance
  • Length: ~1,200 miles
  • Orientation: east-west
  • Highest Point: Cathedral Pass, 7,569 feet
  • States: Montana, Idaho, Washington
  • Prime Season: July – September
  • Average Time to Thru-Hike: 68 days
  • Conditions: Easy to Advanced
  • Designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009

About the Trail

Search our knowledge base of common questions about the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. If you can not find an answer here, please can contact us or join the conversation on the PNT Hikers Facebook group.

What is the Pacific Northwest Trail?
What is a National Scenic Trail?
How long is the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Where is the Pacific Northwest Trail located?
How Long Has the PNT Been Around?
PNT, PNNST, PNWT - which is it?
What is the Pacific Northwest Trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1,200-mile continuous path from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Northwest Trail is a corridor for long-distance non-motorized recreation through some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes in the United States. In 2009, it was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail. 

What is a National Scenic Trail?

National Scenic Trails are “extended trails so located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which such trails may pass.”

Some of the best known National Scenic Trails are the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 created the National Trail System, which includes National Scenic Trails. National Scenic Trails can only be created through an Act of Congress. The Pacific Northwest Trail is one of just 11 trails to receive this designation. The Pacific Northwest Trail was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail in 2009 after decades of work and advocacy by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.

How long is the Pacific Northwest Trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is about 1,200 miles long.

As one of America’s newest National Scenic Trails the route of the PNT is dynamic and can change year-to-year as the PNTA and our partners work to refine the trail corridor. These changes to the trail system can affect the overall length of the trail.

Where is the Pacific Northwest Trail located?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is located in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. It has an east-west orientation and stays near the U.S.-Canada border for much of its length. The 1,200 mile trail system spans across the Continental Divide, traverses Glacier National Park and continues along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The eastern terminus is located at Cape Alava in Olympic National Park.

Free trail maps are available from the Pacific Northwest Trail Association on our Maps page.

How Long Has the PNT Been Around?

The concept of the Pacific Northwest Trail has been around since the early 1970s. Ron Strickland dreamt up the idea and pioneered the route, piecing together trails and roads to get from the Continental Divide to the Pacific.  The first thru-hikes, completed in 1977 by Janet Garner and Rex Bakel, proved the route and were documented in Garner’s 1979 Backpacker Magazine cover story.  That same year, the first guide to hiking the PNT was published in Signpost Magazine.  In the decades since, hundreds of people have followed, and the route has been refined as trails used along the way have been opened or closed, bridges have washed out or been added, and land management policies have changed.

In 2009, after reviewing a detailed route description and accompanying map depiction, Congress designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a National Scenic Trail by passing the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which was signed into law on March 30th of that year.  You can learn more about the history of the Pacific Northwest Trail here.

PNT, PNNST, PNWT - which is it?

The Pacific Northwest Trail has been around since the 70’s and during that time it has collected a variety of names and acronyms.

Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) – The most commonly used name and acronym for the trail. The PNT is sometimes confused with our sister trail, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PNT has an east-west orientation, while the PCT has a north-south orientation.

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNNST) – This is the congressional name for the trail, awarded in 2009 when the trail was designated as a National Scenic Trail.

Pacific North West Trail (PNWT) – Many older documents, signs and reference materials refer to the trail using this name. We encourage you to use Pacific Northwest Trail, or PNT for short.

Trail Information

Who manages the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Does the Pacific Northwest Trail exist on the ground? Has it been built?
Does the Pacific Northwest Trail go across private land?
Which National Forests does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?
Which National Parks does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?
Is the Pacific Northwest Trail in Wilderness?
Who manages the Pacific Northwest Trail?

When Congress designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a National Scenic Trail, it charged the U.S. Forest Service with administering the trail as a unit across its 1,200-mile route.

On the ground, the trail is managed by local land managers and private property owners with the assistance of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. The Forest Service and Pacific Northwest Trail Association work cooperatively with other partners and federal, state, and local governments to provide passage for the Pacific Northwest Trail and to protect the trail experience. These local offices maintain authority to make land use and resource management decisions on lands they manage.

Does the Pacific Northwest Trail exist on the ground? Has it been built?

Yes, it is currently possible to do a continuous “thru-hike” of the entire Pacific Northwest Trail. In most cases, the paths that connect to form the Pacific Northwest Trail existed on the ground long before the concept of the PNT was first conceived. Upwards of 50 people thru-hike it each year, and that number is steadily growing. Maps of the route are available for free download on our Maps page.

The trail route is subject to change and may be re-routed in response to fires, floods, and other on-the-ground conditions. For the most up-to-date information on routing and trail conditions, visit our Trail Alerts page, our Facebook page or call our office at (360) 854-9415.

Does the Pacific Northwest Trail go across private land?

The Pacific Northwest Trail provides a 1,200-mile continuous route from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the trail, about 80%, is on federal lands. In some areas, particularly in cities and agricultural valleys, land is primarily in private ownership and a connection on public lands is not possible. In these sections, the trail may be along the right-of-way for a public road or highway.

In other cases, such as on some private timberlands, landowners have entered into voluntary agreements with the Pacific Northwest Trail Association to allow passage for the Pacific Northwest Trail.

The National Trails System Act (the legislation that designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a National Scenic Trail) includes a willing-seller clause that prohibits use of eminent domain to acquire private land for the trail. We respect the wishes of private landowners who do not want the trail on their land, and in those cases we find routes to avoid it.

Which National Forests does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?

The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through seven National Forests in two regions.  Region 1: Flathead National Forest, Kootenai National Forest, Idaho Panhandle National Forests and Region 2: Colville National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Olympic National Forest.

Which National Parks does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?

The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through three National Parks: Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park Complex and Olympic National Park.

Is the Pacific Northwest Trail in Wilderness?

About 1/4 of Pacific Northwest Trail miles are in six federally designated Wilderness areas. The Salmo-Priest Wilderness of the Colville National Forest, Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Stephen Mather Wilderness of the North Cascades National Park Complex, Mount Baker Wilderness of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic National Forest and Daniel J. Evans Wilderness of the Olympic National Park.

In addition, it goes through recommended wilderness in Glacier National Park, the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area on the Kootenai National Forest, and on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

Know before you go by visiting: www.wilderness.net to learn about the regulations specific to each wilderness.

Activities and Uses

How many people hike the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Which activities are allowed on the trail?
Is the Pacific Northwest Trail open to horses and stock?
Are dogs allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Are hunting and fishing allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?
What do people see and experience along the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Which activities are allowed on the trail?
How many people hike the Pacific Northwest Trail?

Some popular destinations along the trail, such as Deception Pass State Park, draw millions of visitors each year. More remote sections of trail may be visited by only a hardy few.

The popularity of long-distance hiking and “thru-hiking”—hiking the entire trail in a season—has grown in recent years. We estimate that between 40-50 people attempted the 1,200-mile journey in 2015. In 2017, approximately 100 adventurous hikers attempted end-to-end treks.

Many more people visit the PNT for shorter trips, either as “section hikers” who complete all 1,200 miles over multiple years, or as day or overnight hikers on a shorter portion of the trail.

Which activities are allowed on the trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is managed for non-motorized recreation.

Hiking and Backpacking: The entire Pacific Northwest Trail can be traveled on foot. This is the most popular way to experience the trail.

Pack & Saddle: Horses can use most of the trail.  Accessibility for equestrian use is at the discretion of local land managers.  In some places where the trail may not be passable for horses, alternate routes may allow for continuous travel.

Bicycling:  Bicycles are allowed where permitted by the local land manager; bicycles are not permitted on the PNT in National Parks or Wilderness areas and may not be permitted in recommended wilderness. Check before you go.

Motor vehicles: Motor vehicles, motorcycles, and OHVs are not allowed trail uses on National Scenic Trails. For now, there are some sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail that are on roads rather than trails. Where the Pacific Northwest Trail makes use of roads, or motorized trails, it does not close those roads/trails to motorized use; in these segments, hikers and horse or mountain bike riders may share the road with vehicles or travel on the shoulder of the roadway.

A long-term objective for the Pacific Northwest Trail is to refine the route to move it off of all roads and onto non-motorized trails wherever practicable. This may mean building new sections of trail in the future. The experience of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail shows us that this process may take decades to accomplish.

Is the Pacific Northwest Trail open to horses and stock?

 

Horses can use much of the trail.  Accessibility for equestrian use is at the discretion of local land managers. In some places where the route of the PNT is not open or passable to stock, alternate equestrian trails may exist. In many other areas, continuous equestrian routes do not.

At this stage of development, many portions of the PNT are not currently maintained for equestrian access. While hikers are able to maintain continuous routes along the PNT by bushwhacking or scrambling through undeveloped or unmaintained sections, and by linking established trail segments by walking along the shoulders of open roads, these options are impractical or infeasible for riders.

In high elevation areas, the trail maintenance season for the PNT does not typically begin until July when the snowpack has melted out. Logout for some areas may not take place until late summer. In some areas, like the Pasayten Wilderness, snags can fall regularly and land managers recommend packing a saw so that riders can cut their way out. Always check current conditions before you go. 

See also:  Is it possible to do a thru-ride of the PNT using stock?

Are dogs allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?

Dogs are allowed on many portions of the Pacific Northwest Trail and can be enjoyable companions in the backcountry. Please be aware that dogs are NOT allowed on trails, or in the backcountry, in Glacier, North Cascades, or Olympic National Parks. Dogs are allowed ON LEASH in Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

If you plan to take your dog on a trip to the PNT, know before you go and be aware of the added responsibilities dog-owners have under Leave No Trace to protect wildlife and the experience of other visitors.

While a trip to a city park offers convenient ways to dispose of your animal’s waste, on the PNT, it will be the owner’s responsibility to pack it out, or bury it in a cathole.

While we always recommend that you keep your dog on a leash while enjoying the PNT, local land managers, particularly in bear country, may require it in order to avoid causing stress to local wildlife or creating potentially unsafe interactions between your animal, yourself and bears.

In addition, please remember that food storage orders apply to dog food.  If you carry dog food into the backcountry, you must have the capacity to store it safely.  

Are hunting and fishing allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?

The PNT does not affect regulations related to hunting and fishing, which are managed by the states and local landowners and land managers. Many sections of the trail are popular with hunters. We encourage all trail users to wear bright colors, like “blaze orange” for safety — especially in the fall.

Depending on the season, visitors may be able to fish, hunt, and gather wild foods such as berries. Hikers shouldn’t rely on these food sources though. Check local regulations before you go. Follow the rules and respect private lands.

What do people see and experience along the Pacific Northwest Trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is a unique pathway that travels through some of the most spectacular and scenic terrain in the United States while connecting people and communities across the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest Trail offers a diverse experience, from wilderness to working landscapes to historic downtown Main Streets. Along its east-west route, the trail climbs major mountain ranges and descends into pastoral river valleys and small rural communities. The trail includes a ferry crossing of Puget Sound (the only saltwater ferry crossing on a National Scenic Trail).  PNT users experience the best of the Pacific Northwest: panoramic views of the Rockies, rolling grasslands in the Okanogan Highlands, volcanoes and high-country meadows in the North Cascades, farming and fishing communities on Puget Sound, and mossy trees and sandy beaches on the Olympic Peninsula.

Which activities are allowed on the trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is managed for non-motorized recreation.

Hiking and Backpacking: The entire Pacific Northwest Trail can be traveled on foot. This is the most popular way to experience the trail.

Pack & Saddle: Horses can use most of the trail.  Accessibility for equestrian use is at the discretion of local land managers.  In some places where the trail may not be passable for horses, alternate routes may allow for continuous travel.

Bicycling:  Bicycles are allowed where permitted by the local land manager; bicycles are not permitted on the PNT in National Parks or Wilderness areas and may not be permitted in recommended wilderness. Check before you go.

Motor vehicles: Motor vehicles, motorcycles, and OHVs are not allowed trail uses on National Scenic Trails. For now, there are some sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail that are on roads rather than trails. Where the Pacific Northwest Trail makes use of roads, or motorized trails, it does not close those roads/trails to motorized use; in these segments, hikers and horse or mountain bike riders may share the road with vehicles or travel on the shoulder of the roadway.

A long-term objective for the Pacific Northwest Trail is to refine the route to move it off of all roads and onto non-motorized trails wherever practicable. This may mean building new sections of trail in the future. The experience of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail shows us that this process may take decades to accomplish.

Know Before You Go

What safety precautions should I take in bear habitat? How can I protect wildlife?
What is the best season for visiting the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Do I need a permit to visit the Pacific Northwest Trail? Are there fees?
What kind of wildlife do hikers see along the Pacific Northwest Trail?
What safety precautions should I take in bear habitat? How can I protect wildlife?

Grizzly bears are known to inhabit roughly 400 miles of the PNT, spanning from the eastern terminus in Glacier National Park to Eastern Washington. In addition, it is believed that a small number of grizzly bears may range near the PNT in the North Cascades Ecosystem. Black bear habitat includes all but 70 miles of the PNT in the Puget Sound, Section 8.

Before your trip, it is important that you research both Food Storage Regulations and Bear Safety Precautions. Our Food Storage page is a good place to start, but Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) websites are all excellent resources.

All three of the National Parks on the PNT have food storage regulations in place that require visitors to store food in approved bear-resistant food lockers (where provided) or canisters, or to hang food per the park’s specifications.  Several of the National Forests have their own regulations.

Bear-resistant canisters and panniers can be rented from some ranger stations.  Bear canisters not only protect against interactions with bears, but also prevent rodents and other small mammals from chewing through fabric to get at food.

What is the best season for visiting the Pacific Northwest Trail?

You can find a great hike somewhere on the Pacific Northwest Trail in any season. Low-elevation sections of the trail, like those in the Puget Sound, can be hiked year-round. Some segments of the trail are also used for non-motorized winter recreation by skiers and snowshoers.

Because the trail crosses high-elevation mountain ranges (the Rockies, Cascades, and Olympics) across its route, the thru-hiking season is relatively short. Thru-hikers typically start at Glacier National Park in early July after the majority of the snow has melted. They typically arrive at the Pacific Ocean in September before colder, wetter weather typically comes to the Olympic Mountains. Thru-hikers typically take 60-75 days to complete the entire trail.

Do I need a permit to visit the Pacific Northwest Trail? Are there fees?

If you are planning an overnight trip on the PNT in Glacier National Park, the North Cascades National Park Complex, and Olympic National Park, permits are required for backcountry camping.

Parking a vehicle at a trailhead in a National Forest will typically require an annual pass or day-use fee.  State lands may also require a pass or day-use fee to park at trailheads and recreation sites.

Entrance fees may also be required to visit National Parks and Washington State Parks by vehicle.

State Park and National Forest campgrounds typically charge a fee for overnight camping.

Thru-hiking permits:  At this time, there is no coordinated permit available for Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers like what is offered for the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers must contact each of the parks directly to arrange permits for overnight stays.

You can learn more about permits and fees, here.

What kind of wildlife do hikers see along the Pacific Northwest Trail?

The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through diverse landscapes and wildlife habitat. Some of the iconic species of the region include grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, caribou, mountain lions, lynx, wolverines, wolves, salmon, bald eagles, and orcas. Along the coast, tidepools fill with ocean life: shellfish, starfish, and sea anemones.

Hikers commonly see grizzly and black bears, deer, raccoons, picas, osprey, ravens, and jays.

Thru-hiking
and Other
Adventures

Basic Information

Are you planning a long-distance trip on the PNT? You can find answers to common questions here and in this article about How to Prepare, written by a thru-hiker. If you can not find an answer here, please can contact us or join the conversation on the PNT Hikers Facebook group.

How long does it take to thru-hike the trail?
What is the Best Time to Start a Thru-hike?
Is it better to hike east or west?
Where does the trail start? How do I get there?
How many other people can I expect to see on the trail?
Congressional, primary and alternate routes… which are the best?
Where Can I Learn About Trail Conditions and Fire Closures?
What is Thru-Hiking? How is it different than section-hiking or backpacking?
How long does it take to thru-hike the trail?

The length of your Crown-to-Coast adventure will depend on your hiking style, how many rest days you take, and if you do any peak bagging or take alternate routes along the way. If you hike an average of 15 miles a day and don’t take any rest days or alternate routes, you will finish in around 80 days. Most hikers seem to finish in 60-70 days.

What is the Best Time to Start a Thru-hike?

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. You can learn more about snow on the PNT, here.

Besides snow, another factor to consider are potentially hazardous stream crossings, such as the ford at Swift Creek, south of Mount Baker. Rivers and streams run higher in early summer as the snow is melting in the mountains and may be impassable outside of the prime hiking season. Where these hazards exist the PNTA has indicated them on our annually revised mapset

Is it better to hike east or west?

Westbound is by far the most popular way to hike, and current guidebooks are written and organized for those walking west. Like a raindrop you start in the Rocky Mountain peaks at the Continental Divide and end up at the Pacific Ocean.

Eastbound has its advantages as well. You will have more solitude because fewer thru-hikers travel eastbound. In the Olympic Mountains, you will probably experience snow-covered trails until late summer. Eastbound hikers should be especially aware of the potential hazard posed by the ford at Swift Creek, south of Mount Baker. 

Where does the trail start? How do I get there?

The eastern terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail is located at the Chief Mountain Customs parking area, in the northeast corner of Glacier National Park, Montana.

The western terminus of the trail is located at Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the contiguous United States, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in Olympic National Park, Washington.

The approximate midpoint of the PNT is near the city of Oroville, Washington, which can be reached by public transit.

You can read more about how to get to these locations, on our Directions and Transportation page.

How many other people can I expect to see on the trail?

Along most of the trail, you will enjoy solitude and have the chance to experience wildlife and the sounds of nature. Other parts of the trail, like the Puget Sound region, are more densely populated and you can expect to share the trail with other visitors.

Compared to the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which traverse much more densely populated regions of the country and get thousands of visitors each year as a result, the rugged Pacific Northwest Trail receives lighter use. In recent years however, the popularity of the Pacific Northwest Trail has grown. In 2017, roughly 100 thru-hikers attempted end-to-end hikes of the trail.

That being said, friendships are forged on this trail. Meeting up with another PNT thru-hiker is special. Thru-hikers have amazing stories of the kindness of people in the towns and communities the trail goes through, many of whom are part of our growing network of trail angels.

And, of course, we love it when thru-hikers visit the PNTA at our office in downtown Sedro-Woolley, just a short jump off of the trail.

Congressional, primary and alternate routes… which are the best?

The PNTA mapset shows multiple route options in certain areas. The PNT is a relatively young trail in comparison to the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail and is therefore still in a period of growth and change. The terminology can be confusing.

Ron Strickland’s original full length guidebook describes both a Practical route (one possible to hike at the time of writing) and suggestions for an Ideal route that could be built in the future to fulfill his vision for the ultimate hiking experience.

The Congressional route is the one officially designated by Congress in 2009 when the PNT became a National Scenic Trail.

The Primary route is the route which the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, in partnership with local land managers, has developed in the time since, in order to address practical issues on the ground. This route is indicated with a red line on the PNTA mapset and the official hiking guide app and cumulative mileage for the trail system is based on this route.

Official alternate routes are indicated on the PNTA mapset and app with black or blue lines. These routes may have been part of the vision for the trail at one point, or they may simply be other ways for hikers to get to the same place and have a different experience getting there. Some of these route bypass trail closures on the primary route, or provide a lower elevation alternative that can be used to minimize one’s exposure to adverse weather conditions. Some alternate routes are more suitable to horse riders and pack stock.

Visitors should know that the PNT is still in the process of change. PNTA continuously advocates for opportunities to create a better experience for trail users so that the future trail corridor is safer, more enjoyable, and meets the standards of a National Scenic Trail.

What about other routes not shown on the official PNTA mapset or official hiking guide app? 

While the PNTA works toward solving routing issues on the PNT, we remind our trail’s users that they are effectively acting as ambassadors for the trail and the long-distance hiking community.

The route shown on the PNTA’s mapset and on the official hiking app, produced through a partnership by Atlas Guides, describes the current route of the Pacific Northwest Trail. In some areas, easier, or more direct options may exist on the ground, but access is not guaranteed. These kinds of user-generated routes may inadvertently cross significant portions of private property where no easements or land use agreements are in place. If routes that involve trespassing are promoted within the trail community, via third party maps or user generated routes, it erodes goodwill for the trail and weakens our position to solve routing issues and negotiate for the ideal trail corridor of the PNT.

Where Can I Learn About Trail Conditions and Fire Closures?

PNT users should always be prepared to expect the unexpected; conditions on remote mountain trails can change quickly and may go unreported for some time. During the prime hiking season, July-November, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association publishes trail alerts and trail conditions.

Major events that affect access to the Pacific Northwest Trail, such as emergency or planned trail or road closures are published as trail alerts. You can subscribe to receive plain text emails from the PNTA, about wildfire closures that affect the PNT, here.

The PNTA also shares information about trail conditions from our trail crews, scouts, and volunteers, here. You can also find helpful links to our partners’ websites at the National Park Service, US Forest Service, and other land management agencies.

What is Thru-Hiking? How is it different than section-hiking or backpacking?

Section hiking involves traversing the length of trail as a series of shorter trips usually over a longer timeframe. Section hiking is a popular option for those unable to commit to a trip which may be 60 days or longer. Some section hikers split the trail in half by starting or ending in Oroville, Washington. Others experience the ten sections of the trail as ten separate trips. Aside from needing shorter time frames to complete, section hikers are not as limited by the PNT’s narrow weather window. Sections 8 and 10, for example, have a much longer season than Section 1. Best of all, section hikers can plan their trips to experience each portion of the PNT during its ideal season, like when wildflowers are in bloom, when blueberry leaves turn crimson, or when temperatures remain mild.

Thru-hiking involves completing an end-to-end hike of a long-distance trail in one season. On a classic thru-hike, one “connects all of one’s steps” and travels in one cardinal direction without skipping any portion of trail. In practice, many thru-hikers are unable to achieve this remarkable feat due to a number of factors beyond their control. Wildfires, weather events, and personal injuries can all lead to practical compromises.

Long-Distance
Trip Planning

How Long is the Thru-hiking Season? How can I plan an itinerary?
Do I Need a Permit for a overnight camping or long-distance hiking on the PNT?
What Are Some of the Challenges and Risks Unique to the PNT?
What safety precautions should I take in bear habitat? How can I protect wildlife?
Is bear spray an effective way to protect myself in bear habitat?
Is a Bear Canister Required on the PNT?
What Should I Know About Camping on the PNT?
Where Can I Find Information to Help Plan a Resupply Strategy?
Is There a Water Report on the PNT? Is Water Scarce or Seasonal?
How Long is the Thru-hiking Season? How can I plan an itinerary?

From year-to-year, events such as snow, rainfall and wildfire in the Northwest can vary significantly. These can all affect the start of the prime hiking season or the trail conditions that thru-hikers experience on-the-ground.

You can use this guide to monitor the snowpack in the Northwest, learn about potential hazards, and choose a start date for their trips based on current conditions. Thru-hikers should be aware that they may be among the very first visitors to the trail each season. Some may choose to start hiking when trails are still snow covered in early summer.

They may also pass through areas before they have received annual trail maintenance, such as brushing and log-out of downed trees. Current fine-grain information about trail conditions may not be available early in the season or in remote areas — this should be considered part of a Crown-to-Coast adventure. In designated wilderness areas, visitors should be especially prepared for the unexpected and rugged trail conditions.

Trail information in other areas, such as the Puget Sound is reported more regularly. You can learn more on our Trail Alerts and Trail Conditions webpages and on some of our agency partners’ websites.

Do I Need a Permit for a overnight camping or long-distance hiking on the PNT?

Permits are required for overnight camping on the PNT in Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park. To get a backcountry permit, you must contact each of the Parks directly or visit a permit-issuing Ranger Station before your trip.

At this time, there is no coordinated permit available (like what is offered for the Pacific Crest Trail) for long-distance hikers on the Pacific Northwest Trail.

At-large, dispersed or stealth camping is not allowed in the National Parks. Your backcountry permit will specify each backcountry campsite you will be required to stay at while in the Park.

Learn more about the process on our Permits and Fees page and on the PNTA mapset.

What Are Some of the Challenges and Risks Unique to the PNT?

The 1,200 mile trail system of the PNT is made up of a variety of trail segments and pathways. Before you go, you can learn about the conditions and potential hazards of each area you plan to visit on this website. All users should “Plan Ahead and Prepare” — safety is never guaranteed on the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Thru-hikers should be especially aware of some of the unique risks found in the trail system. They may be unfamiliar with the unique hazards posed by coastal travel, bushwhacking, rock scrambling and by megafauna, such as grizzly bears, moose, wolves and mountain lions. You can learn more about how to protect yourself and wildlife on our Challenges and Risks and Food Storage webpages.

Where challenging terrain and other hazards occur on the trail, the PNTA has taken care to call attention to them on our annually revised and annotated mapset. You can also learn more about potential hazards by reading each of the webpages under our Know Before You Go section.

What safety precautions should I take in bear habitat? How can I protect wildlife?

Grizzly bears are known to inhabit roughly 400 miles of the PNT, spanning from the eastern terminus in Glacier National Park to the western boundary of the Colville National Forest in Eastern Washington. In addition, it is believed that a small number of grizzly bears may range near the PNT in the North Cascades Ecosystem.  Black bear habitat includes all but 70 miles of the PNT in the Puget Sound, Section 8.

Before your trip, it is very important that you research both Food Storage Regulations and Bear Safety Precautions. Our Food Storage page is a good place to start, but Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) websites are all excellent resources.

All three of the National Parks on the PNT have food storage regulations in place that require visitors to store food in approved bear-resistant food lockers (where provided) or canisters, or to hang food per each park’s specifications. Our National Forests also have specific regulations for food storage.

Bear-resistant canisters may be rented from some ranger stations and outfitters or mailed ahead to the nearest gateway community along the trail. Bear canisters not only protect against interactions with bears, but also other small animals, such as rodents which can transmit disease and destroy campers’ food and expensive outdoor gear.

Is bear spray an effective way to protect myself in bear habitat?

The PNTA highly recommends carrying bear spray in grizzly country on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Grizzly bears are known to inhabit roughly 400 miles of the PNT, spanning from the eastern terminus in Glacier National Park to the western boundary of the Colville National Forest in Eastern Washington. In addition, it is believed that a small number of grizzly bears may range near the PNT in the North Cascades Ecosystem. 

Many land managers recommend carrying bear spray in black bear habitat as well. While commonly considered skittish, black bears have been responsible for attacks on humans, including fatalities, in North America. Black bears are common along the entire trail corridor, except in Section 8, the Puget Sound.

Studies have shown bear spray to be effective 93% of the time in causing bears to cease aggressive activity. Firearms are not recommended and have been found to be significantly less effective at deterring bears. Besides being more effective, bear spray is a non-lethal deterrent, is relatively inexpensive, and is much lighter to carry.

Making noise before situations where a bear might become startled, hiking in groups, following food storage orders, and keeping dogs on a leash all greatly minimize the chance of a bear encounter.

Learn more at Glacier National Park’s Bear Safety webpage.

Is a Bear Canister Required on the PNT?

A bear canister is not required for overnight camping on most of the PNT. At this time, bear canisters are only required on the PNT in Olympic National Park in two areas: the Seven Lakes Basin and Olympic Coast. All but 70 miles of the PNT pass through bear habitat where bears are common. Proper food storage is a very important part of any trip on the PNT. You can learn more on our Food Storage page.

What Should I Know About Camping on the PNT?

PNT thru-hikers can play an important role in protecting the PNT by following the principles of Leave No Trace. When making camp, choose established sites and durable surfaces at a legal distance from trails and water sources. It is the responsibility of every backcountry visitor to learn the regulations of the local land manager before their trip.

To assist with planning, the PNTA describes approved campsites on our free mapset and calls out areas where camping is prohibited, such as private property or day-use only areas. Much of the Pacific Northwest Trail is on our National Forests where dispersed camping (outside of established campgrounds) is generally allowed and free to the public.

Some state parks units along the PNT have developed campgrounds where drive-in or hike-in sites are available for a fee. Check availability before you go. 

In the three National Parks along the PNT, backcountry camping is only allowed in designated sites. Backcountry visitors are required to obtain a permit from the NPS in advance of their trip. Visitors must camp only at the sites specified on their permit for a given date. Learn more at our Permits and Fees page.

Where the trail crosses private property, camping is not allowed. On private timberland, landowners grant access under a day-use-only agreement. To ensure access for future hikers across private property, it is important to respect the rights of private landowners and plan ahead to avoid camping in these areas.

Camping and lodging options available in towns along the trail vary. These communities may have a range of accommodations from high-end lodges to modest motels, hostels, and private campgrounds. Visit the Trail Towns & Resupply page for a list of trailside communities. Annually revised guidebooks, published by third parties provide useful information about current services available along the trail.

Where Can I Find Information to Help Plan a Resupply Strategy?

The Pacific Northwest Trail runs directly through ten trailside communities. Others are located a short distance from the trail. Our Trail Towns and Resupply page has more information to help with trip planning and logistics.

The size of these Northwest communities varies between full service cities and small mountain hamlets. Melanie Simmerman’s, Pacific Northwest Trail Town Guide has all of the information a long-distance hiker needs to plan a resupply strategy for a PNT thru-hike. 

For more information about planning a thru-hike, read this article, How to Prepare,” written by a PNT thru-hiker.

Is There a Water Report on the PNT? Is Water Scarce or Seasonal?

 

There is no water report for the PNT. Water sources are plentiful along most of the trail corridor. However, there are some areas where water sources along the trail are fewer or may be affected by season or weather.

In areas where water sources are further apart, hikers should plan ahead by noting where the next water source is located. The PNTA mapset and Tim Youngbluth’s PNT Digest share detailed information about water sources to help with day-to-day planning on the trail.

It is strongly recommended to treat water along the PNT to avoid water-borne illness, like giardia.

Navigating
the PNT

How Difficult is the PNT to Follow or Navigate?
What maps should I bring? Why do I need paper maps if I have a GPS?
Do I Need a GPS unit on the PNT?
What about Third Party Maps and User Generated Routes?
How Difficult is the PNT to Follow or Navigate?

Some portions of the PNT require advanced navigation skills while other sections of trail may be more straightforward. You can learn more about each section of trail, by studying PNTA strip maps, visiting our Explore the Trail webpages, and reading Tim Youngbluth’s guidebook.

Generally speaking, the navigation challenges on the Pacific Northwest Trail are not to be taken lightly; they require more skill than is needed to follow the longer-established National Scenic Trails (or NSTs).

As our newest NST, the PNT is still being developed. It is mostly unmarked, receives light use, and may not have been recently maintained in some remote areas. Be aware that in some locations, the route of the PNT requires bushwhacking through dense forest, following climber’s scrambling routes, and sometimes follows networks of unsigned and confusing forest roads.

Before you head out on the PNT, prepare for your trip using the resources on our website and by mastering navigation skills before you go. The PNTA recommends you outfit yourself with a combination of back-up navigation tools to help ensure that you have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.

We are working to make the PNT easier to navigate by improving the quality of information presented on this website and the PNTA mapset, and through working with local land managers on the installation of new trail signage. It is also important to us however, to preserve the sense of adventure first earned by end-to-enders in 1977, through 2077 and beyond.  We believe we can achieve this by protecting the wild character of the trail and the significant challenges that it presents.  For now, as an end-to-end adventure, the PNT appeals to experienced outdoors people looking to test advanced skills as they immerse themselves in the natural world.

What maps should I bring? Why do I need paper maps if I have a GPS?

The navigation challenges on the Pacific Northwest Trail are not to be taken lightly; they require more skill than is needed to follow our longer-established National Scenic Trails. Outfitting yourself with a combination of back-up navigation tools, like the PNTA’s strip maps, a compass, and a GPS unit or GPS equipped smartphone, will help ensure that you have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.

Larger paper maps, like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps of the three National Parks along the PNT, are also useful to have. While PNTA strip maps have been cropped to show the minimum amount of area outside the trail corridor to save weight and space, having a map of a larger area (whether it be digital or print) can be useful in a number of ways. When egress is needed in case of wildfire, having a map of a larger trail network can help to plan a “bail out” route. Larger maps can also satisfy your curiosity and help you to stay oriented in the landscape by labeling natural features, like distant mountain peaks, which may fall just outside of other map boundaries. To traverse the North Cascades without a map sufficient to identify the dozens of majestic peaks visible from the Devil’s Dome Trail, for example, is something many hikers come to regret.

Do I Need a GPS unit on the PNT?

The navigation challenges on the Pacific Northwest Trail are not to be taken lightly; they require more skill than is needed to follow the longer-established National Scenic Trails. Increasingly, modern smartphones are used by PNT’ers as GPS units. Smartphones can provide inexpensive alternatives to stand-alone GPS.

If you choose not carry a GPS-enabled device on the PNT, then you will need strong map reading, route-finding and compass skills.

A combination of both PNTA paper maps and a GPS-equipped smartphone with the Guthook’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest Trail app, is recommended for thru-hiking the PNT and for particularly challenging sections of trail. Other popular apps include: Gaia, Topomaps and Backcountry Navigator.

 

Always keep in mind the failure modes of any technology: batteries become depleted, screens crack, water can cause damage, and devices can simply fail without warning. The PNTA recommends you outfit yourself with a combination of back-up navigation tools to help ensure that you have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.

While a GPS-enabled device is not essential to enjoy the PNT, it can aid navigation by verifying ‘point position’ in confusing areas of trail, such as the intersections of forest roads. Additional digital maps can also be downloaded to your device which show a larger area than that shown on the PNTA strip maps, which can be useful to plan an emergency egress from trail, or to simply identify distant mountain peaks, all without adding to one’s ‘carried weight’ burden.

What about Third Party Maps and User Generated Routes?

While the PNTA works toward solving routing issues on the PNT, we remind our trail’s users that they are effectively acting as ambassadors for the trail.

The route shown on the PNTA’s mapset and on the official hiking app, produced through a partnership by Atlas Guides, describes the current route of the Pacific Northwest Trail. In some areas, easier, or more direct options may exist on the ground, but access is not guaranteed. These kinds of user-generated routes may inadvertently cross significant portions of private property where no easements or land use agreements are in place. If routes that involve trespassing are promoted within the trail community, via third party maps or user generated routes, it erodes goodwill for the trail and weakens our position to negotiate for the ideal trail corridor of the PNT.

Official PNTA maps and hiking apps protect the Pacific Northwest Trail by sharing important rules and regulations of local land managers. They also encourage responsible use by communicating the Leave No Trace Seven Principles as applied to the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Other Long-Distance
Adventures

Is it possible to do a “thru-ride” of the PNT on horseback?
WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ALLOWED ON THE TRAIL?
Should I Thru-Hike with my Dog?
Is it possible to do a “thru-ride” of the PNT on horseback?

 

As our newest National Scenic Trail, the PNT is still being developed. It is mostly unmarked, receives light use, and may not have been recently maintained in some remote areas. 

At this stage of development, many portions of the PNT are not currently maintained for equestrian access. Many long rides along the trail are possible in places like the Pasayten Wilderness.

While hikers are able to maintain continuous routes along the entire trail corridor by bushwhacking or scrambling through undeveloped or unmaintained sections, and by linking established trail segments by walking along the shoulders of open roads, these options are impractical or infeasible for riders.

Rugged Trail Conditions:  In high elevation areas, the trail maintenance season for the PNT does not typically begin until July when the snowpack has melted out. Logout for some areas may not take place until late summer. In some areas, like the Pasayten Wilderness, snags can fall regularly and land managers recommend packing a saw so that riders can cut their way out. Always check current conditions before you go. 

Impassable Routes:  In some locations, such as the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho, the current route of the PNT requires bushwhacking through dense forest and following climber’s scrambling routes because no connecting trail has been built. These routes are currently impassable to stock. 

Motorized Routes:  About one third of the PNT currently follows roads or “motorized routes.” Some of these are low-speed gravel forest roads. In other areas, the PNT follows blacktop highways, crosses bridges, and the Admiralty Inlet via the Keystone Ferry. In these areas, transporting stock by trailer is recommended or may be required.

WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ALLOWED ON THE TRAIL?

The Pacific Northwest Trail is managed for non-motorized recreation.

Hiking and Backpacking: The entire Pacific Northwest Trail can be traveled on foot. This is the most popular way to experience the trail.

Pack & Saddle: Horses can use most of the trail.  Accessibility for equestrian use is at the discretion of local land managers.  In some places where the trail may not be passable for horses, alternate routes may allow for continuous travel.

Bicycling:  Bicycles are allowed where permitted by the local land manager; bicycles are not permitted on the PNT in National Parks or Wilderness areas and may not be permitted in recommended wilderness. Check before you go.

Motor vehicles: Motor vehicles, motorcycles, and OHVs are not allowed trail uses on National Scenic Trails. For now, there are some sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail that are on roads rather than trails. Where the Pacific Northwest Trail makes use of roads, or motorized trails, it does not close those roads/trails to motorized use; in these segments, hikers and horse or mountain bike riders may share the road with vehicles or travel on the shoulder of the roadway.

A long-term objective for the Pacific Northwest Trail is to refine the route to move it off of all roads and onto non-motorized trails wherever practicable. This may mean building new sections of trail in the future. The experience of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail shows us that this process may take decades to accomplish.

Should I Thru-Hike with my Dog?

While dogs are allowed on most of the Pacific Northwest Trail and can be enjoyable companions in the backcountry for day hikes and shorter trips, most thru-hikers of long-distance trails find it extremely impractical to complete an end-to-end thru-hike with a canine companion, and choose to leave their pets at home.

On the Pacific Northwest Trail, dogs are NOT allowed in the three National Parks along the trail corridor. Pets are NOT allowed in the Loomis NRCA, east of the Pasayten Wilderness.

The added responsibilities dog-owners have under Leave No Trace to protect wildlife and the experience of other visitors also adds to the challenge of thru-hiking with a dog.

While a trip to a city park offers convenient ways to dispose of your animal’s waste, on the PNT, it will be the owner’s responsibility to pack it out, or bury it in a cathole.

Local land managers, particularly in bear country, may require that you keep your dog on a leash to avoid causing stress to local wildlife or creating potentially unsafe interactions between your animal, yourself and bears. In addition, off-leash dogs can become lost or injured after chasing wildlife, or lead dangerous wildlife back to you.

Food storage orders apply to dog food.  If you carry dog food into the backcountry, you must have the capacity to store it safely.  

In grizzly habitat, many land managers recommend leaving your pet at home.

Finally, just as the cumulative stress of a long-distance trek can be hard on a human’s body, by causing chronic sports injuries, so can the burdens of mountain travel harm your pet.

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