The PNTA’s strip maps show multiple route options. 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.
Alternate routes are routes which 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, developed to address closures or other trail conditions. In other cases, alternate routes may be better trails for horse riders where the main route is impassable or closed to stock.
The PNT is still in the process of change. We continuously advocate for opportunities to create a better experience for trail users so that the future trail is safer, more enjoyable, and exceeds the expectations of a National Scenic Trail.