For over forty years, our trail community has helped the PNTA to create and maintain the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, a world-class pathway that provides much needed opportunities for ALL to get outdoors and explore the scenic public lands across the Northwest.
This year, we ask every PNT visitor to #RecreateResponsibly and take extra care to help us protect the trail — and the people that live in the trailside communities that make the trail so special.
While we stand united in the fight against COVID-19, we must all recognize that each community along the PNT may be at a different phase of the crisis. In 2021, some communities have relaxed restrictions. Other communities are still exercising caution and have restrictions and closures in place that will have a big impact on the PNT experience.
In 2021, it will be each visitor’s responsibility to educate themselves about these restrictions and guidelines and to be prepared to follow them. Health authorities agree; the safest thing to do is to recreate close to home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling involves greater risks to ourselves and others.
Although we may be passionate about outdoor adventure, during a pandemic, long-distance hiking should be considered “non-essential travel.” If you do choose to postpone your trip on the PNT until it is safer to visit, please know that the trail will always be there for you and the experience will only get better in the years to come.
Please follow these simple steps before any visit to the PNT this summer. If you are planning an extended trip this season, additional guidance will follow.
Travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time. Delay travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
General Guidance for Visiting the PNT in 2020
- Know Before You Go: Check the status of the place you want to visit on this website. If an area is closed, don’t go. Some recreation sites are currently open for day-use only. Make sure travel and camping are welcome before you plan any overnight trip.
- Observe all travel restrictions and stay close to home where it is required. Be aware that conditions will vary county-by-county along the trail corridor. Be prepared for local restrictions as well as state, regional, city and county ordinances and resolutions. Some businesses may be operating in a limited capacity. Do not assume that all services will be available.
- Play it Safe: Bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. Choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury or becoming lost. Many search and rescue units and local medical facilities have limited resources to help right now because they are responding to the pandemic.
- Be extra careful with fire this year. Wildland firefighters may have limited resources to suppress wildfires this season. Be sure to check for temporary fire restrictions in late summer when conditions become drier and the risk of wildfire increases. Avoid alcohol stoves. Their use is banned on the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF and they are often temporarily prohibited during the dry summer months in other areas on the trail. This makes them impractical for many long-distance hikers.
- Do your part to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. According to the CDC, the three most important things you can do is to wear a face mask, especially while indoors, stay at least 6 feet from others that don’t live with you, and to avoid crowds.
- Be aware that face masks are required on federal lands, like National Parks, in Washington State, and in many communities and businesses along the trail. Many folks do not realize that It is possible to spread COVID-19 without knowing it. Those that have been exposed to the virus and are presymptomatic (or do not feel sick yet) can still be very contagious to others. Face masks and social distancing are among the most effective ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
- While some parts of the Inland Northwest have relaxed restrictions, many communities are still exercising caution. Some areas along the PNT could remain closed this year and many services may continue to operate in a limited capacity.
Additional Guidance for Longer Trips on the PNT in 2020
Although most of the Pacific Northwest Trail corridor is still in its shoulder season and land managers are still working to finalize plans for the summer of 2021, one thing is clear. This season will not be a return to normal. Authorities in the Northwest are basing decisions about access on current health data — and not fixed timelines or arbitrary dates — which creates uncertainty that makes trip planning very difficult.
Many recreation sites along the PNT reopened last season after being closed during the early stages of the pandemic. However, some areas in Olympic National Park and Glacier National Park have never reopened. Although Glacier National Park managers are hopeful that full access to the Park may be restored by summer, there is no guarantee that access to the entire PNT trail system will be restored in 2021. Access to these portions of the PNT will remain closed until further notice.
Please consider this additional guidance before planning any extended trip on the Pacific Northwest Trail this year.
- Planning a long-distance hike during a pandemic involves a lot of personal responsibility and a lot of research. Requirements may vary from county-to-county, and between recreation sites along the trail. Restrictions can change very quickly without notice as new outbreaks occur. Please put the safety of communities and other trail users first by learning and following the latest recommendations of local health authorities and land managers along the trail by visiting our COVID-19 Updates webpage.
- Self-reliance is always a part of the long-distance hiking experience on the PNT. This year, you should be prepared to be completely self-sufficient and to think about visiting trail towns to resupply as a luxury and a privilege. Expect to have less support from good samaritans that live in vulnerable communities along the trail. Many restaurants and stores may be closed or operating with limited hours and services. Avoid prolonged close contact with individuals outside of your household, especially while in enclosed spaces like vehicles, restaurants and motel rooms.
- Transportation and logistics can be challenging in some parts of the PNT at any time. Many trailheads and towns are located in very remote rural areas. Glacier National Park’s free shuttle system is not operating this year nor are many private shuttles. Locals may also be less willing than usual to pick up hitchhikers. You may also not feel comfortable riding in the enclosed space of a car with someone whose exposure history is unknown to you. Unless you are being supported by a friend willing to drive great distances to meet you at trailheads, a long-distance trip on the PNT this summer is likely to include some extra challenges when traveling between town and trail. In situations where you are not able to find a ride, you should be prepared for some additional long and potentially dangerous road-walks to resupply.
- In the three National Parks along the PNT, backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays on the trail. During the pandemic, the backcountry permitting process has changed in Olympic and Glacier National Park. Olympic National Park will not offer walk-up permits. Their reservation system will be 100% online and reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance.
- The east side of Glacier National Park reopened to winter recreation on March 18th, 2021! Previously, it had been closed to all access for nearly 12 months due to the pandemic. Access to 34 miles of the PNT between Brown Pass and the eastern terminus has been restored. The Park tentatively plans to “offer 2021 wilderness permit advance reservations as it has in the years prior to 2020. Park managers are hopeful that ‘normal’ wilderness access will resume this summer, however managers will assess all park operations in light of the evolving COVID-19 situation.” The US/Canada international border at Goat Haunt, USA will be closed in 2021. There will be no access into or out of Goat Haunt, USA, (near PNT mile 25) through Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. Goat Haunt backcountry campground will be closed in 2021. Park visitors can still hike through the Goat Haunt developed area to other backcountry campgrounds. It is not known when travel restrictions between the US and Canada will be lifted. The Chief Mountain border crossing remains closed to non-essential travel. Visitors to Glacier NP should also be aware that road construction and permit systems for the Going-to-the-Sun road may also impact their visits.
- This year, it will be every PNT visitor’s personal responsibility to check with the state or local health department where they are, along their route, and at their planned destination. Just because there are no travel or quarantine restrictions at the time they plan to leave does not mean there won’t be new restrictions in place when they arrive. Following these restrictions will be much more difficult for folks traveling from out-of-state and for long-distance hikers than for local users, those traveling with personal transportation, than it is for those with constant access to news and information available in the frontcountry.
- Washington State has a travel advisory in effect that recommends a 14-day quarantine period for any resident or non-resident entering or returning to the state.
- In the event that new outbreaks of infections occur, individual states, counties, or recreation sites may have to shut down or restrict travel. Every PNT visitor should be prepared for this event and should stay flexible with trip plans. If an area becomes closed, change your plans and don’t go. If you are a long-distance hiker, expect it to be very difficult to bypass these areas to continue your trip in the next open area, or to return home this year.
- As always, PNTA recommends carrying an extra set of supplemental overview maps so that you can find “bail-out routes” if a section of trail closes unexpectedly. This year, it’s possible for an entire county to announce a no-visitors or quarantine policy. Plan ahead and think through what, if any, travel arrangements might be available to you if you have to come off trail in a remote area — potentially with no cell service — and get back on trail in a different remote area, potentially hundreds of miles away.
- The PNT passes through some remote rural communities that lack the kind of medical infrastructure needed to adequately fight outbreaks. Early on in this crisis, some communities like Sun Valley, Idaho and Shelby Montana were hard-hit with outbreaks initiated by out-of-state tourists. Planning a responsible resupply strategy this year may involve avoiding the most vulnerable communities along the trail. For example, you may choose to carry extra food to travel greater distances to reach larger cities without stopping for supplies at small, remote communities without any local medical facilities.
- If you are exposed to the virus and develop symptoms, you may not be able to safely travel home to self-quarantine without potentially endangering everyone along your route. You need to be prepared, financially and mentally, to stay in a private hotel room for 14 days if you are exposed, and have a plan for how you will get food delivered to you (many small towns have limited, if any, delivery services), or to have a trusted loved one drive great distances to pick you up and transport you back home to self-quarantine.
- In the event that you develop severe symptoms of COVID-19, or if you require emergency medical attention for any other reason, you may likely find yourself in a remote rural community with limited or no medical facilities. You will need to be financially prepared to travel great distances at great expense to reach medical care.
- We truly appreciate the uncommon patience, understanding and support shown by our trail community throughout these unprecedented seasons on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Working together, we can continue to protect the trail, our trailside communities and save lives.
Last Updated: March 18, 2021