Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is one of the things that many people who love the outdoors aspire to do. This 2,650-mile (4,265 km) trail extends from Mexico to Canada through some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in the United States. While some people choose to thru-hike the entire trail, many others enjoy day hikes or multi-day hikes on sections of the trail. And by hiking here, there is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with completing even a section of it.
I had an opportunity to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. The best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail offer a taste of what the entire trail has to offer. From alpine lakes and meadows to rugged mountains and valleys, the Pacific Crest Trail has it all. And while there are many great day hikes on the trail, here are the 12 Best Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail that I think offer the best overall experience.
Best Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail
1. Mt. Baden-Powell
Mt. Baden-Powell is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and one of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail. The 9-mile round-trip trek to the summit is no easy feat, but those who make it are rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The trail starts relatively easy as it follows an old road for the first half a mile before turning into a single-track trail. The next few miles are a moderate climb as the trail switchbacks up the mountain. The last mile to the summit is the most difficult, with a steep incline.
The views from the summit are amazing and worth the effort it takes to get there. On a clear day, you can see Mount Baldy and the surrounding Los Angeles National Forest.
I recommend starting this hike early in the morning to avoid the heat and crowds. And be sure to bring plenty of water as there is no water available on the trail. It took me around five hours to reach the summit and descend back to the trailhead.
While the views from the top of Mt. Baden-Powell are certainly breathtaking, my favorite part of the hike was actually the last mile before the summit. The trail was extremely steep and challenging, but the sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached the top was indescribable. If you are looking for an incredible day hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, Mt. Baden-Powell is definitely worth the effort.
2. Hart Pass
Washington’s North Cascades National Park is home to stunning craggy peaks, glaciers, and old-growth forests. And tucked away in this incredible park is the Pacific Crest Trail. Unfortunately, most of the terrain that PCT crosses through the North Cascades is inaccessible to hikers. However, there is one exception; Hart Pass.
Hart Pass is located in the small town of Mazama, just a short distance from the Canadian border. The challenge is that the Hart Pass is only accessible by driving a long, narrow forest road with steep cliffsides. So, unless you have a high clearance vehicle, I would recommend taking a shuttle from Mazama.
Note that the Hart Pass is located at an elevation of 6,000 feet, so be prepared for some altitude sickness if you are not used to hiking at high altitudes. The good thing is that once you reach the pass, you’ll not need to do any more climbing for the rest of the hike.
From Hart Pass, you can follow the PCT markers south or north for some stunning views of the North Cascades. I would recommend going south towards Canada for a longer and more scenic hike. The trail is relatively easy, with only a few moderate sections. And since you are above the tree line, there are incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
I only hiked for a few miles before turning around and heading back to Hart Pass. However, I could have easily kept going for much longer. The scenery is absolutely incredible, and there were very few people on the trail.
3. Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock is undoubtedly one of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, located near the Warner Springs Fire Station. This 6.5-mile round-trip hike is moderate in difficulty with some steep sections.
The trail starts from Highway 7 and immediately heads uphill. The first mile of the hike is the most difficult, but it levels out after that. The next few miles are a relatively easy hike through arid grasslands and sparse vegetation. On the way, you’ll have the opportunity to see some amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
As you get closer to Eagle Rock, the trail becomes rockier. And at the top, you’ll find a rock formation that looks similar to an eagle spreading its wings. This spot is popular for photographers and taking snacks before the descent back down the trail. The views from the top of Eagle Rock are also simply incredible.
4. Chinook Pass
Located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, Chinook Pass is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state. The pass is best known for its incredible views of Mt. Rainier, but there are also many other peaks that can be seen from the trail.
The PCT crosses Chinook Pass along Highway 410, making it one of the most easily accessible hikes in the state. There is a parking lot on the east side of the pass with an informational kiosk and restroom. If the parking is full, which it often is, there is additional parking available across the highway to the south.
From the trailhead, you can either head north or south on the PCT. I would recommend going north towards Sheep Lake as the views are much better in that direction. This lake is roughly 2 miles from the trailhead, with an elevation gain of around 500 feet. And if you decide to hike south on the PCT, you will eventually reach Dewey Lake, which is another great destination for a day hike.
Regardless of which direction you choose, Chinook Pass is an incredible destination for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The views are simply stunning, and there is something for everyone on the trail.
5. Sonora Pass
Anybody who has ever driven on Highway 108 knows that Sonora Pass is one of the most beautiful and treacherous roads in California. But what many people don’t know is that PCT hikers actually use this road to access the trail.
The Sonora Pass trailhead is located at the parking lot atop the pass. And here, hikers have several options for starting their hike. The most popular option is to hike southbound on the PCT towards Leavitt Peak. The hike starts with a moderate climb before leveling out somewhat as it contours around the side of the mountain.
The trail is 1,000 miles long. So, how far you hike is entirely up to you. I recommend hiking for at least a few miles to enjoy the incredible views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I hiked the first four miles of the trail before turning around and heading back to the car. I had fun, but I was also pretty tired from the drive-up.
Overall, Sonora Pass is definitely one of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail because of its incredible views and easy access. And it’s a great place to start if you’re thinking about hiking PCT.
6. Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows is a beautiful section of the Pacific Crest Trail located in the Yosemite National Park. The area is known for its stunning wildflower displays and is one of the best places to see them in all of California.
The trailhead is located just off of Highway 120 near the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. From there, the trail follows the Tuolumne River as it makes its way through the granite-infused landscape. The views along the trail are incredible, with towering mountains and pristine meadows providing a constant backdrop.
The first 2.5 miles of the trail is relatively flat, making it perfect for a leisurely day hike. After that, the trail begins to descend on a rocky path. The last mile of the trail is a bit more challenging but still manageable for most hikers.
The highlight of the hike is undoubtedly the gushing Tuolumne and White Cascade Falls. This is a great spot to take a break, relax, and enjoy the beauty of nature. The best part about this hike is that water is readily available throughout the trail, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own. However, I would recommend packing your own water filter for collecting from these natural sources.
And if you wish to camp overnight, there are plenty of options available near the trailhead. I would recommend the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp for its proximity to the trail. But remember to make reservations in advance, as you can only sleep here just by reservation.
7. Eagle Creek Alternate
The Eagle Creek Alternate is a side trail off the main PCT that takes you to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Oregon. The trailhead is located just outside of Cascade Locks, then head south along the Columbia River Valley.
The trail is moderate, with some sections that are a bit more challenging. However, the views of the waterfalls and the lush vegetation make the effort well worth it. There are several waterfalls along the trail, but my favorite was Tunnel Falls. The trail takes you behind the waterfall into a small cave. It’s an amazing experience and definitely one of the best hikes in Oregon.
And this being one of the most popular day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, expect to see a lot of people on the trail. So, if you’re looking for a more solitary experience, I would recommend hiking early in the morning or during the week.
8. Sky Lakes Wilderness
The Sky Lakes Wilderness is located in southern Oregon and is one of the best sections for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This area is known for its aquamarine pools and three major glacial lakes. And if lakes aren’t your thing, the summit of Mt. McLoughlin offers some of the best views in Oregon.
The Sky Lakes Wilderness is a large area with many different trails to explore. But the PCT is the most popular option for day hikers. The section of the PCT that goes through the Sky Lakes Wilderness is 28.7 miles. However, most day hikers only hike a small section of the trail.
If you can’t get enough of the trail, you can consider many of the side trails that branch off of the PCT. One of the best side trails is the Mt. McLoughlin trail. This trail takes you to the summit of Mt. McLoughlin, which is the highest point in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The views from the summit are incredible, and definitely worth the effort it takes to get there.
9. Lower Castle Crags
Every route the PCT takes has something special to offer, and another one of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail is often found at Castle Crags State Park. The park is home to towering granite spires, many of which are popular with rock climbers.
But for those looking for an amazing day hike, I would recommend the 6.7-mile PCT trail that meanders through the lower section of the park. The trail is relatively easy, with only a few short climbs. The highlight of the hike is definitely the spectacular views of granite spires and rock outcroppings that line the trail.
The best time to hike this trail is during the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. I would recommend starting early in the morning to avoid the heat and crowds. And be sure to bring plenty of water as there is no water available on the trail.
10. Mount Ashland Meadows
The Pacific Crest Trail also passes right through the Mount Ashland Meadows in Oregon, making it one of the best places to hike the PCT. The best part about this hike is that it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. And no matter how long you hike, the views are absolutely incredible.
The trailhead of PCT at Mount Ashland Meadows is located where it intersects with Mount Ashland Ski Road. The trail is mostly flat as it follows an old road through the meadows. However, there are a few moderately uphill sections.
There are numerous side trails that lead to waterfalls and incredible views of Mount Ashland. I would recommend taking the time to explore some of these side trails for a truly memorable experience. In addition, this meadow is a great place to see some of the local wildlife. I was lucky enough to see a black bear during my hike.
11. Ebbetts Pass
Another one of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail is located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Ebbetts Pass. This beautiful mountain pass is where you go if you want to get away from the masses and still get to enjoy some of the best views that PCT has to offer.
This pass is located near the town of Arnold, the first town where the European settlers arrived in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From Arnold, it is a relatively easy drive to the trailhead.
The trailhead is located just east of the pass. From here, you can follow the PCT north or south for some stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you head north, you’ll have a chance to see a host of lakes and the darker rock of the Mokelumne Wilderness. And if you head south from the trailhead instead, you can enjoy views of the shaded slopes and a beautiful alpine canyon.
Either direction you go, you are sure to be blown away by the natural beauty of this region. I would recommend hiking for a few miles before turning around and heading back to the trailhead.
12. Kendall Katwalk
Hiking the Kendall Katwalk is one of the best ways to see the stunning views of Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Not only do you get to see the incredible views of the surrounding mountains, but you also hike one of the best sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.
To reach the PCT trailhead, you’ll need to head east on I-90 and take Exit 52 for Snoqualmie Pass. Here, you’ll find a large parking area for the PCT. Note that this will be a strenuous hike with a lot of elevation gain (2,700-foot), so be sure to be in good shape before starting the trail.
But the views from the top are more than worth the effort. You’ll have a 360-degree view of the rocky cliff faces and surrounding wilderness. I would recommend starting this hike early in the morning so as to complete the hike before the afternoon thunderstorms start rolling in.
And since you are hiking on the PCT, you can continue hiking for as long as you want. This trail is best tackled between June and October when the snow has melted, and the weather is stable.
The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. There are just some of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail that will allow you to take in the stunning views of the region. And while the North Cascades might be inaccessible to most day hikers, there are still plenty of options for those willing to put in the effort. So plan your hike and pick the best day hikes that fit your abilities and interests.