A Guide to Hiking the Pacific Crest

Pacific Crest Hiking Guide: Central California

Early spring snow melt fills Budd Creek that flows through the grassy fields of Tuolumne Meadows.
Early spring snow melt fills Budd Creek that flows through the grassy fields of Tuolumne Meadows.
Ron and Patty Thomas/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

The Central California section (505 miles/813 kilometers) is known for its beauty and remoteness. The path traverses the stunning Sierra Nevada, which contains the lower 48 states' highest mountain, deepest canyon and longest wilderness. No kidding. If you walk this entire section, you'll climb 13,180 feet (4,017 meters) all the way up to Forester Pass, the trail's highest point, and in one area you'll be walking 200 miles (321 kilometers) in the wilderness before the path crosses a road [source: Pacific Crest Trail].

But the scenery is worth it. You'll be hiking through expansive meadows and conifer forests, then dip into deep canyons and rise up high saddles, all while surrounded by picturesque flora such as corn lilies, snow plants, red fir, Jeffrey and ponderosa pine, mule ears, mountain hemlock and white bark pines. You may spot critters like the marmot, coyote, deer, black bear, junco, Steller's jay and mountain chickadee [source: USDA Forest Service].

One of the most popular spots in the Central California section is where Sequoia National Park's popular John Muir Trail winds down from Mount Whitney to hook into the PCT; the trails then run together to Yosemite National Park's lush Tuolumne Meadows [source: Pacific Crest Trail]. And hikers love the numerous tiny lakes that dot this section of the trail, even above the tree line, thanks to the glaciers of long ago that left shallow basins when they receded, which eventually filled with water [source: USDA Forest Service].

With the arid desert clime behind you, the main challenges here come in the form of streams that are easily swollen by melting snows tumbling down from mountaintops and potentially icy high-mountain passes. Hikers here are advised to carry an ice axe and know how to self-arrest, which is a tricky, but highly effective, maneuver you use to stop yourself if you're sliding down an icy or snowy slope [source: Pacific Crest Trail].