A Guide to Hiking the Pacific Crest

Pacific Crest Hiking Guide: Washington

This final stretch of the PCT is 500 miles (805 kilometers) and begins in the bottom of the Columbia River Scenic Gorge. Not surprisingly, it then climbs quite a while until reaching the base of Mount Adams (elevation 12,276 feet/3,742 meters). The Washington section of the PCT features the Northern Cascades, which offer up dramatic, mountainous scenery akin to the Sierra Nevada, including Mount Rainier, which you'll be able to see for many days. Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48, and an active volcano to boot. Look for plants and trees like western larch, Alaska cedar and grand fir, plus loads of huckleberry bushes. Don't be surprised to spot wildlife typical of more northern climes, such as mountain goats, grizzly bears and Canadian lynx [sources: USDA Forest Service, USDA Forest Service].

This is also the section with the most varied weather, as the North Cascades Range lies in a storm track most of the year. Count on it being green and pretty wet overall. But all of this moisture results in a soggy-but-beautiful hike, including a trek through Glacier Peak Wilderness, which features numerous switchbacks and rolling hills -- challenging, but beautiful -- plus 750 snowfields (areas perennially covered with snow) and small glaciers, thanks to that storm track. Altogether, the snowfields and glaciers contain about half the snowfield area in the lower 48 states [source: USDA Forest Service].

The PCT officially ends in the middle of the wilderness at the Canadian border. To make it easier to get back to civilization, the Canadian government created another 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) of trail that connect the PCT with Highway 3 in British Columbia's Manning Provincial Park [source: USDA Forest Service].

Most thru-hikers plan to finish this stretch in September, and all hikers are steered to this section in August and September, when the weather is best. But be prepared; even in September, it can get quite cold and snowy [source: Hanson].