Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
22,427.00 ft (6,835.75 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
127.14 mi (204.61 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Pacific Crest Trail is quickly becoming one of the most popular treks in America. Stretching 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, it runs through some of the most spectacular scenery in the west including six national parks, 25 national forest units, and 48 federal wilderness areas. The PCT truly has it all, from the hot and desolate desert of southern California to the majestic 14,000-foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the dense forest and rocky volcanoes of Oregon and Washington. 

The first known proposal for a trail running from Mexico to Canada came in 1926. After years of exploration and advocacy, the PCT was officially designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1968. It wasn’t until 1993, however, that the trail was officially completed and a “golden spike” ceremony was held in southern California. Today the trail can be a very busy place. Over 6,000 permits were issued in 2017, with over half of those being northbound thru-hike permits. While it can be hard to find the solitude one may expect on a national scenic trail, hiking with others can be a very rewarding experience; camaraderie is quickly formed with other hikers as you embrace the joys and struggles of thru-hiking together.

If you are planning a thru-hike, be sure to secure a permit well in advance. If you are only planning a short trip, refer to the PCTA to determine if a permit will be necessary (it likely won’t be). 

The PCT is divided into 29 sections. In this guide we’ll be looking at California Section A, Campo to Warner Springs. Stretching 109.5 miles, this section will make or break many a thru-hiker’s dreams. One of the biggest challenges hikers face in the desert is the lack of water sources. Waterless stretches of up to 30 miles exist, and you need to plan ahead and carry an appropriate amount of water. An extremely useful resource for determining reliable water sources is the PCT Water Report. Please note that, while reliable water caches do often exist during thru-hiker season, it is never wise to rely solely on a cache.

California Section C, Highway 10 to Highway 15

After leaving the Highway 10 underpass (near Cabazon) and Section B, the PCT travels near some residential neighborhoods until coming to Mesa Wind Farm. As of the 2018 season, Mesa offers hikers water and provides a small shaded area outside their office. During business hours they even welcome hikers inside where there is air conditioning and a refrigerator stocked with food and drinks that are available for purchase. 

After leaving Mesa Wind Farm it is a steep climb up a narrow valley. The scenery is beautiful, however. After reaching the top you’ll descend into the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area. Before long you’ll be greeted with views of the Whitewater River. After descending to the river there is the option to continue along the PCT or to head to the Whitewater Preserve (0.5 mile off trail). The Whitewater Preserve is well worth the side trip, especially if it’s a hot day; the preserve has many nice shaded areas to rest. There are also three small ponds, one of which is a shallow “wading pond” that is perfect for a foot soak. In addition, there are restrooms with running water and a visitor center. 

Once you leave the preserve you’ll trek alongside the Whitewater River through a dry riverbed for a short distance. After leaving the riverbed and ascending, there will be spectacular views of San Jacinto Peak. Around mile 223 there are a few exposed campsites that offer amazing 360-degree views. Catching a sunrise or sunset here is a must. 

Next it’ll be a short descent down to Mission Creek. You’ll follow this stream for quite a while as you head up a valley and gain considerable elevation. After the climb out of the Mission Creek Valley the landscape starts to become more forested. Before long you’ll catch a glimpse of San Gorgonio (the tallest peak in Southern California). Several things of interest along this stretch of trail include Coon Creek Cabin, a private zoo, and a popular trail magic spot sponsored by Big Bear Hostel.

The PCT crosses Highway 18 at mile 266.1. This is the most common place to hitch into Big Bear Lake. This large town has everything hikers need. Places are a bit far apart, however, and it may be a long walk depending on where you’re going. If you want to save your legs for the trail, keep in mind that Uber is available here! Perhaps the coolest part of town is “The Village.” This cute district is home to many restaurants and small shops, and it even has live music during summer weekends. 

After Big Bear Lake there is a short detour around a section of PCT closed by the Holcomb Fire. Carrying on you’ll soon get the first views of Big Bear Lake from the trail. A local ski area and San Gorgonio Mountain are also visible in the distance. 

The next big attraction on trail is Deep Creek Hot Springs. As you near PCT mile 300, the amount of day hikers will steadily increase. Deep Creek is appropriately named because it is quite deep and there are some fantastic swimming holes. The only trouble is getting down to them because the PCT travels along the upper canyon wall well above the creek most of the time. When you reach mile 307.9 there will be several side trails to the right that lead to Deep Creek Hot Springs. This is a lovely area, but it is also an extremely popular area. Don’t be surprised if you see crowds of naked people here because clothing is optional. Also, this is a day-use only area. Although many people do camp here, it is illegal to do so and punishable by fine. 

After leaving the hot springs you’ll enjoy several more miles of this beautiful Deep Creek Canyon before coming to the Mojave River Forks Dam, a large flood control dam. In another 10 miles you’ll near Silverwood Lake. This is a large lake with several day-use sites. After leaving the lake there will only be one thing on your mind - McDonald’s! The famous PCT McDonald’s is located at Cajon Pass and is a must stop. Cajon Pass (Interstate 15) is also the end of California Section C.

Remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles, pack appropriate gear, and to be prepared both physically and mentally. Happy Trails!

More PCT Guides

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Beautiful scenery. Deep Creek Hot Springs. Cool trail towns. Seasonal thru-hiker culture.

Cons

Desert heat. Rattlesnakes. Lack of water sources.

Trailhead Elevation

1,343.00 ft (409.35 m)

Highest point

8,750.00 ft (2,667.00 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big vistas
Big Game Watching
Horseback riding
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Suitable for

Horseback

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

No

Location

Field Guide

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