Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
26,944.00 ft (8,212.53 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
108.27 mi (174.24 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 D, Highway 15 to Agua Dulce

After leaving Cajon Pass and Section C, the PCT climbs steadily toward the town of Wrightwood for 5,400 feet of elevation gain in just over 25 miles. The views during this stretch are amazing. Water is limited, however. There are a couple of maintained caches, but be sure to check the water report ahead of time. As you near Wrightwood there will be two options: hiking the Acorn Trail into town or continuing to Highway 2 and hitching into town. The Acorn Trail is quite steep, but it’ll get you to town sooner!

The town of Wrightwood is a lovely place with many friendly residents. The hardware store is often the first stop that thru-hikers make. They have a few items for sale that thru-hikers may need as well as an up-to-date list of all the trail angels in town. It is common to stay with a trail angel because there are no campgrounds that offer free camping for PCTers in town. Wrightwood also has a good assortment of restaurants, coffee shops and lodging as well as a grocery store and a post office.

After leaving town, the next highlight along the PCT is Mount Baden-Powell. This 9,407-foot peak is a popular day hike. It is also a tough hike. There are 40 switchbacks, and you will gain almost 3,000 feet of elevation in 4 miles. The summit itself is just off the PCT, but it is well worth the short side trip. Near the top of Baden-Powell is the Wally Waldron Tree, a limber pine that is estimated to be over 1,500 years old. 

The next few miles of PCT offer incredible mountain views before descending down to Highway 2. Just before the highway is Little Jimmy Campground. This is a popular spot with a lot of campsites and pit toilets. If you'll be staying here, please store your food in the bear boxes provided. Crossing Highway 2 becomes a regular occurrence over the next few miles. At mile 390.2 you’ll likely have to walk on this highway as part of an endangered species detour to protect the mountain yellow-legged frog. This alternate route follows Highway 2 for 2.7 miles until Buckhorn Campground. Buckhorn is a full-featured campground with outhouses and water available. From here, follow the Buckhorn Trail until it reconnects with the PCT. 

One of the next attractions on trail is Camp Glenwood. The building here isn’t open to hikers, but there is water and pit toilets. At mile 418.6 is Mill Creek Summit Fire Station. There is running water here. A local pizza company also delivers to this fire station. Cell reception is sketchy, but you’ll likely be able to connect! Menus can be found around the fire station. Another welcome rest stop is at the North Fork Ranger Station (PCT mile 436.1). A ranger named Ron is often there and sells snacks and ice cream to hikers. He will also occasionally make hot dogs. A reliable water cache is located here as well.

At mile 443.3 there is a short detour you can take to a KOA. This is a great place to stop. A small general store here sells food and drinks, and there is a kitchen area with a microwave that hikers can use. There is a large shaded grass area where hikers can rest. A pool is also available (although it costs to swim). And, of course, you can pay to camp here.

Continuing along the trail you’ll soon see the PCT completion monument. This monument commemorates the point at which the PCT was officially completed in 1993. At mile 451.1 you’ll take a tunnel under Highway 14. Shortly after is the border of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. This special area has many fascinating rock formations. Films and TV shows such as Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, The Big Bang Theory, and Westworld have been filmed here. You’ll walk through this park until reaching the small town of Agua Dulce (PCT mile 454.5). The PCT follows the Agua Dulce Canyon Road to the center of town. There isn’t much here apart from a few places to eat (the cafe and Mexican restaurant are both excellent). A grocery store is also here.

The best thing in Agua Dulce is Hiker Heaven. This special place is truly heaven for hikers. Trail angels Jeff and Donna Saufley have been hosting hikers here for over 20 years. You can send and receive packages here. Hiker Heaven also provides camping and limited accommodations, showers, laundry, transportation, and tons of information to hikers about the local area. High-speed wireless internet access and telephones are provided as well. All of this is for no charge (donations are welcome). 

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. Cool trail towns. Mount Baden-Powell. Vasquez Rocks. Seasonal thru-hiker culture.

Cons

Desert heat. Rattlesnakes. Lack of water sources.

Trailhead Elevation

2,984.00 ft (909.52 m)

Highest point

9,172.00 ft (2,795.63 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big vistas
Horseback riding
Wildflowers
Bird watching
Big Game Watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Suitable for

Horseback

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area
San Gabriel + San Bernardino Mountains, California

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