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Day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail

Looking east from the P.C.T. en route to Garnet Peak, San Diego County
Looking east from the P.C.T. en route to Garnet Peak, San Diego County
David Lockeretz

Known as the "Appalachian Trail of the west coast", the Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico to Canada, following a rugged course of over 2,600 miles through some of the highest mountains and most remote deserts of the continental U.S. In popular culture, the trail was recently made famous by author Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir "Wild" describes her journey of over one thousand miles of it. Hiking any significant distance of the P.C.T. is a rite of passage for backpackers. Don't let yourself get intimidated however - one doesn't have to prepare for a months-long journey to enjoy the Pacific Crest Trail. Whether you live in San Diego, the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley or the Antelope Valley, odds are there's a section of it not too far from you.

San Diego

The first major mountain range that the P.C.T. meets heading north from Mexico is the Lagunas, about an hour east of San Diego. The hike to Garnet Peak is one of the best in all of So-Cal, especially in the early morning, when the sun rises spectacularly above the Anza-Borrego Desert.

Riverside/Palm Springs

The trail leaves the Lagunas, heads through the Warner Springs area in northeast San Diego County and climbs into the Santa Rosa Mountains and San Jacinto Mountains of southern Riverside County. The hikes to Red Tahquitz and Tahquitz Peak both use significant portions of the P.C.T., providing hikers with more excellent desert views from the shade of pines. After leaving the San Jacintos, the trail drops into the San Gorgonio Pass, making its way through Whitewater Canyon on the eastern slope of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead

The trail bends to the west and climbs into the San Bernardino Mountains, paralleling the north shore of Big Bear Lake (about a thousand feet above). Bertha Peak and Delamar Mountain are the two tallest summits on the lake's north shore and the most common routes to both utilize portions of the P.C.T. The trail continues west toward the lower elevations of Lake Arrowhead, where it parallels Deep Creek. A three-mile portion of the trail makes for a particularly scenic hike with dramatic mountain and desert views. The P.C.T also provides access to famous Deep Creek Hot Springs from the west.

Angeles National Forest

After dropping down to I-15 at the Cajon Pass, the Pacific Crest Trail climbs through the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains. The most popular route to Mt. Baden-Powell, 4th tallest summit of the San Gabriels, is almost entirely on the Pacific Crest Trail. The P.C.T. continues west toward Mt. Islip, Mt. Williamson and also passes by Cooper Canyon Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls in the high country of the San Gabriels.

Antelope Valley

After leaving the San Gabriels, the Pacific Crest Trail bends to the north and passes through Vasquez Rocks, one of L.A.'s most popular hiking--and filming--destinations. Hikers may recognize the giant slabs of rock sticking up from the earth from "Star Trek", "The Big Bang Theory" and "Bonanza", among others.

Points north

The trail heads toward the Liebre and Tehachapi Mountains before continuing its route into the Sierras, where it provides access to Mt. Whitney and other peaks that rank among the tallest in the United States. For more information on the Pacific Crest Trail, click here.

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