Seven Must-See Spots Along the Pacific Crest Trail

Words and photos by Coalatree Creative Director Danielle Alling

The cabin fever is strong here at Coalatree and many of us are well-into planning our spring and summer trips rafting, mountain biking, and backpacking. One of my most memorable trips was my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile footpath that boasts an incredible variety of landscapes. From the dry and windy deserts of Southern California to the lush and forested slopes of Washington’s North Cascades, the PCT affords hikers the opportunity to see some of America’s most breathtaking landscapes. Whether you’re thru-hiking, backpacking a short section, or just looking for a stunning day hike, here are seven of my favorite panoramas you won’t want to miss.

1. Mount Laguna’s Foster Point

This viewpoint affords hikers one of Southern California’s most stunning panoramas, and it’s just a short distance off-trail. The real beauty of the desert below opens up at dusk when the sun touches the mountain tops and the shadows stretch across the valley floor. Foster Point boasts views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, the two highest peaks in Southern California.

2. Forester Pass

Named for the Forest Service employees who tirelessly work to protect and preserve our country’s natural spaces, Forester Pass is the highest point along the PCT and marks the boundary between Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. At 13,153 feet the trail is well above tree line and there’s no sign of plant life. The barren landscape has almost a moon-like aura, leaving hikers to feel like they are traversing a different world as they approach the pass.

3. Kearsarge Pass

Before climbing to the pass, this spur trail skirts the sparkling Bullfrog Lakes which look more like infinity pools as they drop off to stunning views of the jagged peaks of the High Sierra in the distance. The views only get more dramatic after reaching the high point and the eastern edge of King’s Canyon National Park. Even the hike down to Onion Valley is studded with alpine lakes, unforgettable landscapes, and a handful of prime campsites.

4. Desolation Wilderness

Just west of Lake Tahoe is one of Northern California’s most ethereal landscapes. Aptly named and situated in the El Dorado National Forest, this landscape of alpine lakes and glacier-scarred rock is the where the granitic Sierra Nevada transitions towards the volcanic Cascade mountain range. It’s open, sun-exposed, and rugged, but the beauty doesn’t disappoint. Lake Aloha is one of the area’s most picturesque but in these parts the trail skirts lake after lake as the barren rocks give way to wildflowers and lush, old growth forest.

5. Jefferson Park

Affectionately known simply as “Jeff Park,” this stretch in Central Oregon is a local favorite and popular with day hikers, photographers, families, and weekend warriors. For the most part the terrain is smooth and easygoing and the open plains provide a colorful contrast to the steep, rocky slopes of glacier-covered Mount Jefferson. Hikers that arrive after the snow melts in late summer may find themselves walking through meadows that have burst to life with indian paintbrush, lupine, and a plethora of magenta, purple, and pink wildflowers.

6. Goat Rocks Wilderness

A long-time favorite among hikers, the Goat Rocks Wilderness has it all: pristine lakes, flower-filled meadows, precipitous edges, and 360 degree views. The trail meanders through grassy fields, scrambles up rocky hillsides, and crosses streams of snowmelt before arriving the west face of Old Snowy and traversing a sketchy scree slope. Once across, hikers are rewarded with one of the trail’s most photographed panoramas: an impressive view of the Devil’s Backbone where the trail balances along a ridgeline before disappearing into the wide open valley below, all with the beloved Mount Rainier looming in the distance.

7. The North Cascades

It’s difficult to name any must-see place in particular in Washington because the entire northern half of the state is one endless breathtaking vista. One particularly awe-inspiring location, however, is found just north of Snoqualmie Pass. The trail climbs for nearly six miles into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness then opens up into a vast expanse of jagged peaks. Hikers who get an early start may see a gorgeous colorful sunrise over the Stuart Range to the east, the enjoy the shimmer as the sun glistens on a series of tarn lakes to the west.

These places have remained some of my favorite because they have remained wild. By following the seven principles of Leave No Trace and practicing good outdoor ethics, we can ensure they remain pristine for future generations.

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