NW Kids: Family Hikes along the PCT

July 16, 2015

Three family hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail

By Amy Whitley

Photo at right: Tobias Whitley, age 9, hikes the PCT near Sisters, Oregon in July. Photo by Amy Whitley


After the phenomenon of Oregon’s Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild in 2012 and subsequent movie last fall, it’s only natural that many Northwest families will feel inspired to spend time on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. The PCT, as the trail is commonly called, is 2,650 miles and stretches between Mexico and Canada’s borders. Our family is among them. After many multi-night backpack trips across the region over the last several years, we’re finally embarking on a week-long trek along the PCT this summer.

We consulted Dana Hendricks, the Columbia Cascades Regional Representative to the PCT, for tips and route picks for families.

First, the good news. According to Hendricks, there are no bad sections of the PCT. All are well-maintained, and have no more than a 10 percent grade, thanks to the trail being originally constructed as a livestock route.

However, not all sections are created equal: some areas offer more landmarks and visual appeal, while others present distinct challenges, such as snow pack or lack of water. If pleasant scenery, a reasonably gentle grade, and bodies of water such as streams or lakes are desirable to your family, the following three sections should be on your short list.

Three Sisters, Oregon

Located in Willamette National Forest, Three Sisters Wilderness is dotted with many small lakes and ponds, making it a nice section to hike in high summer. However, you will have fewer mosquitoes from late July through late October. The main attractions are the scenic peaks of the Three Sisters and a dramatic volcanic rock formation called Broken Top.

Start at Elk Lake Resort on Cascades Lake Highway 30 miles outside the town of Bend and then hike 31 miles to the town of Sisters. Either end here or resupply and hike on to Olallie Lake, another 60-plus miles for a week-long trip.

William O. Douglas, Washington

This 30-mile section outside Naches, Washington stretches between White Pass and Chinook Pass and is a great weekend backpack trip for fit families. The route is mainly flat, with the exception of an elevation gain of 500 feet just after Craig Lake when climbing for views of Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and Mount Rainer.

Families will also love the meadows of lupine and hemlock forests. Find the trailhead past White Pass near Leech Lake off US 12 E.

Rock and Snag Creeks, Washington

This 22-mile section hike in Southern Washington—which Hendricks also recommends as a shorter day hike with young kids—is located near the famed Bridge of the Gods which links Washington and Oregon over the Columbia River.

It takes hikers through many layers of forest, from nurse logs to riparian regrowth along creek beds. Hiking along road 2070 southbound on the PCT turns the Rock and Snag Creeks day hike into a multi-night backpacking trip.

Tobias Whitley with a full pact on the PCT. Photo by Amy Whitley

If You Go:

Hendricks recommends following packing guidelines and general backpacking tips on the Pacific Crest Trail Association website, and preparing any needed food drops well ahead of time. An additional resource for PCT section-trip planning is the PCT Planner website.For a complete list of books to read about the PCT, read through the Day and Section Hikes webpages also found on the Pacific Crest Trail Association website.


Wilderness Press: Pacific Crest Trail Data Book, 5th Edition, and Pacific Crest Trail—From the California Border to the Canadian Border, the Oregon and Washington edition, by Jeffrey P. Schaffer and Andy Selters

Amy Whitley of Medford, Ore., writes about her family adventures in NW Kids in every edition of OutdoorsNW. Miss a column? Log onto www.OutdoorsNW.com and search NW Kids. You can follow more of Amy’s adventures at www.PitStopsforKids.com