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A Local Guide to the Pacific Crest Trail

Published: June 20, 2017

 

The book, and then the 2016 movie release of "Wild" starring Reese Witherspoon, cast a popular spotlight on the 2,650 miles (4,265 km) Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). This rugged trek traverses the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges connecting Mexico to Canada.

Whether you are inspired to thru-hike or dabble in sections, the Oregon region offers some of the most scenic portions of the trail. And though remote, it is easy to get a foot on the trail at three convenient trailheads just over an hour from Eugene.

OREGON SECTION HIKING

The Pacific Crest Trail runs east of Eugene along the border between Lane and Deschutes counties. It is a gorgeous stretch of moderate terrain featuring lush forest, open meadows, lava fields, snow-capped mountains and many lakes.

The trail meanders two designated Wilderness areas and skirts a third. Short sections can be undertaken in one to three days. If you are hiking through, find nearby resources.

Pacific Crest Trailhead Sign by Sally McAleer

How to Access the Pacific Crest Trail

This Oregon part of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) provides easy access for the PCT "tourist." From Highways 58, 242 and 20 you can walk a few steps or a few hours on the trail. Local guides can provide hikers with shuttle service to and from the trailheads.

TOUCH THE TRAIL

For direct trail access with nearby parking, we recommend three easy-to-reach PCT trailheads on Highways 58, 242 and 20. Bring your camera for the selfie to prove you too have hiked a portion of the PCT!

Willamette Pass Trailhead

The Willamette Pass Trailhead is just north of Diamond Peak Wilderness at Willamette Pass. The trail here is family-friendly with gentle terrain through shady forests and past picturesque lakes. Hike 6.6 miles (10.62 km) round trip through the Deschutes National Forest to the Rosary Lakes. Hike past the lakes to Maiden Peak Shelter for a total 11.6 miles (18.67 km) round trip. Stay in the first come, first serve shelter built by the Eugene Chapter of the Oregon Nordic Club. It offers a wood stove and can accommodate just over a dozen people. 

  • Directions - From Oakridge - Westfir, follow Highway 58 to milepost 62.5, just past the Willamette Pass Ski Area. The signed trailhead is on the north side of the highway.
  • Permits - A Wilderness Self Issue Permit (obtainable at the trailhead)
  • Restrictions - Wilderness Area, hiking or horses only, no bicycles or motorized vehicles. Weed-free feed required.

Pro-tip: Mosquitoes are abundant in July and will not hesitate to bite through clothing. Bring bug-spray or bug repellent clothing. 

Highway 58 by Emily Forsha

McKenzie Pass Trailhead

The McKenzie Pass Trailhead is at mile 1989.5 (3187.3 km) of the PCT on the northern boundary of the Three Sisters Wilderness. The trail crests the old McKenzie Pass with a summit elevation of 5,324 ft. The landscape includes thin pine forest, expansive lava fields and mountain vistas. The trail here is family-friendly, but rocky, windy and without shade. Wear sturdy shoes, sunblock, a hat and bring water. 

  • Directions - From McKenzie River, drive Highway 242 to a half mile west of the Dee Wright Observatory. Hwy 242 is typically closed November to June.
  • Permits - Day Use Fee Area. Federal passes honored here (Annual Northwest Forest Pass, Northwest Forest Day Pass and America the Beautiful). Pre-purchased permits recommended. A Wilderness Self Issue Permit (obtainable at the trailhead). 
  • Restrictions - Wilderness Area, hiking or horses only, no bicycles or motorized vehicles.

Pro-tip: Stop at the McKenzie River Ranger Station on the way to the trailhead. They have up-to-date information about snow levels early in the season and fire closures that occur late in the season.

Highway 242 McKenzie Pass view by Melanie Griffin

Santiam Pass Trailhead

The Santiam Pass Trailhead is just past Hoodoo Ski Bowl. The pass is at 4,817 ft.

  • Directions - From McKenzie River Highway 126 continue north where it joins Highway 20.
  • Permits - Day Use Fee Area. Federal passes honored here (Annual Northwest Forest Pass, Northwest Forest Day Pass and America the Beautiful). Pre-purchased permits recommended. A Wilderness Self Issue Permit (obtainable at the trailhead). 
  • Restrictions - Wilderness Area, hiking or horses only, no bicycles or motorized vehicles. 

Pro-tip: Find out what permits you need for the sections you plan to hike next by contacting the nearest ranger station, which can also update you on trail conditions and closures.

Old Growth on the McKenzie River Trail

Day Hikes

Take one day to hike portions of the PCT. From one to twelve miles (1.6 to 19.31 km), these shorter hikes intersect or merge with the Pacific Crest Trail. Some of these hikes require hiking on other trails to reach PCT trailheads. From the PCT there are many side excursions to tempt thru-hikers with tumbling waterfalls, crystal clear lakes and steaming hot springs.

A great trail for children, this hike traverses the shoreline of Bobby Lake and connects to the Pacific Crest Trail for 500 ft (152,4 m).… More Info
Join thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail crossing the lava flows toward Little Belknap Crater. This is a moderate 4.8 mile (7,7 km) round… More Info
HWY 242 CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. From Obsidian Trailhead just off Hwy 242, this stunning trail wanders through wildflower meadows and lava… More Info
This trail in the Diamond Peak Wilderness offers views of Diamond Peak and Rockpile Lake. A gradual climb up connects with the Pacific Crest… More Info
An easy and popular 6.6-mile (10,6 km) section of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail from Willamette Pass to Lower, Middle and North… More Info
This section of the Pacific Crest Trail is from Summit Lake to Diamond Peak, and a popular route for mountain climbers. Directions: from… More Info

From the Trail

If you are just passing through the region on your PCT hike, you may choose to pause at a nearby town to replenish your supplies, check the post or enjoy some friendly camaraderie before continuing on your immersive journey in nature.

Diamond Peak Wilderness by Bri Matthews

Thru-Hiker Resources - Willamette Pass

Highway 58

Oakridge provides a cheery rest stop for thru-hikers just 27 miles (43.45 km) west of the Pacific Crest Trail on Highway 58. Local guides offer hikers shuttle service from the trail. Catch a ride and meet up with friends and family for a few nights in a comfortable lodge or hotel.

This former logging town caters to outdoor adventurers. Join mountain bikers, hikers, kayakers, mushroomers and bird watchers at the local brew pub and share stories over a craft beer. The summer season highlights concerts in the park, mountain biking events and even an ukulele festival.

Oakridge offers a grocery store, bank, post office, pharmacy, thrift shop, library, bike shop, restaurants and lodging. There are many campgrounds in the vicinity.

The Diamond Express connects Oakridge to Eugene. Sixty minutes from Oakridge is the Eugene Airport, Eugene Amtrak train station and Interstate 5, making a rendezvous with your family and friends in Oregon's beautiful Cascades exceptionally easy.

Off-Trail Adventures

Hike to the bottom of the second tallest waterfall in Oregon.

Soak in a natural hot spring 16 miles west of the PCT between mp 46 & 47 on Hwy 58.

Rent a bike in Oakridge for some fast singletrack around town (not permitted in Wilderness Areas).

Sip craft beer at this popular local hangout and exchange stories with the locals.

Paddle across one of the world's purest lakes.

Post office

USPS - Oakridge
48264 E 1st St
Oakridge, OR 97463
541.782.3845
Pick up service: Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday

Grocery 

Ray's Food Place
48067 Hwy 58
Oakridge, OR 97463
541.782.4283
Daily, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Coin Laundry

St Vincent De Paul 
47663 Hwy 58
Oakridge, OR 97463
541.782-4484
Daily, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Information

Middle Fork Ranger District
46375 Hwy 58
Westfir, OR 97492
541.782.2283
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Thru-Hiker Resources - McKenzie-Santiam Pass

Hwy 242 and Hwy 20

Drop down the west side of the Pacific Crest Trail on either Hwy 242 or Hwy 20 to the renowned and gorgeous McKenzie River corridor (Hwy 126). There are many charming lodges, cabins and campgrounds throughout this stretch, which makes it a great spot to meet up with friends and family - or just take a break from the trail.

Services are spread out among the smaller communities of Rainbow, Blue River and McKenzie Bridge. There is a restaurant, post office and general store. Local guides may provide shuttle service to lodging or recreation. Catch a summer celebration from chainsaw art competitions to wooden boat "parades" down the McKenzie River.

At the McKenzie River Ranger District, Lane Transit District bus service #91 connects to Eugene. From McKenzie Bridge, it is just over sixty minutes to the Eugene Airport, Eugene Amtrak train station or Interstate 5.

Off-Trail Adventures

Gaze at stunning mountain vistas across stark lava flows.

Soak in a hot spring-fed pool at this riverfront resort. Day passes and locker room with showers.

The McKenzie River is known for thrilling white water. Raft or kayak these famous waters.

Hike or bike the MRT as it hugs 26 miles (43 km) of riverbank.

Two breathtakingly beautiful falls with viewing platforms right off Hwy 126.

Gaze upon the shimmering blues of this enchanting spring-fed pool.

Post Office

USPS - McKenzie River
91160 McCauley St
Blue River, OR 97413-9737
800.275.8777
Pick up service: Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 1:30 - 3 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday

General Store & Grocery 

Blue Sky Market 
91808 Mill Creek Rd (MP 47.5 McKenzie Hwy) 
Blue River, OR 97413

Information 

McKenzie River Ranger District
57600 McKenzie Hwy
McKenzie Bridge, OR 97413
541.822.3381
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Hiking Near Dee Wright Observatory by Melanie Griffin

Pacific Crest Trail F.A.Q.s

Lane County

How many miles of the PCT runs through Lane County?
From the the Summit Lake Campground to the Dee Wright Observatory there is 92.9 miles (149.50 km) of continuous trail.

Where/how does the PCT pass through Lane County?
In general, the Pacific Crest Trail follows the crest of the Cascade Mountains. The Cascade Mountains mark the eastern boundary of the Willamette National Forest and the western boundary of our neighbor to the east, the Deschutes National Forest.

What PCT sections are in Lane County?
Oregon sections D (roughly Diamond Peak Wilderness) and E (roughly Three Sisters Wilderness) of the PCT traverse Lane County.

What are the easiest trailheads to access?
Willamette Pass (Hwy 58), McKenzie Pass (Hwy 242) and Santiam Pass (Hwy 20/126). Hwy 242 closes seasonally due to snow. 

Where can I get maps of the PCT Lane County Sections?
The Visitor Center in downtown Eugene sells the official maps for the south (section D) and north (section E) portions of the Oregon trail. They also sell books with information about section hiking the PCT in Oregon. You can also order maps and guides direct from the Pacific Crest Trail Association.   

Who manages or stewards the trail through Lane County?
The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Pacific Crest Trail Association all share management along the trail.  

When is it best to hike Oregon's section of the PCT?
Oregon's crest trail season is July through October. September is the best month. Hiking too early in the season may mean trekking through melting snow or swatting at mosquitoes. August is popular so the trail is busy. And while October is spectacular with fall foliage, you take your chances with early snow fall. No matter when you go, be prepared for all conditions. More weather information.

For day hikes, week days are preferable over busy weekends and mornings provide optimal wildlife sighting.

Where is the closest lodging?
For Lane County's section of the trail there are several first-come, first-serve shelters. Additionally, Oakridge (Hwy 58) and McKenzie River (Hwy 242 & Hwy 20 to Hwy 126) offer plenty of campgrounds, cabins, lodges, motels and hotels. Travel approximately 60 miles west to Eugene - Springfield for even more options.

Where are stores for supplies and food?
Oakridge (Hwy 58) and McKenzie River (Hwy 242 & 20 to Hwy 126) have grocery and general stores.

Is there shuttle service to PCT trailheads? 
Mountain biking guides based in Oakridge and McKenzie River can offer hikers shuttle service to and from trailheads.

Trail Travel 

Can anyone travel the PCT?
Yes, the PCT is open to the public traveling by foot or horseback. Some sections require permits and hikers are asked to be respectful of private lands. There is a group maximum of 12 people in Wilderness areas.

What is basic trail etiquette?
Stay on the trails, give animals plenty of space, be courteous to other hikers and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace.  

May I hike with my dog?
Yes, dogs are allowed on the trail but they must be under voice control. For your dog's own safety, please keep your dog close. Dogs may not harass wildlife. Local dog resources.

May I ride my horse on the trail?
Yes, the entire length of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is open to horses and pack stock. For more information and planning, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association's Equestrian Center.

May I ride my mountain bike on the trail?
Bicycle and motorized vehicles are NOT permitted on any portion of the trail or in Wilderness areas. However, the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail (PCBT) is a 2,500 miles (4,000 km) route that runs closely parallel to the PCT on roads. Oregon is also home to Oakridge, known for its many mountain biking trails, and Oregon has many designated scenic bikeways throughout the state. 

What about snakes, ticks and poison oak?
These pests and plants typically don't exist above 3,000 feet so for most of the PCT in Lane County, they won't be an issue.

And mosquitoes?
Unfortunately, you'll need to be prepared. July is the worst month for them, however; anytime there is standing water in high-elevations mosquitoes may be present. Wear long sleeves, bring along repellent and pack a tent.

How do I know if there are current trail closures?
For trail closures check out the Pacific Crest Trail Association's Trail Conditions and Closures as well as the Willamette National Forest's Alerts.  

Permits  

Do I need a permit for just a day hike?
Each section of the trail has different requirements. You can obtain a free Self Issuing Wilderness Permit at the trailhead if it is in a Wilderness area. Some parking areas or trailheads accept onsite payment by cash ($5 - $7) but as each payment system is different, we recommend a pre-purchased permit to avoid the disappointment and frustration of arriving at the trailhead only to discover that the necessary permit cannot be obtained onsite. The Obsidian Limited Entry Area within the Three Sisters Wilderness requires an advance online permit.

How and where do I get the permits?

It is advisable to purchase any needed permits prior to heading out. Many campgrounds and trailheads require a parking permit. Some parks or wilderness areas require additional permits. If you have questions, the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center or a ranger station (limited hours) can help you determine which permits you need.

For the Obsidian Limited Entry Area in the Three Sisters Wilderness you must obtain an advance permit through the National Recreation Reservation System online or by calling 1.877.444.6777. You will need to know the dates you are requesting to be in the area and how many people are in your group (limit of 12). The permit service fee is $6.

Camping 

Can I camp along the trail?
Low-impact camping, dispersed camping is generally permissible. Please follow Leave No Trace and dispersed camping protocol by camping on durable surfaces away from water sources, roads, trails and developed sites. Permit requirements vary from section to section, so please make sure to check trailheads for requirements.

Can I have a fire on the trail?
Open fires are not permitted in most areas along the PCT, including near lakes or in backcountry. During fire season, campfires are not allowed. If backpacking stoves or campfires contained within campground rings are allowed, please use extreme caution. For more information on safe campfires, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Is there potable water available along the trail?
Access to water along the trail is unpredictable. Be prepared to carry water, plan supply stops and treat water. For more information on water safety, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

PCT Facts 

Why is the trail called the Pacific Crest Trail? 
The name comes from the high crests of the Sierra and Cascades mountain ranges from which it generally runs.

When was the PCT established?
Congress established the Pacific Crest Trail as one of the original National Scenic Trails in the 1968 National Trails System Act.

How long is the entire PCT?
The entire trail from Mexico to Canada is approximately 2,650 miles (4,265 km), according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. However, they state that the exact length is unknown.

How many people hike the trail each year?
It is guesstimated that 700 people set out to hike the whole trail each year with maybe 60 percent completing their journey.

Please Stay on Trail sign by Stephen Hoshaw

Please Stay on the Trail

Photo: Stephen Hoshaw

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Use the Adventure Checklist to begin planning for day trips and overnights along the PCT. 

LEAVE NO TRACE

Hikers on the trail are expected to tread lightly, preserving the natural wilderness for all to enjoy. Please remember to follow Leave No Trace's seven principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.