What should I expect from a trip to the Pacific Crest Trail?

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Answered by: Peter Eric, An Expert in the Outdoor Recreation Activities Category
The Pacific Crest Trail stretches across the western spine of the United States, from Mexico to Canada. One of the greatest stretches of the trail occurs near the northern terminus, in the north cascades national park near Lake Chelan and the Canadian border. There, the trail enters the North Cascades National Park. As the trail winds across the North Cascades, both in the National Park and in the Mount Baker National Forest, hikers experience the very essence of Washington.

Contrary to the popular image of Washington, the Pacific Crest Trail is, in the summer, a dry place, marked by ample sunlight and plenty of heat. On the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, where there is a bit of a rain shadow, the terrain is dotted with Ponderosa pine, and can be quite dusty. This in turn depends on the direction the slopes are facing. North facing slopes are cooler, spending more time in the shade, while the southern slopes are dryer.

It is important to mention that along the Pacific Crest, there are only slopes. If a hiker finds his or herself walking on even terrain, chances are, they have strayed from the Pacific Crest Trail onto one of the many ancillary trails that criss-cross the forests of the Cascades. The Pacific Crest Trail itself is mostly confined to the ridges and passes of the spine of the mountains, though it is possible to take alternate routes should a person wish to spend some time in the valleys below. The Pacific Crest Trail also has a number of spur trails that lead to such destinations as the lakes of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

The Pacific Crest Trail is home to a large variety of animals, including black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes. Recently, a pack of wolves arrived in the cascades, and has made its home in the Enchantments Wilderness area near the trail. While it is unusual to see the animals, hikers will often see evidence of them as they follow the trail. Hikers must take special precautions on the trail so as not to attract the attention of these animals, especially the black bears. The black bears will take advantage of any hiker who neglects to stow essential items such as food in a bear bag, or hikers that opt to bring along perfumed toiletries.

While thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is a daunting task, the trail itself is, despite the constant elevation changes, a relatively easy thing. The trail itself is very well maintained by the various agencies whose land it cuts through, be it the United States Forest Service, the National Parks, or the Bureau of Land Management. The trail itself is wide and evenly graded, and there are retaining walls and steps when necessary.

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the three great trails in the United States, with trailheads less than two hours' drive from the cities on the coast. Whether a hiker chooses to spend a day, a week or an entire summer on the trail, it is possible to explore the west at its wildest and most beautiful on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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