What is the Pacific Northwest Trail?
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1,200-mile continuous route from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Northwest Trail is a corridor for long-distance non-motorized recreation through some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes in the United States. In 2009, it was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail.
What is a National Scenic Trail?
National Scenic Trails are continuous, extended trails that provide outstanding, nationally significant opportunities for long-distance, non-motorized recreation. Some of the best known National Scenic Trails are the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
The National Trails System Act of 1968 created the National Trail System, which includes National Scenic Trails. National Scenic Trails must be designated by Congress. The Pacific Northwest Trail is one of just 11 of America's National Scenic Trails. The Pacific Northwest Trail was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail by the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, after decades of work and advocacy by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.
How long is the Pacific Northwest Trail?
The Pacific Northwest Trail is about 1,200 miles.
Where is the Pacific Northwest Trail located?
The Pacific Northwest Trail is located in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. It travels from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Cape Alava in Olympic National Park, staying north near the U.S.-Canada border. Maps of the trail are available for free download from our Maps page. (Please note that in some areas the route on these maps, which are produced by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, may differ from the route designated by Congress in 2009. The route shown by PNTA is the route we advise for hikers due to changes in access or trail conditions since 2009.)
Which activities are allowed on the trail?
The Pacific Northwest Trail is managed for non-motorized recreation.
Hiking: The entire Pacific Northwest Trail can be hiked. This is the most popular trail use.
Pack & Saddle: Horses can use most of the trail; in some places where the trail may not be passable for horses, alternate routes may allow for continuous travel.
Mountain biking: Bicycles are allowed where already permitted by the local land manager; bicycles are not permitted in National Parks or Wilderness and may not be permitted in recommended wilderness. Check before you go.
Motor vehicles, motorcycles, and OHVs are not allowed trail uses on National Scenic Trails. For now, there are some sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail that are on roads rather than trail; in these segments, hikers and horse or mountain bike riders may be sharing the road with vehicles. Where the Pacific Northwest Trail makes use of roads or motorized trails it does not close those roads/trails to motorized use.
A long-term objective of National Scenic Trail designation for the Pacific Northwest Trail is to refine the route to move it off roads and onto non-motorized trails wherever practicable. This may mean building new sections of trail in the future. The experience of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail shows us that this may take decades, but it is possible.
Are dogs allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?
Dogs are allowed on most of the Pacific Northwest Trail. They are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry in Glacier, North Cascades, or Olympic National Park, but are allowed on leash in Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
Are hunting and fishing allowed on the Pacific Northwest Trail?
The PNT does not affect regulations related to hunting and fishing, which are managed by the states and local landowners and land managers. Many sections of the trail are popular with hunters. We encourage trail users to wear blaze orange for safety especially in fall.
Depending on the season, visitors may be able to fish, hunt, and gather wild foods such as berries. Hikers shouldn't rely on these food sources, though. Check local regulations before you go. Follow the rules and respect private lands.
What do people see and experience along the Pacific Northwest Trail?
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a unique pathway that travels through some of the most spectacular and scenic terrain in the United States and connects people and communities of the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest Trail offers a diverse experience, from wilderness to working landscapes to downtown Main Streets in small communities. Along its east-west route, the trail climbs major mountain ranges and comes back down into pastoral river valleys and small rural communities. The trail includes a ferry crossing of Puget Sound (the only saltwater ferry crossing on a National Scenic Trail) to reach the Olympic Peninsula and the final climb, over the Olympic Mountains, and descent through temperate rainforest to the Pacific Ocean. Hikers experience the best of the Pacific Northwest: panoramic views of the Rockies, rolling grasslands in the Okanogan Highlands, volcanoes and high-country meadows in the North Cascades, farming and fishing communities on Puget Sound, and mossy trees and sandy beaches on the Olympic Peninsula.
Does the Pacific Northwest Trail exist on the ground? Has it been built?
Yes, it is currently possible to do a continuous "thru-hike" of the entire Pacific Northwest Trail. Upwards of 20 people thru-hike it each year, and that number is steadily growing. Maps of the route are available for free download on our Maps page. (Please note that in some areas the route on these maps, which are produced by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, may differ from the route designated by Congress in 2009. The route shown is the route we advise for hikers due to changes in access or trail conditions since 2009.)
The trail route is subject to change and may be re-routed in response to fires, floods, and other on-the-ground conditions. For the most up-to-date information on routing and trail conditions, visit the Trail Alerts page, our Facebook page or call our office at (360)-854-9415.
The idea of the Pacific Northwest Trail has been around since the 1970s. Ron Strickland dreamed up the idea and took the pioneering journey, piecing together trails and roads to get from the Continental Divide to the Pacific. The first thru-hike, by Janet Garner and Rex Bakel, was documented in Garner's 1979 Backpacker magazine article. In the decades since, hundreds of people have followed, and the route has been refined as trails used along the way have been opened or closed, bridges have washed out or been added, and security on the U.S.-Canada border has changed.
A sizable portion of the route, about one-third, is on roads at this time. Most of these are low-speed, gravel Forest Service logging roads. However, there are also some short stretches where thru-hikers are routed on the side of paved highways. The long-term goal is to move the trail off roads and onto trails wherever practicable. The experience of other, longer-established National Scenic Trails like the Pacific Crest Trail show that this work may take decades. The priority will be on getting the trail away from high-speed roads where there are the greatest safety concerns.
There are a few short sections where hikers may have to travel cross-country, or “bushwhack,” where the trail has not yet been built. These are indicated on PNTA maps with a unique symbol to alert hikers.
How many people hike the Pacific Northwest Trail?
The popularity of "thru-hiking"—hiking the entire trail in a season—has grown in recent years. We estimate that between 40-50 people completed the 1,200-mile journey in 2015. Visit our Long Distance Hiking page for more information on thru-hiking.
Many more people visit for shorter trips on the trail, either as "section hikers" who complete all 1,200 miles over multiple years, or as day or overnight hikers on just a part of the trail. For day-hike suggestions, visit our Every Day Hikes page.
Some popular destinations along the trail draw millions of people each year. Some remote sections of the trail are walked by only a few people - our thru-hikers.
What is the season for hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail? How long does it take?
Because the trail crosses high-elevation mountain ranges (the Rockies, Cascades, and Olympics) across its route, the thru-hiking season is relatively short. Thru-hikers typically start at Glacier National Park in early July and arrive at the Pacific Ocean in August or September. Thru-hikers typically take 60-75 days to complete the trail.
You can find a great hike somewhere on the Pacific Northwest Trail in any season. Low-elevation sections of the trail, like those in Puget Sound, can be hiked year-round. Some segments of the trail are also used for non-motorized winter recreation by skiers and snowshoers. Visit our Every Day Hikes page for day and overnight hike suggestions.
Do I need a permit to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail? Is there a fee?
No, there is no permit or fee for hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail. However, permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, the North Cascades National Park Complex, and Olympic National Park.
At this time, there is no coordinated permit available for Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers like what is offered for the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers must contact each of the parks directly to arrange permits for overnight stays.
Entrance fees may also be required for National Parks and Washington State Parks. Fees (or passes) may be required for vehicles at some Forest Service (Northwest Forest Pass) and Washington State Parks (Discover Pass) trailheads and recreation sites.
For more information on permitting, visit our Public Lands page. Or, you can call our office at (360) 854-9415 for more information about planning a trip on the Pacific Northwest Trail, including how to obtain permits and which passes you may need for your trip.
Who manages the Pacific Northwest Trail?
When Congress designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a National Scenic Trail, it charged the U.S. Forest Service with administering the trail as a unit across its 1,200-mile route.
On the ground, the trail is managed by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, local landowners and land managers. The Forest Service and Pacific Northwest Trail Association work cooperatively with other partners and federal, state, and local governments to provide passage for the Pacific Northwest Trail and to protect the trail experience. These local offices maintain authority to make land use and resource management decisions on lands they manage.
Does the Pacific Northwest Trail go across private land?
The Pacific Northwest Trail provides a 1,200-mile continuous route from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the trail, about 80%, is on public lands. In some areas, particularly in cities and agricultural valleys, land is primarily in private ownership and a connection on public lands is not possible. In these sections, the trail may be along the right-of-way for a public road or highway. In other cases, such as on some private timberlands, landowners have entered into voluntary agreements with the Pacific Northwest Trail Association to allow passage for the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The National Trails System Act (the legislation that designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a National Scenic Trail) includes a willing-seller clause that prohibits use of eminent domain to acquire private land for the trail. We respect the wishes of private landowners who do not want the trail on their land, and in those cases we find routes to avoid it. For more information, visit our Private Land page.
Which National Forests does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?
The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through seven National Forests in two regions. Region 1: Flathead National Forest, Kootenai National Forest, Idaho Panhandle National Forests and Region 2: Colville National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Olympic National Forest.
Which National Parks does the Pacific Northwest Trail go through?
The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through three National Parks: Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park Complex and Olympic National Park.
Is the Pacific Northwest Trail in Wilderness?
About 1/4 of Pacific Northwest Trail miles are in 6 federally designated Wilderness areas. Salmo-Priest Wilderness of the Colville National Forest, Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Stephen Mather Wilderness of the North Cascades National Park Complex, Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic National Forest and Olympic Wilderness of the Olympic National Park.
In addition, it goes through recommended wilderness in Glacier National Park, the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area on the Kootenai National Forest, and on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
Bicycles are not allowed in wilderness. Many wildernesses also limit party size; you can go on the website www.wilderness.net to learn about the regulations specific to each wilderness.
Please be aware that the Wilderness Act also prohibits motor vehicle use and restricts the use of motorized tools such as chainsaws. In Wilderness, trail work is usually done using traditional hand tools with tools and equipment, such as cross-cut saws, packed in on foot or horse. This may mean that after fires, blow-downs, and washouts, trail maintenance and restoration takes longer to complete in Wilderness.
Does the Pacific Northwest Trail pass through any towns?
A trail town is a town that Pacific Northwest Trail passes through or very close to. Trail towns are essential resupply locations for many thru-hikers and act as entry points for day users, providing easy access to lodging, food, and supplies.
We consider 18 towns to be trail towns, but many hikers visit other towns slightly further away. Visit our Trail Towns page for more information.
What kind of wildlife do hikers see along the Pacific Northwest Trail? What precautions can I take to be safe?
The Pacific Northwest Trail travels through diverse landscapes and wildlife habitat. Some of the iconic species of the region include grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, lynx, bull trout, salmon, bald eagles, and orcas. Hikers commonly see deer, raccoons, picas, osprey, ravens, jays, and, along the coast, shellfish, starfish, and sea anemones. Infrequently, hikers report seeing mountain lions.
Grizzlies are present in the Rocky Mountains and Selkirk Mountains. Before your trip, it is important that you research guidance for traveling in grizzly country provided on the websites of Glacier National Park and the International Grizzly Bear Management Committee. All of the National Parks, including Olympic National Park, have food storage regulations in place that require visitors to store food in approved bear-resistant food lockers (where provided) or canisters, or to hang food per the park's specifications. Bear-resistant canisters and panniers can usually be checked out from a park ranger station. Bear canisters not only protect against bears, but also small mammals and rodents that may chew through fabric looking for food.
PNT, PNNST, PNWT - which is it?
The Pacific Northwest Trail has been around since the 70's and during that time it has collected a variety of names and acronyms.
Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) - The most commonly used name and acronym for the trail. The PNT is sometimes confused with our sister trail, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PNT has an east-west orientation, while the PCT has a north-south orientation.
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNNST) - This is the congressional name for the trail, awarded in 2009 when the trail was designated as a National Scenic Trail.
Pacific North West Trail (PNWT) - Many older documents, signs and reference materials refer to the trail using this name. We encourage you to use Pacific Northwest Trail, or PNT for short.