A lesser-known through-hike PNT, top choice for the real naturalist hiker
You probably have heard of some through-hike trails. These are the long backpacking trails which people traverse for months and months, traveling thousands of miles. In the U.S., the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) gained tremendous popularity after Reese Witherspoon starred in the movie about a women’s trials on and off the trail. If you’re an avid backpacker with an interest in these types of long hiking adventures you may ave also heard of the two other through-hikes, which together with the PCT are often referred to as the triple crown achievement for some. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT). Similar to the PCT, which winds across the crest of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, the Continental Divide Trail CDT winds through the Rocky Mountains, and the Appalachian Trail AT, traverse the east coast’s ancient mountains. All three trails have one thing in common – each one runs in a north-south direction.
Most of the well-known trails do run north-south, taking the common hiker from a Mexico border start to a Canadian Border finish. There has been an attempt for a complete east-west trail across the US. There are also a few other thru-hikes that run in various directions and these are far less popular than the aforementioned ones. So, what good are these trails? The advantages include less crowds and unique scenery, as well as a faster route.
One of these such trails, for example, is the PNT. Running east-west for 1200 miles, the trail takes one on a journey from Glacier National Park in Montana to the west coast on the Olympic Peninsula. You can walk from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. You travel through areas completely unique from the other through-hikes. Unlike the “crest” trails, this one is more of a “pass” trail in which you will be crossing the mountain ranges. These are some of our favorite types of hikes, because the scenery tends to be stunning over the passes. For instance, one of our favorite hikes, the Kearsarge Pass hike in California features an awe-inspiring view into the Kings Canyon National Park. The terrain from Montana to Washington features many different ecosystems and landscapes, in a relatively short hike compared to the other through-hikes. You hike through the only regions in the US with grizzly bears (Please, for the love of these threatened bears, carry bear spray for them and you). There’s also other interesting animals, like wolverines, cougars / mountain lions, and you’ll even traverse the only mountain range that still has caribou in the lower 48 states. These caribou are sadly severely endangered, however, so this may not be the case for long. Due to these special places and organisms you will either encounter or at leas impact, it is crucial that you take extreme care of traversing this trail. It is definitely one for the deep nature lovers seeking true wilderness left in America.
Other considerations, before tackling this trail, should be deeply considered. One, your skill level in both backpacking and route-finding. This trail is not as well-kept nor heavily used as the others. So, you may need to find your own way. Excellent compass, mapping, and general orientation skills are pertinent. Two, time of year. When will you travel this route? The window is quite narrow if you’re seeking good weather. It’s going to be quite snowy in the winter, rainy in spring, and hot in the summer. Fall is nice, but you will miss the wildflowers and may not have enough time to finish before winter arrives. Both of these considerations mean you should plan ahead and pay attention to the trail conditions. There can be high alpine snow concerns in spring and fire detours in summer and fall. https://pnt.wpengine.com/plan-your-trip/trail-alerts/
So far, we’ve only hiked sections of the PNT. In fact, we tend to prefer to do through-hikes in sections. We like taking it easy and choosing the perfect time of year for the hike. We’ve done the same selective section hiking on the PCT, as well. Section hiking also has the advantage of choosing the sections that allow dogs. We did a beautiful section across the Selkirk Mountains on the Idaho and Washington border. This is the only area in the contiguous US, outside of National Park land, which still has grizzlies. It features gorgeous alpine lakes, dramatic snow-capped mountain peaks, and that classic Pacific Northwest feel.
You won’t be able to do the sections that include Glacier National Park, Cascades National Park, or Olympic National Park with Dogs. So, if your walking with a furry friend consider these other sections:
Section Two: Crossing the Selkirk Mountains into Washington.