I am considering flying to San Francisco next summer to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to Canada.

Is 3 months likely to be enough for this route? I am only visa-exempt for 3 months and I really do not wish to apply for a visa.

I would most likely take the bus or train from San Francisco to Oroville or Chico, and join the trail in nearby Belden.

  • 1
    I have voted to leave this question open as it is answerable with personal experience and/or sources relying on such. It does not ask for recommendations but rather for a sanity check and is not primarily based on opinions. We also recently had a similar, well-received question about a specific hike in Iceland
    – mts
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:48
  • migrate to outdoors, maybe?
    – njzk2
    Jul 12, 2016 at 18:36
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    either you are a very experienced hiker and you have done your homework (and you just need a reality check? in which case add your reflexion so far. How fast will you walk? what is your usual pace? what experience in thru hiking do you have?), or you are not, in which case the answer is certainly no.
    – njzk2
    Jul 12, 2016 at 18:39

2 Answers 2


This will most depend on your own pace, so this is hard to predict.

However, on Wikipedia we can find that the PCT association recommends 6 to 8 months for the entire trail. Starting near San Francisco (at Lake Tahoe, still hundreds of kilometres from San Francisco?), you seem to be able to start near the California Section K, which starts at mile 1092, out of the total 2659 mi (4279km). Therefore a quick, absolutely imprecise computation ((2659-1092)/2659x6-8 months) gives us an order of magnitude of 4 to 6 months.

This is obviously a very rough estimate and if you are ready for this commitment, you know what daily distance you can achieve. Achieving the 1600 miles in less than 90 days means an average of 18 miles a day, without rest days and without refill stops. This is certainly doable for an experienced hiker, but if your time frame is constrained, you should probably find easily accessible trail heads for a shorter section of the trail.

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    OK, thanks for that info. One Option might be taking the Coast Starlight Train from SF to Chico or Redding (close to the trail) and joining the trail from there
    – Crazydre
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:29
  • @Crazydre it's definitely a better idea to reach it with the train and go from there
    – Vince
    Jul 12, 2016 at 15:35
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    This computation doesn't really tell the whole story, though; my impression is that the section south of Lake Tahoe (through the High Sierras) is substantially more difficult and slower, partly because the usual through-hike schedule puts it in the early spring when there can be a lot of snow at high elevations. Through-hikers often average well over 20 miles per day on the sections further north. Jul 12, 2016 at 16:12
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    Irrespective of which part is "easy", an 18 mile per day committment doesn't sound like the kind of thing you should be trusting other people's opinions about. Considering people train for months to do a marathon and you'll be averaging 3.5 per week.
    – Berwyn
    Jul 12, 2016 at 18:43
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    By far the most scenic part of the PCT is the part in the high Sierra, which mostly coincides with the John Muir Trail. If you start from Redding and head north, you're going to be spending your time on what could be one of the hottest, least scenic, and most monotonous parts of the PCT. Just mile after mile of low-altitude rolling hills covered with pine forest. A better option might be to start somewhere like Whitney Portal or Kennedy Meadows, head north, and just see how far you can get in 3 months.
    – user5017
    Jul 12, 2016 at 20:55

3 months seems like it would be on the tight side, especially if you're not an endurance athlete capable of sustaining a particularly fast pace every single day. The Pacific Crest Trail Association recommends allowing at least five months for the entire trail, and you're doing a substantial portion of it. The time will depend a lot on weather and other factors outside of your control.

If we assume you start around Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, to pick a convenient and beautiful location vaguely east of San Francisco, we can use these mileages to find an approximate distance of 1,764 miles. Doing that in three months requires an average of ~20 miles/day, or closer to 24 miles/day if you take one zero day a week. This appears to be somewhat faster than the average PCT hiker. A few delays could easily sink your chances of finishing. Starting farther north is always an option too.

This is obviously a very serious hike that requires a lot of preparation. The PCTA has extensive information on the trail, including maps and guidebooks. This is really the kind of question you can only answer for yourself by learning everything possible about the trip and assessing your own experience and abilities. It's also the kind of question where if you have to ask (beyond just looking for someone to validate your considered thinking), you haven't done enough research yet. The Association also operates a Facebook group where you can discuss the details with experienced trail-hikers.

I would give some more consideration to applying for the visa. There is a risk involved (if you are denied for some reason, you won't be able to use the VWP in the future and will need to apply for a visa again), but the advantage of not having legal pressure hanging over the timeframe for your hike is huge. Three months is even less time when you figure that you need a few days on the start and end and that, if you find yourself in time pressure, extricating yourself from the trail and getting out of the country will surely take at least a few days.

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