Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Pt. II | Permits, Cost, and Planning for the PCT

Hiking the PCT, Permits, Costs and planning

By: Kelsey Sportsman

Something I was most worried about but turned out to be one of the most painless aspects of planning was understanding and acquiring all of the permits that I will need along the Pacific Crest Trail. There are three permits that I will need and which I have obtained.

They include:
1. California Campfire Permit
2. Pacific Crest Trail Long Distance Permit (>500 miles)
3. Permit to Enter Canada from the U.S via the Pacific Crest Trail 

In detail...
1. The California Campfire Permit is required for campfires, stoves, and lanterns while hiking and camping throughout California. Obtaining the permit is relatively simple and can be done online. You simply watch an informational video about fire safety, take a quiz, and once you pass the quiz, you enter your general information and can print out the permit in the convenience of your own home.

2. The Pacific Crest Trail Long Distance Permit is obtained by registering your departure date. Recently, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has made changes to only allow 50 permits to be issued per departure date. I am leaving later than many other thru­hikers and obtained my permit with ease. The Long Distance Permit is for people travelling 500 miles or more in a single trip. The permit must be approved and once approved, will be sent via email to be printed out.

3. The Permit to Enter Canada from the U.S via the Pacific Crest Trail is more extensive and requires more information regarding items you will have on hand once reaching the border, legal information, and expected itinerary. It's understandable that the permit is extensive because you will be entering a different country. This permit must be mailed and is then returned, stamped, and signed by a Canadian border official and sent back to your mailing address. 

More information about permits can be found on: http://www.pcta.org/discover­the­trail/permits/ While the permits to hike and/or thru­hike the Pacific Crest Trail are free, the cost to actually complete a thru­hike certainly costs a pretty penny.

Here are the steps I have taken that allow me to leave for my thru­hike in April 2016.

Step 1: Stick to your word and stay true to yourself. If this is something that your body, heart, and soul desire to do sooner than later, I highly suggest that you take that dream and make it a reality. Do keep in mind that planning a thru­hike takes an incredible amount of time, effort, money, and planning and preparation. It is key that once you decide that this is what you are going to do, that you stick to your word and stay true to yourself. If you are not completely passionate about making it happen, it’s probably not going to be worth your time.

Step 2: Begin planning. Once you commit yourself to the idea of going, you have to commit yourself to the idea of doing. Begin planning right away. It’s going to take long days and long nights both working for the money to afford the trip and planning and preparing for the trip. I would start training immediately. Go on hikes. Buy gear. Start testing yourself and your gear.

Step 3: School, work, or school and work can wait. Again, if this is something you truly want to do, do it. It’s definitely easier said than done, however. Personally, I had the idea, I made the choice to embark on this journey, and I have stayed committed to this plan for over a year now. Ultimately, you have to make sacrifices for what you want to accomplish. For me, I decided to take a semester off in the Spring of 2016 and I will either quit or temporarily leave all three of my jobs until after I am back from my trip. In the meantime, I am taking a winter course with my university and am working two jobs to be able to afford the thru­hike. I realize that everyone’s circumstances are different, but often times, school and work can wait.

Step 4: Realize that it is anywhere from 4-­6 months on the trail. A thru­hike on the PCT is usually takes around 4-­6 months.That is 4-­6 months away from work. Therefore, you have to account the cost of bills while you’re away into the amount of money it will cost for the thru­hike. 

The cost for me to hike the PC:

  • Permit: $0
  • Bills While Away:
    • Phone: $250
    • Car insurance: $405
    • Rent: $750
    • Car payment: $1,150
  • Food/Resupply: $2,000
  • Gear: $2,400
  • Flight Home (YVR to SAN): $400
    • Total: $7,355 

The cost differs from person to person as bills are different and some people may already have gear fit for their thru­hike. This is what a PCT thru­hike will cost me. While planning, I decided to overestimate my food and resupply costs because I will be doing a combination of mailing boxes to specific points on the trail and resupplying on the spot as I reach new locations. Running out of money on the trail can be detrimental to one’s success in completing their thru­hike due to the allure of hotels, stores, food, and new gear along the way.

Step 5: Conduct enough research to make sure you are well ­prepared. While I am wholeheartedly for those that make decisions on a whim, deciding and doing are completely different beasts. It is crucial that after a decision has been made, that you are responsible enough to do research on gear, the environment, itinerary, and cost of the trip so that you are safe and your thru­hike is successful.

Good luck to all who will be thru­hiking the PCT this year. I hope to see you out there!