A Guide To America's Newest National Scenic Trail: The Pacific Northwest Trail

A Guide To America's Newest National Scenic Trail: The Pacific Northwest Trail

While most people know of the infamous Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, The Pacific Northwest Trail is a lesser known 1,200 mile scenic trail that begins and ends in arguably some of the most scenic National Parks in the U.S..  Running from Montana’s Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park in Washington state, The Pacific Northwest Trail skirts the Western Canadian border running through the Northwest mountain ranges. Most hikers take on this challenge with a goal of completion in 3-4 months. The Pacific Northwest Trail is best begun in midsummer, beginning from Montana and moving west
Unlike its famous cousins, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Northwest Trail does not have multiple, convenient food stops or aid stations. This trail earned Federal Designation in 2009 making it the youngest scenic trail in the U.S. It’s one of the newer cross-country possibilities, and due to fewer encounters with civilization and a few bumpy trail connections, you’ll need to carefully consider gear before setting out on the trail.


Trail Gear

Backpacker hiking o the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Before prepping for a thru hike like The Pacific Northwest Trail, it is best to talk to a few experienced thru hikers as first hand knowledge will be your best source of advice. Reading trip reports and blogs is a great way to learn from the experience of other thru-hikers.

The discussion of gear is well-trod territory online. As always you are balancing your needs with the necessity to keep your pack light.  The best way to do this is to find versatile hard and soft goods that can be used for a variety of situations you might encounter.

Trail Clothes

When thru hiking, your clothing will be minimal.  The Pacific Northwest trail runs through alpine environments where the weather is often unpredictable. You can get sunburned and snowed on in the same day and your limited clothing supply must be ready for this. The sun in alpine environments can be brutal so sun protection is essential. Cover up as much as possible even on hot days with breathable synthetic clothing, a neck gaiter, a sun hat, and of course sunscreen.


Trail running shoes are the most common shoe for thru hikers on The Pacific Northwest Trail.

This topic is highly subjective. Some hikers choose minimalist shoes, or even sandals. Most, however, go with light weight trail runners. Be sure you have a pair of shoes or boots you can rely on and that are broken in before you set off.
We recommend trail tested boots and two pairs of wool socks. A pair of sandals or cheap flip flops are also helpful to give your feet a rest in camp. Use your judgment, keeping in mind what footwear has worked best for you when camping.


Every hiker needs a hat to protect his or her face from the sun while walking the trail. You’ll only bring one hat on the trip, so make sure it is durable and will hold onto its looks after months of sweat, grime and handling the elements. Banner & Oak offers some excellent choices in natural colors, including Trailhead Navy and Switchback Khaki.

Baseball caps look great and are easiest to don and doff, although some hikers prefer less fashionable styles for extreme sun and rain protection. Whatever you decide, don’t skimp on a good quality hat and--as shallow as it sounds, find one that makes you look good!

Rain Gear

You can choose a $5 poncho, get a lightweight rain jackets or even a rain kilt, but it’s vital to pack something to keep yourself and your backpack dry. Wet gear is truly a hassle when you are hiking.

A poncho has several upsides: it can double as ground cover, can protect your pack, and hardly costs anything. Some hikers will choose poncho plus rain pants, which offer an incredible layer of protection and don’t hog room in your pack—rain pants are also insulating if you are sensitive to the cold.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on jackets or pants and most hikers find it’s worth investing in fitted rain gear rather than a poncho.

Map of The Pacific Northwest Trail.
Overall, The Pacific Northwest Trail is one of the most rugged trails in the U.S. It is not to be embarked on casually but with preparation of both gear and fitness, it can be a successful feat for avid and determined hikers.