Pacific Northwest Trail

Pacific Northwest Trail

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This scenic trail is one of the great long-distance hiking trails of the United States of America. It covers 1200 miles, from the Continental Divide in Montana to Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula on the Pacific Coast. This dramatic route is packed with scenic interest, from the Rockies and other mountain ranges across which it passes, to the wilderness stretch of Washington’s coast.  Along with other long-distance trails, this is part of the Great Western Loop, a hiking challenge that is 6,875 miles in length and no walk in the park.

Pacific Northwest Trail

Pacific Northwest Trail

Photo Courtesy: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/237/cache/backpack-pacific-nw-trail_23783_600x450.jpg

The route of this trail was first dreamed up and walked in the 1970s. It was the brainchild of Ron Strickland. It was not officially recognised as a national scenic trail, however, until President Obama signed it into law as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act in 2009.

The trail is predominantly used by hikers though it is also accessible for cycling and equestrian use. This is not a walk to be undertaken lightly. The difficulty ranges from moderate to extremely challenging and hazards include severe weather all year round, steep gradients and limited water over some stretches. Black and grizzly bears are also a hazard, though it has to be said that these do not usually pose a danger to walkers.

Pacific Northwest Trail

Pacific Northwest Trail

Photo Courtesy: http://www.traildino.com/img/upload/North_America/United_States/Trails/Pacific%20Northwest%20Trail-19b.jpg

The stunning scenery and amazing wildlife along the trail though, more than make up for the difficulties that can be faced along the route. From the highest point of Tuchuck Mountain, Montana, to the Pacific Ocean, the route is made up of one natural highlight after another.

The trail traverses the dramatic Glacier National Park, travels across the Ten Lakes Scenic Area, crosses Lake Koocanusa and twists and turns its way through the the Purcell Mountains and the Northwest Peaks scenic area, meandering into Idaho. Crossing Idaho, the trail covers just more scenic ground – rivers, hills and mountains, before heading into Washington.

In Washington the trail heads into the bustling little town of Northport, on the Colombia River, before heading on past the ranges and orchards of central Washington. After the city of Oroville the trail ascends into the Pasayten Wilderness. The Pasayten wilderness along with the neighbouring North Cascades National Park are one of the most complete and largest areas of wilderness to be found in the 48 contiguous states. The trail then continues on through yet more wilderness around Mount Baker until human infrastructure once more becomes apparent on the shores of Puget Sound.

After crossing a couple of islands a final ferry ride takes you to the final stretch of the trail. The route takes you through Hoh rain forest then skims the edge of the Pacific coast, entering the Quileute Indian Reservation before it concludes its travels at Cape Alava.

Walking the trail is not easy – some sections are not often walked and may even require a bit of bushwhacking to get through. This is some of the most remote walking in the country, so not to be undertaken solo unless you are hugely prepared and experienced. But if you are looking for real backpacking adventure then this could be the hike for you.

 

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