In the world of long-distance hiking, most people set their sights on the Triple Crown: the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). These stalwarts of the thru-hiking world have long captured the imagination of backpackers around the world, however, many of us want more solitude, more remoteness, and more adventure than these three trails alone can provide.
The answer? The Pacific Northwest Trail.
This 1,200 mile (1,930 km) trail connects the rocky peaks of the Continental Divide in Montana to the sprawling temperate rain forests and glaciers of Washington’s Olympic Coast, making it the perfect path for a rugged adventure. Indeed, unlike the PCT and AT, which see thousands of thru-hikers each year, the Pacific Northwest Trail rarely sees more than 100 thru-hiking attempts in a single season.
That being said, like all other long-distance trails, hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail requires a whole lot of pre-planning and organization. Plus, heading out on a long-distance adventure like the Pacific Northwest Trail isn’t cheap.
So, just how much does it cost to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail? On average, most Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers spend $1,800 to $4,000 on their adventure, not including the cost of new gear and transportation to and from the trail. This works out to an average of $28 to $59 dollars per day for the 70 days it takes most people to thru-hike the Pacific Northwest Trail.
If this sounds like a lot of money to you, you’re not alone. Thru-hiking is a surprisingly expensive pursuit and if you’re new to it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the planning and logistics. So, to help you out, we’ve created the ultimate guide to hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail, complete with a breakdown of what it’ll cost you to get out and explore the wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Let’s get to it!
Why does it cost so much to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail?
If you’re like most people, the thought of spending between $1,800-$4,000 to go on a backpacking trip might make your head spin. While we agree that this is a substantial amount to spend on an outdoor adventure, it’s important to keep in mind that a long-distance thru-hike is no afternoon stroll in your backyard.
Since hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail from end to end takes most people between 60-70 days, anyone looking to thru-hike the trail will need to be able to pay for all the food, fuel, and gear that you need to survive for an extended period of time in the outdoors. Thru-hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail is a major expedition and the costs involved are reflective of the magnitude of this undertaking.
However, we also recognize that if you’re going to spend $1,800-$4,000 on an adventure, you should know what you’re spending it on. So, next up, we’ll break down the cost of a Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike into specific categories so you know what you’ll be spending your hard-earned money on during your expedition.
Since a long-distance thru-hike can cost you a significant amount of money, we’ve broken down the total cost into categories to help your wrap your head around the logistics of this adventure.
When we calculated the average cost of hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail, we estimated that most people would take about 70 days to complete the journey, so if you plan to take more or less time on your hike, you should adjust the final total accordingly.
Additionally, we don’t include the cost of transportation to or from the trail in our estimate since Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers come from around the world. So, you’ll need to do some research into what it will cost you to get to the trailheads at the start and end of your journey.
Finally, when calculating this thru-hiking budget, we assume that you already have the vast majority of the gear you need to go backpacking in the mountains. While we do include a bit of money in our budget for some new pieces of gear, we don’t account for people who need to completely outfit themselves for a backpacking trip in our calculations.
That being said, here’s what you need to budget for when thru-hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail:
Whether you’re thru-hiking or just sitting at home, we all need food to survive, so it should come as no surprise that food costs will make up a significant amount of your budget for this trip. Plus, thru-hikers are known to eat quite a lot of food since they’re burning a lot of energy when traveling over difficult terrain in the mountains.
As a general rule, most people spend between $8-$10 a day on food for an expedition. However, if you have very specific dietary needs or prefer to only eat store-bought freeze-dried meals, your food costs can be a bit higher. A the same time, it is possible to get your daily food costs down to about $5 a day, but it takes a lot of time and practice to get to this level of efficiency in your planning.
In fact, if you want to save money on food during your thru-hike, we recommend buying the vast majority of it at home and shipping it to yourself at designated points along the trail. This will help stop you from splurging on snacks when you’re hungry and at a grocery store in a small mountain town.
In addition to the food you pack for your thru-hike, you’ll also want to budget for the occasional meal or adult beverage in town when you’re taking a rest-day or stopping to pick up more provisions each week. In general, we recommend between $10-$15 per in-town day and an additional $5-$10 for drinks once a week on your thru-hike.
- $560 to $700 for pre-packed meals
- $85 to $128 for in-town meals
- $43 to $85 for in-town drinks
Although you’ll spend the vast majority of your nights in a tent while thru-hiking, many hikers opt to stay in a hotel or motel when they have a rest day in town. Staying at a hotel can provide thru-hikers with a chance to shower and enjoy a real bed every once and a while, but these luxuries do come at a cost.
We figure that most thru-hikers will spend between $50-$70 on hotel stays, once a week, during their adventures, but it’s possible to save some money here by choosing to camp instead.
- $425 to $595 for hotel stays
Often overlooked in the thru-hiking planning process, stove fuel can cost you a pretty penny, depending on the type of cooking set up you have. To cook all your meals on the trail, you’ll need to have quite a bit of fuel with you during your thru-hike. Unfortunately, you can’t send yourself isobutane canisters in the mail, so you’ll have to buy fuel in town when you pick up your resupply packages. On average, you can expect to spend between $15-$20 a week on fuel, depending on your cooking habits and needs.
- $128 to $170 for fuel
Laundry and Showers
Let’s face it: thru-hiking is a smelly, dirty affair. Thus, many thru-hikers opt to take showers and do some laundry when they’re in town picking up their resupply packages. On average, you can expect a shower in a campground to cost you about $5 and a load of laundry to cost around $5. So, if you want to clean up during rest days, you’ll want to factor this into your budget.
- $45 for once a week showers and laundry
- $85 for twice a month showers and laundry
Postage for Packages
Since the vast majority of thru-hikers choose to send food and other supplies to themselves while on the trail, you’ll need to budget for postage costs during your hike. Thankfully, the US Postal Service’s flat rate boxes allow you to send up to 70lbs (32kg) of food and gear to anywhere in the United States for one price, which can help keep your costs down.
On average, you can expect to spend between $10 and $20 a week on postage fees for your thru-hike.
- $85 to $170 for packages
Although we’ve already mentioned that we’re not factoring in the cost of completely outfitting yourself for your thru-hike, we do recognize that you’ll likely have to buy some new gear to get ready to head out onto the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Depending on your individual needs, some thru-hikers may not have to buy any new gear, while others might need a new big-ticket item, like a tent, sleeping bag, or backpack. Thus, we’ve made the budget for this category quite broad, so you’ll have to make some personal decisions about what you actually need for your adventure.
- $0 to $1,000 for new gear
Gear Repair and Replacements
Even if you already have all of the gear you need before you head out on the trail, during the course of your thru-hike, you’ll likely need to repair or replace some of your trusty equipment. Socks, hiking shoes, and clothing are the most likely suspects in need of repair and replacing on a thru-hike, so be sure to factor this into your budget when planning for your trip.
- $100 to $200 for new hiking shoes
- $200 to $400 for new clothing
- $50 to $100 for new hiking socks
- $50 to $100 for gear repair supplies (repair tape, etc.)
Maps and Permits
One of the most overlooked costs associated with a long distance thru-hike is that of maps and permits. Even if you love to use a smartphone app for navigation, there’s no replacement for a good ol’ fashioned map in the backcountry, and when you head out on a long hike, you’ll need quite a few of them.
Unfortunately, maps and guidebooks can be quite expensive, so you need to set some money aside for this essential piece of gear.
Plus, since the Pacific Northwest Trail crosses through three National Parks, you’ll also want to plan to apply (and pay for) backcountry camping permits to complete your thru-hike. Although these permits aren’t really that individually expensive, they do add up and are important to keep in mind while planning your hike.
- $100 to $250 for maps and permits
So, just how much does a Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike cost? Well, if we add up all of these individual expenses, we get the following:
On average, we expect a Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike to cost about $1,800 to $4,000, which breaks down to $28 to $59 per day or $1.56 to $3.32 per mile of trail. Of course, it’s possible to spend more or less than these totals, depending on your personal needs and situation. Do keep in mind, however, that we haven’t included any costs for transport to and from the trail, so you’ll need to factor this into your overall budget. Happy hiking!
Pacific Northwest Trail FAQs:
If you want to set out on a thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, it’s important that you know what you’re getting into. Here are our answers to some of your top questions about the Pacific Northwest Trail:
Where does the Pacific Northwest Trail start and finish?
The Pacific Northwest Trail’s eastern terminus is the Chief Mountain Customs parking area in Glacier National Park, Montana. On its western edge, the Pacific Northwest Trail finishes at Cape Alava, which is the westernmost point in the Lower 48 of the United States. Cape Alava is located within Olympic National Park in Washington State.
What time of year should I start my Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike?
Unlike many of the other long-distance trails in the United States, the Pacific Northwest Trail has an east-west orientation instead of a north-south orientation. This means that timing is everything when planning a thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail if you want to avoid getting caught out in the backcountry during a winter storm or getting stuck at an impassable river crossing due to seasonal snow melt.
That being said, most Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers aim to complete their adventures between mid-June and mid-September. During this period, the trail is generally snow-free, except at its highest elevations, making it the ideal time for a thru-hike.
Is it better to hike east or west on the Pacific Northwest Trail?
While we can’t say that it’s objectively “better” to hike in any given direction on the Pacific Northwest Trail, we can confirm that the vast majority of thru-hikers move westbound on this trail. Most of the guidebooks for the trail are written with this orientation in mind and hiking westbound means you’ll likely have snow-free mountains in the Rockies earlier in the summer season than you would in the Olympics.
Do I need a permit to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail?
At the moment, there is no single permit available for hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail like you’d find for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). However, all Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers do need to organize their own backcountry permits for overnight camping for Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park.
You can find more information about permits for the Pacific Northwest Trail at the Pacific Northwest Trail Association’s website.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.