If you spend enough time in the outdoors, chances are pretty high that you’ll hear about the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,650 mile (4,264km) trail stretches from Mexico to Canada and crosses three states, vast deserts, and seemingly endless mountain peaks along the way.
A thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT, for short) is a bucket list task for many as the trail is often seen as the jewel in the crown in the world of long-distance hiking. While setting off into the mountains for four to six months might seem like the adventure of a lifetime, it isn’t all mountain passes and stunning alpine meadows.
Rather, a thru-hike of the PCT requires a whole lot of meticulous planning if you want to stay organized and prepared for whatever the trail might throw at you. In fact, one of the most overlooked parts of thru-hiking is the cost.
So, Just how much money do you need to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? A thru-hike of the PCT will run you $4,000 to $7,500. Though it’s certainly possible to spend more or less than this range. The average cost of a PCT thru-hike is $5,500 (not including the cost of transportation to and from the trailheads).
If you’re planning a PCT thru-hike, these figures might sound a little drastic. How could a hike possibly cost that much? We understand that the logistics behind thru-hiking the PCT might be daunting, so we’re here to help you start the planning process off on the right foot.
Coming up, we’ll take you step by step through the financial preparations for hiking the PCT so you can spend more time enjoying the trail and less time worrying about money. Let’s get to it!
Why does it cost so much to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?
If you’re new to the world of thru-hiking, the thought of spending between $4,000 and $7,500 to walk on a trail might have you second-guessing your decision in the first place. However, it’s important to keep in mind that all outdoor adventures have some sort of associated cost, whether it’s the fuel cost to drive to the trailhead or the price of a pair of trail runners. Thru-hiking is no exception to this rule.
Of course, when you plan to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll be out in the backcountry for about 4-6 months, so you’ll also need to pay for all of the food and fuel you’ll need to stay healthy in the mountains, not to mention all of the gear needed to thrive in the outdoors.
Ultimately, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is just like undertaking a major extended expedition, so you need to be prepared to shoulder the costs of your adventures. That being said, we understand that $4,000-$6,000 is a large chunk of change, so we’ll break down the cost into separate categories so you can better wrap your head around the adventure you’re signing up for. Here we go!
New thru-hikers routinely get thrown off by the large cost of completing a long-distance trail. While it is true that a long-distance hike is pretty darn expensive, we’ll break down the cost of a thru-hike of the PCT so you have a better idea of what you’ll be spending your hard-earned money on when you’re in the mountains.
Before we dive in, however, it’s important to note that we won’t be including the cost of your transportation to and from the starting and ending trailheads into our estimate. Since PCT thru-hikers come from around the world, it would be really difficult for us to give you an accurate estimate of how much this transportation would cost.
Generally speaking, unless you live close enough to drive to the trailheads, you’ll need to budget for the cost of an inbound flight to San Diego (SAN) or Los Angeles (LAX) and the cost of an outbound flight from Seattle (SEA). You’ll also want to scour the internet for advice on getting from the airport to the trailhead, as this can take some pre-planning, too.
Finally, we’ll be doing our cost estimate based on a 5 month (150 day) thru-hike, which is about the average time it takes for most hikers to complete the PCT. Thus, if you plan on breaking a land speed record or know you’ll take longer than 5 months to complete the trail, you’ll need to budget accordingly. Alright, enough of the small talk – let’s get down to business.
Here’s what you’ll need to budget for when hiking the PCT:
When you’re hiking a long distance trail, being adequately fueled is of the utmost importance. In fact, with the exception of the cost of gear and transportation to and from the trailhead, the largest single expenditure on any expedition is usually for food. The Pacific Crest Trail is no exception to this rule.
When you’re thru-hiking the PCT, you’ll need to budget quite a lot of money for food. How much? Well, it really depends on your caloric requirements, eating habits, and dietary needs. At the very minimum, most backpackers need to spend at least $5 a day on food, BUT getting yourself to this level of efficiency is pretty darn challenging and it might not be possible depending on variations in local food prices around the world.
In general, most thru-hikers spend between $8 and $10 a day on food costs for their pre-packaged meals in the backcountry. If you have specific dietary requirements, though, this cost could go up. The key to keeping costs down in this category, however, is to pre-pack and plan your food rations from the comfort of home, instead of buying whatever looks fantastic at the grocery store in town during your hike.
That being said, while sending food to yourself on the trail is a great way to manage your budget, you’ll also want to give yourself some money to spend when you are in town so you can get a nice, hot meal or an adult beverage during a rest day. We recommend planning an extra $10-15 per in-town day for a treat or a restaurant meal and $5-$10 for a drink, once a week.
- $1,200 – $1,500 for pre-packed meals
- $215 – $320 for in-town meals
- $110 – $215 for in-town drinks
When you’re thru-hiking the PCT, you’ll spend the vast majority of your nights camping under the stars in your tent. However, every week or so, you’ll venture into town for a resupply of food and fuel and perhaps a nice meal in a restaurant.
While some thru-hikers spend just a few hours in town and head back on the trail, many opt to spend a night in a hotel for a chance to get a good night’s sleep, use the shower and laundry facilities, and eat a hot breakfast. As you can imagine, these hotel stays can get expensive quickly, so you’ll need to decide how many hotel stays you can afford before you hit the trail.
Generally speaking, thru-hikers opt for one hotel stay every week or two, so it really depends on your budget and your hiking style. On average, a night in a hotel or hostel will run you between $50 and $70 for the night.
- $1,075 – $1,500 for once a week hotel stays
- $535 – $750 for twice a month hotel stays
If you’re cooking for yourself in the backcountry (which you almost certainly will be during a PCT thru-hike), you’ll need to bring some fuel to operate your stove. Unfortunately, fuel is one of the trickiest things to organize for your thru-hike as it’s not something you can send to yourself in the mail – it is a highly flammable substance, after all.
That being said, most trail towns along the PCT will have fuel available in their local convenience store, so you won’t have too much trouble finding it. However, many people neglect to budget for fuel costs, so you’ll want to plan ahead to avoid any surprises.
Do keep in mind that many new regulations ban alcohol stoves on public land as they don’t have an on-off valve for fire safety, so you may need to buy the more expensive white gas or specialized fuel canisters to cook your meals in the backcountry.
We estimate between $15-$20 a week as a reasonable cost for fuel during a PCT thru-hike. This cost can vary, though, especially if you love hot breakfasts and hot drinks multiple times a day, so fuel efficiency is key in keeping your budget on trail.
- $320 – $430 for fuel
Laundry and Showers
There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Hiking makes you stinky. A long distance hike on the PCT, then, will make you extra stinky. Thus, most thru-hikers take advantage of the laundry and shower options at trail towns so they can feel squeaky clean before heading back into the mountains.
Depending on your hygiene standards, you might choose to shower and do laundry about once a week, while others opt for a biweekly approach. You can expect a shower to cost about $5 at a campground or RV park while a complete load of laundry (washed and dried) will usually run you about $5.
- $215 for once a week showers and laundry
- $100 for twice a month showers and laundry
Postage for Packages
The recommended approach for meal planning during a long-distance hike is to pre-pack your rations and send them to yourself at regular intervals on the trail. You’ll probably need to enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to send the packages and you’ll need to set some money aside to pay for postage.
We highly recommend using the US Postal Service’s flat rate boxes, which allow you to send up to 70 lbs (32kg) of gear for one price to anywhere in the United States. While these flat rate boxes are a great deal, however, they aren’t cheap, so you should budget between $10 and $20 a week for package fees throughout your thru-hike.
- $215 – $430 for packages
If you’re new to the world of thru-hiking or outdoor pursuits, in general, you’ll likely need to invest in some gear before you head out onto the PCT. Of course, this expense is highly variable from person to person as some thru-hikers will find that they have all the gear they need while others will need to fully outfit themselves for the trail.
We don’t quite have space here to discuss each and every piece of gear you need for the PCT, but, on average, you can expect to spend between $0 (if you have everything you need) and $1,000 on gear if you’re new to thru-hiking.
- $0 – $1,000 for new gear
Gear Repair and Replacements
Even if you acquire a lot of new gear before your PCT thru-hike, chances are pretty high that you’ll need to repair or replace a lot of equipment while you’re actually on the trail. 2,560 miles is no walk in the park, so you can expect, at the very minimum, to need to replace your hiking shoes and socks at some point on your journey.
It’s often best to send yourself a new pair of hiking shoes at the mid-point of your thru-hike and a new pair of hiking socks every couple of weeks to keep last-minute expenses down.
- $100 – $500 for new hiking shoes
- $200 – $700 for new clothing
- $100 – $150 for new hiking socks
- $100 – $150 for gear repair supplies (repair tape, etc.)
Maps and Permits
Although many of us rely on GPS technology to get from place to place in the frontcountry, there’s really no substitute for a paper map in the backcountry. Sure, a GPS is a very useful tool that you should certainly bring on your hike, but when technology fails, a good ol’ map and compass, as well as the skills to use them, are invaluable in a pinch.
Also read: Can You Camp Anywhere on the PCT?
However, maps can be pretty darn expensive, so you’ll need to do some research to find out what system will work best for you and budget accordingly. While some people choose to buy commercially available maps, others make and print their own through Caltopo (here’s a complete guide on how to use this excellent technology).
Additionally, you’ll likely need to pay for some permits to hike and camp on certain sections of the PCT (especially the John Muir Trail), so you’ll need to apply for these ahead of time and put some money aside to cover the costs.
- $200 – $400 for maps and permits
So, just how much does a PCT thru-hike cost? Well, if we add up all of these individual expenses, we get the following:
At the end of the day, a PCT thru-hike can be pretty darn expensive. When we add up all your expenses, you can expect to pay somewhere between $3,395 and $7,510 for a PCT thru-hike. With an average cost of $5,500, hiking the PCT isn’t cheap, but if you keep in mind that some pre-planning can go a long way in keeping your costs down, it is possible to head into the mountains on the cheap.
Do keep in mind, however, that you’ll also need to budget for your travel to and from the trailhead, so plan accordingly!
PCT Frequently Asked Questions
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, however, takes much more than just organizing a budget. Thus, we understand if you still have some questions about your upcoming adventure. Here are our answers to your top questions about the Pacific Crest Trail!
Where does the Pacific Crest Trail start and finish? The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650 mile (4,264km) path that stretches from Mexico to Canada. Although most hikers start in the small town of Campo, California along the US-Mexico border and end in Manning Park, British Columbia along the US-Canada border, it is possible to hike from north to south or simply hike a section of the trail.
That being said, the official start and endpoints of the trail are at Campo and Manning Park.
Are dogs allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail? Yes, and no. While dogs are allowed on most parts of the PCT, there are certain sections (namely those in national parks) where your canine friend needs to stay at home. So, if you’re just looking to hike a section of the PCT, you’re able to take your pooch along with you, should you plan your route accordingly.
Unfortunately, however, completing a PCT thru-hike with a furry friend just isn’t possible due to the restrictions on canines in National Parks.
Which is longer, the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail? Since the official length of the Appalachian Trail is 2,200 miles (3,540km) and the official length of the PCT is 2,650 miles (4,264km), it’s safe to say that the Pacific Crest Trail is the longer of the two trails. However, both trails are constantly being re-routed, added to, and shortened, so you can expect the actual length of both the PCT and the AT to vary by about 10 miles (16km) from year to year.
Regardless, though, the PCT is still the longer of the two trails by about 400 miles (640km).
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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.