Many thru-hikers consider the Pacific Crest Trail to be one of the crown jewels of the world’s long-distance hiking trails. Over the course of 2,600 miles, the trail travels from the scorching desert of the Southern California/Mexico border through the high Sierra and the Cascades to reach its terminus at the United States’ border with Canada.
Each year, some seven to eight hundred people attempt a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. These would-be thru-hikers take on a seemingly impossible task of walking for months on end over high mountain passes and through arid desert basins. Although this might seem like an impossible task, nearly sixty percent of these hikers make it to the end, facing innumerable challenges along the way.
Whether or not you plan to hike the PCT in the future, the stories and tales from these thru-hikers run the gamut from silly and fun to eye-opening and inspiring. While many of us probably won’t ever complete our own PCT thru-hike, there are plenty of great films out there that transport you to the High Sierra without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home.
So, whether you’re looking for inspiration for your next expedition or you prefer an armchair adventure, here’s our list of the fourteen must-watch Pacific Crest Trail Movies.
The original PCT adventure movie, Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. This Hollywood blockbuster fan-favorite captures Strayed’s early life struggles and post-divorce difficulties as she learns to navigate a rapidly changing world in the wilderness.
Through the highs and lows of the Pacific Crest Trail, this first time thru-hiker learns more about herself in the backcountry than she ever thought possible. Despite a complete lack of hiking experience, Strayed walks for 94 days down the Pacific Crest Trail, eventually making it to the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, marking the end of her travels.
Join Cheryl Strayed and the cast of characters she meets as she journeys along the Pacific Crest Trail in a story of learning, reflection, and self-discovery. This book-turned-movie is the story that’s captivated a generation, inspiring hundreds of new hikers to get out of their comfort zone and take to the mountains. A must-watch for any PCT or thru-hiking fanatic, Wild should be at the top of your list.
2. Only the Essential: Pacific Crest Trail Documentary
During the summer of 2013, two backpackers – Casey Gannon and Colin Arisman – set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Cameras in hand, the duo documented their journey, cataloging hundreds of hours of footage during their five months on the trail.
Only the Essential is the story of their thru-hike captured from the very beginning through some stunning cinematography. As Gannon, Arisman, and the other hikers on the trail walk, step by step, from north to south, we learn more about the mental fortitude and physical challenge of the Pacific Crest Trail.
At just 50 minutes long, Only the Essential won’t take up an entire afternoon, but this captivating film can easily draw you right in, inspiring you to get out on your own adventure. Through this award-winning film, you’ll learn more about what it takes to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It turns out that it’s only the essentials.
3. Tell it on the Mountain – Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail
For most people, the thought of dropping everything to head out into the wilderness for five months is unfathomable. But, despite a thru-hiker’s seemingly carefree and limitless lifestyle, they’re really just regular people like the rest of us.
However, for the people who do leave everything behind to head out onto the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s usually an insatiable urge to head out and leave their jobs, families, and creature comforts behind, all in the name of human-powered adventure.
Tell it on the Mountain seeks to capture this sentiment and learn more about why people choose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Through beautiful footage and inspiring words, Tell It on the Mountain teaches us about the call of nature and the allure of the Pacific Crest Trail. We bet that you can’t watch it without catching the hiking bug yourself.
4. Six Million Steps: A Journey Inward
Life on the Pacific Crest Trail is remarkably different from life at home. Without the creature comforts that so many of us are accustomed to, thru-hikers need to learn to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Over the course of 2,650 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, thru-hikers come into contact with more than just mountains and wildlife.
Life on the trail is about community – and a vibrant one at that. Six Million Steps chronicles what life is like for several hikers on the trail as they learn through their interactions with others and within themselves.
Through seemingly innocuous interactions with other hikers on the trail to the magic of trail angles, Six Million Steps shows us that even the smallest of conversations can cause us to look inward and learn so much more about ourselves than we ever thought possible.
5. National Geographic: Pacific Crest Trail
National Geographic is known for producing some of the best photography and filmmaking about the world’s most amazing places. This documentary on the Pacific Crest Trail is no exception.
In this film, follow National Geographic filmmakers as they document the beauty and mystery of the Pacific Crest Trail. From the intense heat and arid vastness of the Southern California desert to the temperate rainforests and glaciated peaks of the North Cascades, the Pacific Crest Trail is truly a jewel in the crown of the American wilderness.
If the scenery and footage in this documentary don’t make you want to run off into the mountains, nothing will.
6. Walking the West: Hiking 2600 Miles from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail
An Irishman and a Kiwi walk down a trail… sounds like the start of a joke, right? Actually, it’s the start of an epic Pacific Crest Trail documentary.
Walking the West is the true story about a New Zealand Native and an Irishman who quit their jobs, left their comfortable lives behind, and head out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. After cashing in all of their savings, the duo set out to walk some 2600 miles from Mexico to Canada through three states and innumerable challenges.
Throughout the course of nearly five months of 21 mile hiking days, Walking the West chronicles the pair’s journey to make it to Canada before winter storms wreak havoc in the Cascades. So, find a comfy chair and grab a bowl of popcorn and load Walking the West for a story about reconnecting with oneself on the Pacific Crest Trail.
7. Snow to Sand
When most people thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, they start at the southern terminus, near the California/Mexico border during the spring. From there, they hike northward, through the Southern California desert, hoping to reach the High Sierra just in time for the start of the summer hiking season.
Some people, however, decide that 2600 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail aren’t enough of a challenge. Instead, they commit themselves to completing the journey in the winter. Sounds crazy, right?
Snow to Sand is the unbelievable true story of Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter’s successful winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. In Snow to Sand, we follow along as Forry and Lichter snowshoe, ski, and hike through some incredibly challenging terrain in the mountains. You won’t want to miss this one.
8. As It Happens: Pacific Crest Trail
For most of us, life is a cycle of eat, work, sleep, repeat. While many of us find comfort in this routine, for two friends, the monotony of daily life is just too much to handle. Instead, they decide to abandon their city lives and head out on a new adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail.
In As It Happens: Pacific Crest Trail, we follow Andy Laub and Ian Mangiardi as they leave behind their comfortable lives with their families and seek out the lessons of the mountains. The duo starts their journey along the Mexico border, learning quickly that the mountains can be a harsh and unforgiving teacher.
Through fierce storms, terrifying encounters with rattlesnakes, and scorching heat, Andy and Ian feel beaten and broken, but decide to keep soldiering on.
After making it through the trail’s desert section, the two finally reach the High Sierra. While they thought that they had survived the worst of it, they could never have prepared for what was about to hit them next: the Sierras’ largest snowstorm in recorded history.
Through moments of extreme tension and unimaginable happiness in the mountains, As It Happens is a story of trial and error, transcendence, and appreciation for life on the trail that’s enough to get anyone excited to head out into the wild.
9. This is Not a Beautiful Hiking Video: A Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike
All too often, we glorify the life of a thru-hiker. Endless mountain views, stunning wildflowers, and captivating landscapes are just some of the things we picture when we dream of leaving life behind and setting out into the great unknown. But what about the blisters, heinous storms, rattlesnakes, dehydration, and innumerable other challenges that we face in the backcountry?
In This is Not a Beautiful Hiking Video, we see more than just stunning photos. We experience firsthand the trials and tribulations of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through the camera lens of Peter Hochhauser.
In 2016, Peter Haucchauser boarded a plane from Vienna, Austria to southern California. Once he landed, he set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Through this video, which is, indeed beautiful, you can experience for yourself what a PCT thru-hike really entails.
10. Do More With Less: A Conversation About the Pacific Crest Trail
If you’ve spent any time backpacking through the wilderness, you know that you have to make do with whatever you’ve brought with you. The gear you carry on your back is your only support and lifeline through the often inhospitable landscapes we love so much.
In Do More With Less, we learn firsthand what it’s like to hike the 2600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail having to rely only on what you’re carrying with you. Through conversations with hundreds of thru-hikers making their way from Mexico to Canada, the filmmakers of Do More With Less, help us learn about the endless challenges on the trail and how a community can get people through to the end.
This not-for-profit film provides viewers with a real look at the difficulties of the trail and about the many wonders and dangers of living a life in the mountains. What more could you want?
11. A Year of Ice and Fire
Jessica “Dixie” Mills is a well-known hiking blogger who recently completed the full Triple Crown of hiking – the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail – as part of a lifelong dream. Since starting her long-distance hiking career in 2015 on the Appalachian Trail, Dixie has documented her journies through videos and blog posts to encourage others to get out into the mountains.
In A Year of Ice and Fire, we join Dixie as she completes her Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. Throughout the film, we learn more about what motivates Dixie and keeps her going after thousands upon thousands of miles on the trail, despite wildfires and other challenges along the way.
12. Hiking Through Tragedy on the Pacific Crest Trail
Although we all work through challenges in life, few of us have to face them head-on in the middle of a 2,600-mile thru-hike. When Kira Sanford set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, she expected to be challenged and to learn more about herself through the physical exertion and mental energy necessary to walk from Mexico to Canada.
For weeks, Kira’s life was a simple routine: wake up, eat breakfast, pack up camp, and walk. Day after day, her routine continued, and she eventually made it to mile 790 on the trail. As Kira rounded Kearsarge Pass and made her way toward the trailhead to Independence, California, she saw her brother, uncles, and other close family members walking toward her on the trail.
They didn’t come bearing good news: Kira’s parents had been killed in a car accident.
While many would take this news and return home, Kira kept walking. At this point, Kira’s original reasons for hiking the trail were irrelevant; no longer needing to prove to her self that she could hike the trail, Kira hiked because she needed to. In Hiking Through Tragedy on the Pacific Crest Trail, we hear Kira tell her story.
13. The Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes
Don’t have time to watch an entire movie? Not planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail anytime soon? Thankfully, some good folks realized that we should all experience firsthand the beauty and grandeur of the Pacific Crest Trail. So, they hooked us up with a new PCT record: a three-minute thru-hike.
Join Mac, a seasoned thru-hiker, as he walks the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, in just three minutes. Okay, okay, it took him longer than three minutes to walk 2600 miles, but you only need three minutes to watch this epic video. What are you waiting for?
14. Women of the PCT
Every year, hundreds of hikers attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. On average, only 30% of them are women. Join filmmaker John Zahorian in his film, Women of the PCT, as he dives deeper into what it’s like to be a woman and embark on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Through interviews with Gretchen “Dirty Bowl” Matt, Amanda “Not a Chance” Timeoni, Ayesha “Heaps” Cording, and Karen Wang, we learn more about life in the mountains and the experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a female thru-hiker in a male-dominated pursuit. A must-watch for any aspiring thru-hiker!
Find Your Inspiration
Even if you don’t have plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail anytime soon, there’s no reason that you can’t find wisdom and inspiration in the innumerable tales of success and struggle on one of the United States’ most scenic trails. From the desert of Southern California to the glacier-capped peaks of Washington state, the 2600 miles between Mexico and Canada hold endless lessons for us all.
So, set aside some time, grab a seat on your comfy couch, and get ready to be inspired. These fourteen must-watch Pacific Crest Trail movies are here for you to discover. Whether you binge-watch them all in one night or watch one each night for a few weeks, we know you won’t be disappointed. Happy trails!
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s 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.
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