Cherry-picking routes on the Pacific Crest Trail

Time. We only have so much. The Pacific Crest Trail can be one of the most enjoyable treks of a lifetime, but it takes five to six months. Mark McLain gives a couple of examples of perfect day trips that you can take using the PCT in whole or in part.

Say you only have enough vacation time for two or three weeks. Maybe you also want to visit other places outside the mountains. No worries. You can use the Pacific Crest Trail as a starting point and pick off some of its best sights on day hikes or much shorter backpacking trips or use the PCT to get to even better places that are missed by the trail.

Mount Hood
Mount Hood towering above Mississippi Head and the Zig Zag Canyon from the PCT on the way to Paradise

By chopping the PCT into smaller segments, you can visit areas when they are at their best – snow-wise, flower-wise and scenic-wise. The High Sierra are much more beautiful in late summer than in spring when they are still covered by a winter’s worth of snow.

The Pacific Crest Trail - Front Cover

The Pacific Crest Trail

Hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada


Guidebook to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), an epic 2650 mile hike from California's Mexican border to Canada's British Columbia. One of the world's best hikes, the route passes through California, Oregon and Washington State, taking in the Mojave desert, High Sierras, Cascades and countless more wild mountains.

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I am going to give you a couple of examples of perfect day trips that you can take using the PCT in whole or in part.

If you are hiking the entire PCT, usually you will hit Oregon at the best time – mid summer. Oregon’s Cascades in August can be magic. But there are long sections of the trail where nothing happens. You are in a forest, or worse, you are in a forest hiking by hundreds of mosquito-laden ponds. Skip about in the range – with a rental car – and choose day destinations instead.

Let’s pick just a couple examples of using the PCT for its best parts.

Chinidere Mountain

A very easy hike is to use the PCT to hike up to Chinidere Mountain. This is an easy 8km/5 mile hike gaining some 273m/895ft to the top of a rocky summit giving you views over the top of the Columbia River Gorge with Cascade volcanoes from Mt Hood – close at hand to the south – to Mt Rainier far to the north.

Chinidere Mountain
A mountain Corgi smiles atop Chinidere Mountain with Mt Hood gleaming in the background

You start off from a small campground at the end of a paved single lane forest road and drop down – trail #406A - to the PCT #2000 – 650m – just above Whatum Lake.

Proceed north – right – onto the PCT and hike around the lake – the trail slowly rising as it goes around. At a little over 3.2km/2 miles, take the Chinidere Trail on the right and ascend a series of switchbacks 650m/0.4 miles to the 1424m/4673ft peak.

The views are outstanding, made even more dramatic – sadly – from a huge 2017 forest fire that roared through the Eagle Creek canyon deep below on the west side of the mountain. The fire burnt up to the eastern edge of the canyon where the PCT travels, though winds kept its path mostly more to the west – evidence that fireworks and a dry forest do not go together.

Eagle Creek Canyon
View over the Eagle Creek Canyon 2017 burn damage from atop Chinidere Mountain

Come in late June or early July and the wildflowers are out in force. A perfect example of a day hike mostly on the PCT and you can still end it at any one of Oregon’s multitudes of brewpubs afterwards. Click on this website for the complete look at this hike.

Tomlike and Chinidere Mountains

To make this hike better, I would recommend adding doing both Tomlike and Chinidere Mountains – they were named after a local Wasco chief – Chinidere – and his son – Tomlike. You start from the same trailhead but go out on the Anthill Trail #406B.

This trail traverses around the ridge rising above the east side of Wahtum Lake, slightly rising and popping over the northern rim. The trail crosses a forest road – officially the Rainy-Wahtum Trail #409 – and then descends to end at a junction with the Herman Creek Trail #406.

Turn right onto this trail and look for an unsigned path – about 50 yards – going off to the right just as the Herman Creek Trail begins a prominent descent to the east. The boot path takes you along the ridge leading up to Tomlike, at first through forest, but increasingly you will be hopping over talus to the open summit where the views are again spectacular.

Tomlike Mountain
View back over Wahtum Lake and Mt Hood from the Anthill Trail on the way to Tomlike Mountain

Retrace your steps to the Herman Creek trail and now go in the opposite direction, going past where you came in on the Anthill Trail. The Herman Creek Trail heads in a southwestern direction to merge into the PCT after about one mile of walking through deep forest with only slight elevation gain.

Turn right onto the PCT and the Chinidere Trail is about 0.25 miles further on. Return the way described above in the Chinidere instructions.

The Paradise Park Loop

Moving slightly south to Mt Hood, you can use the PCT from Timberline Lodge - and hike north on it – the trail is actually moving more of a west-northwest route here as it moves around the mass of Hood above – for 6km/3.8 miles – to the junction with the Paradise Park Loop Trail #757 – turn right and ascend.

The Paradise Park Loop trail and the PCT both parallel each other for several miles before the former drops back down to the PCT once again. The difference is that the PCT stays in the forest some 100m/324ft below while the Paradise Park trail climbs to the timberline winding through magnificent flower displays through July into August. The Paradise Park trail takes the beauty of the PCT and ramps it up. Paradise come early. Mechanics fully described here.

Paradise Park
Alpenrose lights up Mt Hood above Paradise Park

Central Oregon Cascades

Here, I was going to talk about one of Oregon’s best hikes – Park Ridge and Jefferson Park from Breitenbush Lake.

Oops, alas, it sounds like the Forest Service is instituting restrictions on the central Oregon Cascades more restrictive than many national parks with fees, trailhead quotas at most trailheads even for day hikers and just making the whole thing something you have to get on your computer and plan meticulously ahead for – not easy for someone who has little idea of what an area has to offer. The whole program will include thru-hikers on the PCT, so if you are thinking of that, look at this website.

Overnight quotas on trails have been a way of life for many years in several national parks, in certain Californian and Washington wilderness areas and in a couple of limited areas of the central Oregon Cascades. To extend quota systems to day hikers brings about a major disruptive element to being able to cherry pick or thru-hike trails. To be continued, I guess.

But to digress from the Central Oregon confusion, you have lots of opportunities outside of that region – in all three States where the PCT runs - in which to use the PCT to help you reach great day destinations without that heavy pack. You can have your cupcake with a cherry on top.

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