7 Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hikers Share Their Favorite and Most Challenging Sections

As the 2023 thru-hiking season draws to a close, we’ve asked our Pacific Crest Trail finishers to share their thoughts on which parts of the trail were their favorites and which ones were the most challenging. Let’s find out what they had to say.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Josh “Chute” Barrett

Most Challenging Section

Physically, the hardest part was the Sierra. It’s no secret that 2023 was a record snow year, and that made the going extremely difficult. Twelve hours of hard hiking that would get you 30+ miles on normal terrain would get you maybe 15. That, and shifting your schedule to take advantage of firm snow: waking up at 2:00 a.m. and packs on by 3:00 was also very draining.
Mentally, the hardest part was being away from home for that long. This one really surprised me to discover about myself, as I always thought that I was the type that could go off on an adventure indefinitely. But, by the time I got to the end of the desert, I was missing home a lot. Credit goes to my wife, family, and friends for continually giving me pep talks to keep me going!

Favorite Section

This is such a tough question, as it’s like being asked which of your kids is your favorite! Each section has something beautiful to offer and also a challenge that you must overcome. I had amazing days and super difficult days in each section. That said, since I have to answer, I’m going to say Washington. While there were portions that were brutal, when I think of the beautiful scenery that I was able to experience throughout the whole trail, very often I find myself thinking about some of the amazing sights in Washington!

Björn “Refill” Dziambor | @django hikes

Most Challenging Section

From South Lake Tahoe to Truckee. The snow in the Southern Sierra was a joke compared to this! What many did not realize: the trail changes in the souther, highest portion of the Sierra. Between Lone Pine and Sonora Pass, it runs through valleys and across passes. Everywhere else, it runs around the mountains. On this particular stretch around Lake Tahoe, the trail was running around hills AND still covered in snow. The constant danger of slipping to death, deep tree wells, long miles, and the hoping that the snow would finally end around the corner almost broke me mentally.

Favorite Section

All Washington. Seriously. If you are NOBO, Washington is going to be the big reward for everything you had to go through. The Sierra Nevada was also special, as we saw it like just a few will ever see it in their lives: covered in snow, a sleeping beauty.

Emily “Strider” Rahn

Photo credit: Jean Taggart

Most Challenging Section

The Sierra, though it was in large part due to it being my last section, so I was worn down and ready to be done. I got demoralized after several rainy days alone, but rallied when I made a new friend and was rejoined by a tramily member.

Favorite Section

Three Sisters Wilderness — I was fascinated to find huge chunks of obsidian alongside a burbling creek in a brilliant green meadow with a backdrop of pines and snow-splotched volcanic peaks. Gorgeous!

Leonie “Desert Moon” Lazarus

Most Challenging Section

I would say, hands down, Washington. There are very steep climbs and they are constant. But I hiked south to north, and by the time I reached Washington, I was ready for those climbs. So maybe the desert in Southern California was hardest when I was starting out and learning to find the right pace and getting my body used to hiking all day, every day?
It is tough to say which was the most challenging, but looking back now, Northern California was torturous too. The heat was intense, and having skipped the Sierra section, I was not ready for the steep elevation there. If I have to answer honestly, the entire trail is challenging, but isn’t that the whole appeal?

Favorite Section

I can’t choose an absolute favorite, but near the top of the list would be the section from Stevens Pass to Canada. I had to skip a few miles in this section due to wildfire closures, but I was in awe of the Cascade Mountains, and the section from Hart’s Pass to Manning Park will live in my heart forever.

Tom “Honey Buckets” Frenchu

Most Challenging Section

I found the most challenging section to be Southern Oregon, though I started northbound in late May/early June 2023. The snow and bugs those two weeks were substantially worse than the rest of the year thereafter.

Favorite Section

My favorite section was probably Northern Washington. I found it struck a nice balance between scenery on trail and culture in town. The infrastructure was helpful too: plenty of toilets, water sources, and delineated campsites.

Rosemary “Stretch” Adrat

Most Challenging Section

What is exciting about trail is that challenges are always evolving or arising. Being the snow year that it was, the Sierra will take the cake of most challenging. Getting through it was a slog. Waking up at 2:00 a.m. to beat the sun before it weakened the snow, constant exposure to the sun and it reflecting off the snow, and no visible trail to walk on for days. Easily the most type two fun I’ve experienced.

Then I so sadly got a knee injury in the Sierra and I had to deal with the fact that I wouldn’t make it all the way through. Since so few people were doing a full northbound hike, I was elated to be in the small percentage of hikers who were, along with the even smaller percentage of women who would make it through. The entire time I was in the Sierra, I saw three women, two of whom turned around. And as much as I didn’t want to, I became one of the girls who turned around and needed to exit. It took me until I met some other women hikers later on who made it all the way through to realize I didn’t fail because of being a girl. It was simply an injury, and the mountains don’t care that I’m a female.

NorCal was hard just because I went from slow days of 12-14 miles max to a marathon every day. Felt like I was always in a rush.

Oregon: my trail family split up and I had to learn to have fun in my solitude, which ended up becoming another great section!!

Washington was about racing winter to Canada. Rain came in for days, the nights grew long, and I was constantly holding my hands in my armpits. But wow, what a beautiful section when the clouds did break. Ten out of ten: I would say if you wanted to do a section of trail, Washington should be it.

Favorite Section

Will admit I had the most fun in the desert! There are no worries about getting to Canada in time (I had a later start date). I wasn’t tired of living outside yet (actually never got tired of that). I was meeting new people/ making new friends the whole time. Dare I say it felt like I was a kid; the world felt small and laughter came easily.  There wasn’t a worry in the world, and I just cruised along in a beautiful desert garden.

The whole damn thing was beautiful, maybe a total of ten miles would I consider ‘ugly.’ So the best parts of the trail are only distinguished by your mental state, physical state, and the good people around you.

Photo credit: MAV

Olen “Spreadsheet” Netteburg
Danae “Queen Bee” Netteburg
Lyol “Blaze” Netteburg
Zane “Boomerang” Netteburg
Addison “Angel Wings” Netteburg
Juniper “The Beast” Netteburg
Piper “Deadweight” Netteburg

Most Challenging Section

I suppose the Sierra was the most challenging physically, although I really wasn’t a fan of heat in the dry stretches either.

Favorite Section

North Cascades. The trail was a lot of steep, big, and long climbs, and the terrain was so rugged. But the views… and logistically there were resupplies perfectly spaced in awesome towns.

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Comments 1

  • William Farrell : Dec 4th

    Agree that Washington per mile is the best part, especially Mt Adams to Mt Rainier. Goat Rocks! Don’t get me started. Even with the (very wet) detour down the Cowlitz River due to a 2019 forest fire near Packwood, would not trade it for anything.

    JMT is almost equally unforgettable. Evolution Valley was worth the price of admission. Snowbound at Tuolumne Meadows for five days in a freak eatly Sept storm, after a mad descent from Donovan Pass, was the onset of my now chronic osteoarthritis. Still, impossibly beautiful.

    Anything pre Kenndedy Meadows South and China Hat… skip these if you can.


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