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Begins: Jun 27, 2012
Date: Sun, Sep 9th, 2012
Trip Distance: 1,170.0
Entry Visits: 6,493
Journal Visits: 44,422
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Guestbook Entrys: 33
SECTION NOTES FOR FUTURE PNT HIKERS
2022 Update: These notes are now 10 years old! The trail has changed a lot!! Way more information, way more hikers, more trail maintenance. The PNTA finally has a good mapset that hikers use and Tim has a guidebook that has gone through several years of upates and is quite good. And of course there is a Guthook. I'm sure there are a lot of other changes, it's been like 10 years now, but people occasionally still tell me that they use these notes. The actual route of the trail hasn't changed all that much so these might still be of some help, but just keep in mind how old they are and how much less information there was 10 years ago.
WHAT IS THE TRAIL LIKE?
Here is my high level section by section summary. I've tried to give a good overview of the section, it's difficulty, enjoyment and major alternates/options. You will spend time doing a bit of everything, that's for sure.
GLACIER TO POLEBRIDGE
If you are starting the trail anytime in June and even early July make sure you check on the snow. I started in late June in an above average (but not epic) snow year and found Glacier with a lot of snow and from Polebridge to Eureka with tons of snow as well. The section from Chief Mountain to Polebridge has 2 major options, however unless you are very late season then fording the Flathead river is impossible and this really narrows your options to going out Bowman Lake and not Kintla Lake. If you go out Kintla Lake then you have a 15 mile roadwalk South to Polebridge in order to get across the Flathead on a bridge. Also, the Hole In The Wall / Kintla Lake way is very dangerous with significant snow and unless you are hiking mid-late season you won't be able to go this way anyway. So basically the Official route out Bowman to Polebridge is the most likely option unless you are late season. The Kintla Lake route is more scenic but generally unrealistic. However, one last option if the snow is ok is to do Kintla Lake, hitch back and forth to Polebridge (which should be fairly easy from Kintla) to get a food drop, etc. and then do the old guidebook route (Thorma, etc). So many options! Glacier National Park is awesome any way you go so enjoy it! Don't forget that you need permits in Glacier. Resupply wise you would need to send a package to Polebridge and then eat till you drop at the bakery.
POLEBRIDGE TO EUREKA:
The section from Polebridge to Eureka is above 7,000' for many miles (Whitefish Divide, Mt. Wam, Ten Lakes Scenic Area) and can hold snow for a long time. I found more snow in this section than in Glacier and had to dirt road walk around almost the entire section in early July. There was 100% snow cover above 6,000' in this section on July 1. Since I dirt road walked most of this section I can't comment on the Official Trail but my understanding is that it is very scenic and in pretty good shape when snow free. In summary, main advice is to check on snow because from Glacier to Eureka there can be a lot (but it depends on the snow year of course). As a town I liked Eureka. It's the first stop on the Great Divide cycling route so a lot of cyclists are around. Downtown is separated from the big grocery and motels by about 2 miles so you have to choose which section you want to be in.
EUREKA TO YAAK:
This section was pretty nice and pretty easy all things considered. It's mostly trail and minimal dirt roads. All the trails are in pretty good shape. The Vinyl Creek trail from the bottom of the Mt. Henry switchbacks to Turner Falls is perfectly walkable but is slowly losing the battle to be a trail to the fire regrowth. Assuming the weather is good make sure to go up Mt. Henry. The views are worth the climb. The Webb Mountain lookout tower would be amazing to sleep in if you can reserve it from the Forest Service (expensive I think...like $ 35). Otherwise it's locked. From Turner Falls I took Vinyl Creek trail west towards Yaak in order to walk into and out of Yaak without having to hitch the little trafficked (but paved) road 508. This saved walking a bunch of mediocre miles north to the Upper Ford Guard Station and then having to walk or hitch south to Yaak. I liked my route (I read several others doing this as well) and would recommend it: The Vinyl creek trail is a really nice creek walk with towering cedars. After 3 miles you will hit a big dirt road. I turned left and walked for about 10 minutes. At this point it will be a little choose your own adventure. I easily bushwhacked down the hillside to the dirt road near Vinyl Lake, turned left, went through a house yard and picked up a dirt road on the north side of the lake which then went around the west side. I essentially followed this all the way to Yaak although it turned into a super old closed logging road that amazingly was the exact road I was trying to follow on the GPS. Near the end there was some minor trespassing involved to get across the Yaak river on a footbridge but there were no houses around, just forest. It did get a little confusing but ironically the old road on the GPS (Garmin Topo 100k maps) was actually mapped correctly and I made it to Yakk although I breathed a sigh of relief as it seemed like maybe I could have also been hopelessly stuck!. Total about 2 hours walk time. Yaak is just 2 businesses and the best one is closed as of now (Dirty Shame Saloon). You could send a food box to the general store and eat at their restaurant. Nothing else in Yaak.
YAAK TO BONNERS FERRY
Well, if you walked into Yaak then you might as well walk Hwy 508 west about 2.5 miles and then Pete Creek rd (FS 338) 10 miles NW (mostly gravel, 4 miles strangely paved). The official route from the Upper Guard station to Pete Creek road is mostly forest service road so you might as well go more direct. DO NOT take Spread creek road as this will cut off the entire NW Peak Scenic Area. The major decision in this section is whether to take the Official trail towards Rock Candy mountain or the old guidebook route over Northwest Peak. The Official trail has more trail but is definitely less scenic. The old guidebook route has an extra 5 miles of road walking but then the trailless ridge walk is much more amazing. I did the Official route because so much snow was still around and it was a mistake. Definitely take the Northwest Peak route. The rest of the section is in good shape and fairly scenic with some good size ups and downs. Make sure to go to Fiesta Creek restaurant 5 minutes past from where you turn off Highway 34 for Bussard Mountain. Good food and very friendly. To say that Bonners Ferry is spread out is an understatement. Downtown is separated from the big grocery stores by several miles and a freeway type overpass. I was perfectly happy at a cheap motel in south Bonners right across from the big new grocery store. Only problem is that you then need to get a ride from south Bonners all the way north through town to the edge so you can then hitch back to the trail. I got easy rides but you never know. An alternate possible resupply strategy if you want to skip walking off route to Yaak and not have to hitch into Bonners Ferry would be to call Fiesta Creek restaurant/lodge and see if you can mail a food package. You could then do the stretch from Eureka to Metaline Falls with Fiesta Creek in between.
Bonner Ferry to Metaline Falls:
Lots of choices in this difficult section! The 10 miles across the Kootenai Valley to Parker Peak trailhead on remote roads was very nice. The monster climb up Parker Peak is tiring with a full pack but the subsequent ridge walk is stellar. Trail in good shape except for lots of blowdowns. The infamous 6 mile bushwhack is bearable. First off, if you have good weather and the balls then take Li's route over Lions Head ridge which stays high and looks epic. Otherwise get ready for some real bushwhacking. My advice is to plan enough time so you don't feel rushed, wear long sleeves and pants, use finesse and not brute strength and when you find an old trail keep to it as long as humanly possible. I kept to an old, old, old path about 50% of the time down the North Fork Lions Creek and 80% of the time down Lion's Creek. It was barely there sometimes but way better than when I lost it. Don't give into exhaustion and skip Lookout Mountain. It's an excellent and very scenic climb. The Idaho State Land trails from there to Upper Priest Lake are not signed at all but someone has flagged much of them and they are generally in good shape. The trails along the Upper Priest are easy and scenic forest walking with lots of old growth cedars. From after the Upper Priest you have a decision to make. The trail is a mess in many places. Little Snowy Top was destroyed by fire and abandoned. A logical alternative on Trail 315 is also reportedly a mess. The forest service recommends the Hughes Creek trail 312 to reconnect with the PNT which is great except that after you reconnect you hit Leola Creek road which has been described numerous times as hell on earth to walk 4 miles through the blowdowns and alders. You could walk Sullivan creek road to Sullivan lake after the Hughes Creek trail but that's a long roadwalk that sucks too. The guidebook has some crazy route over Boundary dam that skips Metaline Falls and seems dumb. Best option is on Li's maps he has a southern alternate that is almost all trails over to Sullivan lake. Check with him/maps that someone has walked this just to make sure you don't get into a bigger mess. Metaline Falls is a tiny but beautiful town that is really trying to survive and a great place to relax. I didn't stay over but hung out at the little pavilion in the park all day reading, eating and charging my phone. It's like a Colorado old mining town without the tourists.
Metaline Falls to Northport:
This section is short and mostly on dirt roads. The climb up and down Abercrombie Mntn is a big one and long one. Watch your junctions on O'hare creek rd. They can be confusing especially the obscure grassy road turnoff about 1/2 mile before Lind ranch/Pass. I liked Northport but liked Metaline Falls better. I didn't stay over but Bertha's reasonably priced B&B gets great reviews from hikers.
Northport to Republic (west side):
The 30 miles to Hwy 395 and then 17 more to the Kettle Crest trail are all pretty boring forested roads which you have also been walking on essentially since Metaline Falls totaling about 100 miles in a row. Not a PNT highlight. I guess just bust out the miles the best you can. After Hwy 395 this section is fantastic. DO NOT try and shortcut this section and do a boring road walk into and out of Republic. Yes, the PNT does an inefficient southern orbit of Republic but you are not walking the PNT to be efficient. You could shortcut this just before Copper Butte but then would miss an awesome climb up Copper Butte, awesome alpine/burn area walking with great views and the Grand Canyon of the Sanpoil. The only downside is that you have to then hitch into Republic to resupply but hitching on the PNT is usually pretty easy (although all 3 ways into Republic are on state highways but have pretty low traffic). You can hitch in from the east, south or west on paved roads although the south has the least amount of traffic. The east has the most, west is pretty decent. The trails in this section are generally in good shape and pretty easy to follow. There is one small bushwhack after Trail 3. It's short and not too bad. Try and stay on the edges of the regrowth pines. I took the official route through the Grand Canyon of the Sanpoil into Hwy 21 and liked it. The old guidebook cross country to Hwy 21 looks like continued cool crest walking and is probably pretty doable although the end seems tough based on the guidebook description. I'd suggest bypassing Swan lake on roads as Rd 640 after Swan Lake was terribly overgrown and then there is also a small bushwhack section. I'd also skip Clackamas mountain as it is not very scenic and mostly cow paths instead of trail (I bypassed but had notes from other hikers to this effect). Trail 301 instead of Clackamas was scenic and quite nice. Republic is a cool little town and the brewery has great beer and is fun.
Republic (west side) to Oroville:
This section was better than I expected. The Okanogan area is a gorgeous mix of brown hills and green valleys. It's a shame that the PNT is in the forest too much though to always enjoy it. There is a fair amount of road walks but they are remote and pleasant as long as it is not brutally hot and the farmland is gorgeous. Bonaparte lake resort and its good restaurant is in this section which is nice. Bonaparte mountain is a big climb of all forest so take the side trail to the top for amazing views. Trail 100 into Oroville was excellent and scenic. Overall trails/roads are in good shape although watch out for those "cow trails". Oroville is a good town and the Camary motel is excellent and hiker friendly. They will let you borrow a bike to get around town.
Oroville to Ross Lake Resort
This section consists of 2 parts. Getting to the Pasayten and then the Pasayten. Possibly the best section on the PNT (although I vote the Olympics #1). Pray for good weather from the trail gods. Leaving Oroville you have several options. The best is the Similkameen river trail which follows the old railroad grade to Nighthawk. This railtrail is gorgeous and the landscape is unlike any other on the PNT. A real gem and I loved it. Plus there is a super cool half mile long tunnel. The only problem is the last 1.5 miles you are trespassing big time. The owner refuses to provide an easement and has encountered hikers and others in the past. You have to climb over a 7' deer fence and then the road/trail literally walks right in front of his house. The odds of seeing him are very high. I asked a lot of locals in town and they all said just go for it so I did.....and saw him on his porch at 10 pm! He just said I had bigger balls than him. Not sure exactly what this meant. Second option is to just walk the county road on the other side of the river from town. The paved road has very, very little traffic, is still very scenic but is paved which sucks. Third option is to walk a network of roads south and west to Loomis, eat some food at the general store and meet up with the PNT 2 miles north. I hate trespassing but the rail trail was worth it. After the rail trail you have a long paved roadwalk around the Grandview mountains and can still eat at Loomis, only 2 miles out of the way. Or you can take a killer crosscountry shortcut over the Granviews that Li has mapped. About 2500' up in 3/4 mile. I wanted to do it but it looked insanely steep. Tough call. The roadwalk is very scenic and there is barely any cars but pavement is never good but of course 2500' up in 3/4 mile can ruin your day too! Loomis is a nice stop with a small gas station store that cooks up some good food and ice cream and has tables inside to relax and eat. The Pasayten is amazing. If you have good weather it will be epic. If you have bad weather then it will still be epic, just not in a good way. There is a lot of exposed miles although there always seems to be clumps of trees for protection if necessary. You won't see a road for a week and there are very few ways out in a short distance in an emergency. My cellphone never got reception, even up high. The trails are generally good to walk although narrow and overgrown a fair bit. Not a lot of junctions and with decent trail it's a good mental break from navigation. There is a huge burn after Bunker hill so following the trail down is a little tough and the Pasayten river crossing gives everyone trouble (see notes on Li maps) but otherwise the trail is easy to follow. There are very few alternates as this section doesn't need them, it's great. Oh, and you follow the PCT for 14 miles, of which 10 are some of the best hiking anywhere. Have fun!
Ross Lake Resort to Baker Lake:
This section is basically North Cascades National Park. With the exception of Whatcom and Hannigan Pass I found the National Park trail to be pretty disappointing. You are almost always in a valley with very, very few views of the absolutely incredible mountains around. The old growth cedars and hemlocks are gorgeous but I wanted to be higher in the mountains. The 2 passes are short lived but amazing. The walk out down the Ruth Creek valley was actually the most scenic non-pass walking. Make sure to take the cable car across the Chilliwack! Apparently funding is tough and Big and Little beaver trails and Brush creek trail were heavily overgrown when I went through. Very surprising for a National Park. Overall, if I was anywhere else it would have been a nice section, but I was disappointed considering my expectations. I think the North Cascades is more of a climbing/mountaineering park that a hiking park with most mountains above treeline sheer rock and the glaciers coming down so low there isn't a lot of good places to build continuous trail. When you hit Mt Baker highway you can hitch about 15 miles west to the town of Glacier. It has a small expensive general store but also a Post office for a mail drop. A couple good restaurants, a Forest Service center and about a mile back towards the trail a great pizza and beer place (Chair 9). The road deadends the other way on the slopes of Mt. Baker but gets heavy tourist traffic. It is a zoo on a weekend. You are west of the Cascades now and you'll notice it in the change in people. Next up is a paved roadwalk up to the Mt. Baker ski slopes and it is surprisingly nice. It's the deadend road and I really enjoyed the walk. From the top the Visitor center is friendly, the Lake Ann trail good and then the Swift Creek trail which historically has been a nightmare has been cleared. The trail tread is bad but the brushing is the most important and it's good to hike. The ford of Swift Creek can be tough. Be careful. Baker Lake resort is now called Swift Creek campground and is .5 mile off the trail and on Baker Lake. The store has extremely minimal supplies of warm sodas, snacks and chips. I was able to get 2 days of snacks but there was nothing even close for dinners. It's also very pricey. FYI, permits (free) are required in North Cascades National Park. Call the Wilderness Center from Oroville and they will issue you a permit number over the phone. Most campsites were empty so do your best but you can make a change while walking if needed.
Baker Lake to Anacortes
This section and all sections until Olympic has a lot of options and roads. I had read in hiker journals and the PNT forum lots of bad things about Mt. Josephine, Lyman and Anderson. It's all logging country and mostly walking on logging roads. When there is trail going over the tops it sounded like it was in real bad shape. Also ATV's tearing up Anderson sounded like a problem. There might be good views though because of all the clearcuts but I had read several accounts that said "dull and boring". So I decided to do what other have done recently and walked the rail trail from Concrete to Sedro-Wooley. But first from Baker Lake I did the 30 mile semi-loop to the south face of Mt. Baker. It was a 8 mile slog up gravel roads and around the other side had some rough and boring trail but the few miles of alpine right in front of Baker were amazing. I had the best campsite of the trip at the top of the switchbacks in the alpine (stealth site but hidden from view). I'd highly recommend timing it so you camp here and then the 30 mile loop would be worth it. Otherwise, it was too forested for me. I connected the end of the semi-loop by roadwalking into Concrete to resupply and pick up the rail-trail. In Concrete, once I made it to the big grocery 1.5 miles out of town and found a good pizza place and cheap motel there I was real happy. In town I was unhappy with no grocery, barely any food open and the dumpy RV motel place was (about) a 1/2 mile out of town. The rail-trail was a nice change of pace after 2 weeks of hard mountain hiking. It wasn't crazy exciting but not boring either although it is dead straight and dead flat so some music might help. There are several restaurants on the way (around Birdsong and in Lyman). Just past Lyman the rail-trail stops paralleling any roads and the Skagit river comes right up next to it and is a great place to stealth camp. Sedro-Wooley was a shock to the system with the first chain restaurants of the entire trip! I was very excited. Town is big and spread out and the motels are higher priced and can be busy/full in summer. The PNTA has its office here so give Jon Knechtel a call. He knows every inch of the trail. From Sedro I walked roads to Burlington and then took a local bus about 25 miles north to Bellingham ($ 2) to experience a big town with awesome food, an REI, etc. Then, for the first time ever, I did not connect my steps. I could have taken a bus back to Burlington and been near Anacortes in only 7 miles of walking but I wanted to walk the Chuckanut/Samish bay section up north (which connects from the Official route over Anderson). So instead, after Bellingham I took the bus back south but got off at Alger rd (closest stop) and walked the 25 miles back south on the PNT. So I didn't connect my steps but chose to walk and extra 20 miles and felt the enjoyment of the trip was worth more. I liked this plan and would recommend it. The Chuckanut trail system was pretty crazy and cool. The rest of the way to Anacortes is mostly road unless you walk on the dykes which are awesome and scenic but usually are private property and can be very overgrown which is what ended up driving me off. Just depends when the dyke district last mowed them. Anancortes is a pretty large town and a cool place to stay. Downtown is nice. There is a good bus system to get around if needed.
Anacortes to Port Townsend:
Lots of options but the main goal should be to stay off of Hwy 20 as much as possible. Hwy 20 has a large shoulder but tons of traffic and isn't very fun to walk. The network of local forest trails to the west of Anacortes are nice and well marked and a good place to stealth camp if needed. Try and walk as much of the beach as possible but low tide is required for much of it so it might not work out. There's lots of food stops along the way. I didn't go into Oak Harbor as there was a good gas station and pizza place to the west on the PNT so that was enough. Joseph Whidbey state park was a good place to stealth camp. Coupeville to the east (can walk or take a bus) is a cute touristy town with expensive food and B&B's. Enjoy all the food on this stretch because the Olympics are coming up and it's a long haul. Plan your stealth camping well since you are frequently on roads. From the end of Whidbey Island you catch the ferry over to Port Townsend.
IMPORTANT: From Anacortes (or around here) you need to call the Olympic Wilderness center to get your permits. It's $ 5 for the permit and then $ 2 per night. It's a LONG stretch (150+ miles) and certain areas have camping number restrictions and certain require bear canisters. I planned it so I only hit 1 campsite that was a "reservation" site (other sites don't have limits but you are still required to have a permit and camp in designated sites) and I also planned it so I didn't have to have a bear canister. On top of that the trail is closed at Elwha dam (by Altair campground) and requires a detour (although I night hiked through illegally but easily). As a result it was rather difficult to plan a legal route through the park without bear canisters but I did it. On the coast a bear canister is required everywhere and there is no way around it so pick one up (for free or $ 3 suggested donation) from the ranger station in Forks and also get your coast permits there.
Port Townsend to Forks:
DO NOT under any circumstances shortcut the Olympics. The park is simply amazing and was my favorite part of the entire PNT. I took the longest route possible which was the new "pipeline" route south out of Port Townsend (includes Gold and Snow creek segments), through the Buckhorn Wilderness, into Olympic NP, up the Dosewallips, through the Grand Valley, across Hurricane Ridge (visitor center with grill!), down to the Elwha river, night hiked the dam closure, across the High Divide/Seven Lakes basin and out the Bogachiel to Forks. Night hiking the dam closure was easy. There is stuff going on so I wouldn't recommend going during the day but it's just a paved road the whole way so getting through at night was easy. I saw no one. You don't actually even cross the dam so other than a locked gate for cars there is nothing physically stopping you from walking through. Plus with the closure the Olympic hot springs are hard for everyone else to get to so you will probably have them all to yourself. Awesome hot sulfur pools but lots of "muck" on the bottom kind of ruins them a bit. This was about 165+ miles and 8 hard, hard days. A couple days were over 6000' of elevation gain but it was all worth it. Note, the "pipeline" route out of Port Townsend was fairly difficult to follow. My understanding was that this new route was complete but there were either some mapping issues or trail issues or both. Suggest checking on this before hiking it. Also note, that Hurricane Ridge visitor center has a decent but expensive grill (free soda refills!) and a small selection of chips, bars, candy, muffins, etc. You could resupply snacks here (expensive) but no real dinner options. Pray for good weather and enjoy!
Forks to Cape Alava
IMPORTANT: Get a tide chart from the Forks ranger station and know how to read it. Also get the free park map which shows the headlands which need to be crossed around low tide and the headlands which always need to use an overland trail. You'll need to spend some time figuring out which areas you have to have a low tide and then plan your days accordingly. Winging it isn't a great idea. You'll be stuck waiting out a high tide at some point.
To get to the coast you walk a boring network of logging roads on DNR property. I suggest taking Li's mapped Goodman creek shortcut which goes right to the coast (after about 10 miles of logging roads from section start) instead of roadwalking south 20 miles around Oil City. From the Coast to Cape Alava it is awesome and mostly beach walking or short overland trails to get over a headland. It's only about 45 miles total from Forks to Cape Alava (using the Goodman creek cutoff) but don't expect to get these miles done in 2 days. There are too many sections where you need a low tide and it would be pretty difficult if not impossible without night hiking to do it in 2 days. Plus even just the sandy beach sections are nicer and easier to walk on at a low tide (although many can be walked at a higher tide) so going a little slower will make the hiking more enjoyable. Several sections are nothing but rocks/boulders/tidal flats even at low tide. No sand and super slow, most notably around the Cape Johnson complex, Norwegian memorial to before Yellow Banks and Sand Point to Cape Alava. In La Push the RV store is quite good and has some hot food. You'll need to ask a fisherman to give you a short lift across the river or hitch around (go to the Marina and there is a good chance they will get someone to help you across the river). Lake Ozette has a small store at the Lost Resort a 1/2 mile up the road. Fresh sandwiches, pizza and an expensive small store. It's a long way to Port Angeles even if you get a quick hitch so stock up!
Pacific Northwest Trail
The 1200 mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail runs from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park west to the Pacific Ocean at Olympic National Park.
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