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Aug. 7, 2019 – There is no award for completing the walk from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. But read about the journeys of so-called “thru-hikers” of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and it is clear that the 2,650-mile (4,265-kilometer) hike changes you. Even walking a small segment of trail can connect you with the land, whether you access the PCT in desert, forest, or alpine areas.
In 2018, the U.S. National Trails System celebrated its 50th anniversary. Of the eleven National Scenic Trails that exist today, only two—the PCT in the West and the Appalachian Trail in the East—have been around since the beginning. Decades of planning, scouting, and building culminated in a “completion” ceremony for the PCT in 1993, although protection of existing trails and acquisition of new ones on private lands are ongoing.
The PCT is not the longest National Scenic Trail—that designation goes to the North Country Trail—but it set the stage for trails that followed. The remarkable length of the Pacific Crest Trail, passing through 48 wilderness areas and some extremely demanding terrain, is especially apparent from space.
NASA Earth Observatory identified locations along the trail where satellites and astronaut photography offer a unique perspective. Most thru-hikers walk the trail from south to north over the span of many months starting around mid-April to early May. This direction and timing align with favorable desert temperatures in the south and seasonal snowmelt on the trail.