You are here

The Pacific Northwest Trail Will Establish Important Linkages


The Pacific Northwest Trail Association has partnered with the Cascades Jobs Corps since 2003. Teams of students like these work on trail projects for six weeks at a time. PNTA photo.

The Omnibus Public Lands Bill that President Obama signed into law last March authorized three new national scenic trails; the New England National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, and the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. With the addition of these three trails, the first to be designated since 1983, the tally of national scenic trails now stands at eleven.

The New England and Arizona trails are very worthy projects in their own right, but the Pacific Northwest Trail is especially intriguing because of the extraordinary linkages it will establish. When completed, this remarkable trail, which is to be administered by the Forest Service, will link three national parks, seven national forests, several major mountain ranges, and two border-to border national scenic trails. It will also move the long-held dream of an Atlantic-to-Pacific pathway around 1,200 miles closer to reality.

The Pacific Northwest Trail is rooted in a concept that writer/conservationist/trails developer Ron Strickland began promoting around 40 years ago. The central idea is to create a trail that runs all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. You put it way up north so that it runs close to the Canadian border for most of its length, traversing some of America’s most ruggedly beautiful terrain, avoiding population centers, and taking maximum advantage of existing public recreation lands.

For three decades now, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association has been hard at work creating trail segments and trying to get Congress to authorize the route as a national scenic trail. Now that federal designation has been achieved, there will be an infusion of federal funds and related resources to complete missing links, construct bridges and additional improvements, install signage, establish access points, and do other necessary work.

For an NPT map and additional information, visit PNTA’s website.

The 1,200-mile PNT is, in many ways, a hiker’s dream. Consider, for example, the epic adventures that the PNT will make possible. The PNT will allow you to walk from the Cascades to the Rockies, and thus from the Pacific Crest Trail to the Continental Divide Trail. These two border-to-border trails open the way to an even bolder trek. If you were so inclined, you could start at the Mexican end of the PCT, hike north to the Canadian border, hang a right on the PNT, hike to the CDT, hang another right, and then hike southward on the CDT all the way back to Mexico. Wow!

And remember that some day, hopefully by the National Trail System 50th anniversary in 2018, additional east-west links will be established and hikers will finally be able to walk from coast to coast, following the PNT for around a third of the way. Trail developer Ron Strickland has been promoting a transcontinental "C2C" route (aka Sea-To-Sea Route) since 1996 and has recently begun pushing for the creation of a National Trails Center to consolidate many functions of the National Trails System.

For now, national park enthusiasts can celebrate the fact that the PNT will link Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park. That’s three of our most wildly gorgeous national parks. Hurrah!


Just what we need. A multi-billion dollar hiking trail so long that only the most-fit unemployed hiker (most jobs you can't be gone for that long) can take advantage of it's coast-to-coast potential. Is there a usage fee? I sure hope so.

Don't worry, Anonymous. They've also constructed some "multi-billion dollar" options to allow even the unfit, overweight, and gainfully-employed to travel coast-to-coast. Have you heard of them? They're called roads.

Still, you make a great point. After all, there are very few roads in the United States, severely limiting our options for car travel. Surely we should focus our efforts on providing several dozen more coast-to-coast roads before constructing the first footpath. Those snobby hikers, enjoying walking through nature! Why don't they just drive coast-to-coast like the rest of us good Americans?

And I think your idea for a usage fee for every hiker is fantastic - they should have to pay to walk! Just like we currently have tolls on every mile of road! How crazy would that be to have a government build a road, and then just LET people use it without paying? That's socialist! Say no to socialist trail construction!

"...multi-billion dollar" is gross hyperbole. A lot of the work is being done by volunteers and a lot of funds donated by sponsors. The infusion from the government will be nowhere near billions of dollars.

A lot of areas in the National Parks are accessible to only the ultra-fit too. We should pave those over and quit spending money protecting them and maintaining trails through them, I suppose.

Sorry I can't be more bitter and cynical, but I find projects like this - and the mere existence of trans-continent trails - to be inspirational, despite the fact I'm not likely to ever walk from Glacier to Olympic. I got a thrill from reading the trail register on the AT in Grafton Notch, Maine this summer and knowing that there were people out there that were walking from Georgia to Maine. My wife and I walked a few miles and lived vicariously through the register book for the other 2,100!

The long-distance trails have a sort of magic for those who only do day hikes on them. Just today I had the pleasure of walking a 7-mile round trip on the Appalachian Trail, and I enjoyed contemplating that my little segment is part of the whole 2,100 miles from Maine to Georgia. Here in Maryland most of the people I meet on the A.T. are day hikers or families hiking a segment of a few days. The A.T. inspires all of us, and I'm sure the PNT will do so, too.

For what it's worth --thread drift, for sure -- there was a story the other day in the Wall Street Journal about the sour economy spurring an increase in the number of AT through-hikers.

"I wouldn't do this if I was employed," Dan Kearns, a 32-year-old construction worker who decided to hike the nearly 2,200-mile AT end-to-end, told the Journal. "I couldn't find any work, so I just decided to take a walk."

According to the article, a typical year sees about 1,000 through-hikers leaving Georgia each spring on the AT. This year the number was a bit closer to 1,400, with "hundreds more following behind through early summer."

A through-hike on the AT was something I thought about often growing up in New Jersey, but I never found the time to do it. These days I wish I had made the time. Of course, no one is wishing unemployment on folks to force them to get out and experience nature. But as George points out above, even the long-distance trails harbor gems for day hikers to experience. I second his comment that the "A.T. inspires all of us," and hope the PNT does the same for those on the West Coast.

These trails, and all the shorter trails that are sprinkled throughout the country, play a vital role in the country and should be recognized for that role. They help connect us to nature, they provide a portal to solitude and reflection, and they can help ease the troubles on our minds.

I'm with you Kurt. Hiking the AT is on my bucket list, but like many I simply can't afford to take 6 months off of work. I'd return to find my car towed away and bill collectors knocking on my door. PLus no one will babysit my evil cat for that amount of time. Although I'm sorry that people are losing jobs, it's nice that the trails are there so people can get back to the simpler things.

Ranger Holly

What we actually need is more CEO's running the country into the ground from the top then laughing about it on CNN, or maybe we could have put the time and money into more corrupt police forces (check out "THE BIGGEST STREET GANG IN AMERICA" on youtube) oh I got it we could build more bombs and other weapons so we can keep forcing our ideals of money and power down other peoples throats so we can strip their countries of natural resources to further pollute our world. Come on people who wants to go on a hike and enjoy the beauties of nature when we could be cutting educational costs, supporting mass genocide, or eating 99cent cheese burgers....As Americans I think we need to re-prioritize our goals of world domination and stop playing in the backyard. If we don't act now there is a chance that our kids kids could be enjoying nature as it was before we stole this beautiful country from its natural inhabitants...........I almost didn't post this because no one is paying me. I'll probably get taxed later

I can't wait for spring I'll be heading west see you there!!!

This Act authorizes no funding at all for the PNT. The best we might hope for over the next few decades is a few million dollars cumulatively, for purchase of trail easements, and construction of trailheads and missing trail segments. Not from Congress, but pieced together from individual donations, foundations, and grants. That's all it would take to complete the PNT, and even that is but a dream, we hope brought one step closer to realization by the National Scenic Trail designation. But its a fine dream to strive for!

Work to date on the PNT has been accomplished overwealmingly by unpaid volunteers, with the PNTA mustering at best a few dozen summer student trail crew members each year on a tenuous series of grants and donations. Let's hope this can continue, but at this point, it sure doesn't look good for next year...

Anyway, National Scenic Trail designation does not include or even promise any funding. It's up to us - the public and volunteers - to see this through and make it a reality.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide