Kaitlin’s Pacific Crest Trail Update

Hi all, Kaitlin here with an update from the Pacific Crest Trail! The PCT is split into a few major sections, or regions, and I have just recently completed the first 700 miles of the trail known as “The Desert,” which runs from the Mexican Border near Campo California up to Kennedy Meadows in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. As a SoCal resident for the past 10+ years, I definitely have a soft spot for all the amazing parks and open spaces down here, and spending over a month hiking through it all continuously gave me a new appreciation for the wide range of ecosystems we all have in our own backyards, and how lucky Southern Californians are to have access to so much preserved open space.  To give you a taste of the Southern California section of the PCT, and maybe some ideas for parts of the trail to visit, here’s a rundown of just a few of the parks I’ve walked through over the past 700 miles, and the diverse ecosystems within them! 

The PCT starts making its way north through the mountains through Lake Morena County Park and Cleveland National Forest, and contains a Southern California classic, chapparal! It’s one of California’s most extensive plant communities, so it makes sense that a good chunk of The PCT passes through it. It’s dominated by large shrubs with hard waxy coated leaves that make it perfectly adapted to California’s dry climate. Passing through in April, my favorite part was the beautiful purple flowers blooming on the ceanothus that smell like fresh laundry, and listening to the calls of wrentits and scrub jays all day long. It’s the plant community with the most in common with the coastal sage scrub found in Crystal Cove that the trail passed through, so I enjoyed teaching my fellow hikers to identify some native plants and animals along the way!

Next we descended into Anza Borrego Desert State Park and got to see a little more of what we expected from a section known as “The Desert,” with Ocotillo and cacti covering the mountains and desert washes. Lots of the cacti were blooming this time of year which gave it all such an amazing pop of color! 

Once we made our way north into some of the bigger mountains, we ascended all the way up into the pine forest! The PCT passes through the San Jacinto, San Bernardino, and San Gabriel mountains through San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, and the San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests. The high elevations still had some snow on the ground, and it was a nice change of pace to meander up high under the pine trees listening to Steller’s Jays and Mountain chickadees calling. 

Throughout The Desert section of the PCT we walked up and down through each of these different ecosystems as we changed in elevation, and it was incredible to see how well the trail stays continuously through open space for the vast majority of the trail. While some sections were through private property, or one brief section through the town of Agua Dulce, most was public land! Considering how many people live in Southern California (almost 24 million!) I think this is pretty impressive. Even if you’re a more reasonable person than myself and don’t want to walk continuously
across SoCal, there are tons of places to get out on the PCT for a morning or a few days, and I can’t recommend it enough!

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