Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail – 10th Anniversary

by Jeff Kish, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Trail Association

Mount Olympus from the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. Photo credit: Jeff Kish

The phrase “Tomorrow, the Pacific Ocean!” is credited as the catalyst that led to the creation of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), which was written by renowned northwest guidebook author Harvey Manning and published in the 1970 classic “101 Hikes in the North Cascades.”

Two years after the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail were designated by Congress as the nation’s first two national scenic trails, a Georgetown University student named Ron Strickland read Manning’s book and began to envision such a trail that would ultimately extend from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean.

Throughout the early 1970s, Strickland traversed the northwest to meet with local trail experts and other stakeholders to learn about the region’s trail systems. By the mid-70s, Strickland had cobbled together a preliminary route, and by 1977 the PNT attracted its first cohort of successful thru-hikers. That same year, Strickland founded the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA), which has operated continuously as the PNT’s primary advocates ever since.

Today, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail extends 1,226 miles west from the east side of Glacier National Park to the westernmost point in the lower 48 States on the shores of Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Coast. Along the trail’s three-State traverse, it crosses three national parks, seven national forests, and six designated wilderness areas. The trail’s east/west orientation across the western States makes it unique in that it travels against the grain of the nation’s topography, ascending seven major mountain ranges on its way to the sea.

In the 10 years since the Pacific Northwest Trail was designated as a national scenic trail, PNTA’s greatest accomplishments all involve connecting youth and young adults with paid stewardship opportunities on public lands. For example, the Quilcene Ranger Corps program introduces trail stewardship to junior high-aged youth from trailside communities through a summer of daylong trips in the Olympic National Forest. PNTA Performance Crews offer young adults the opportunity to spend the summer on extended backcountry hitches, performing advanced work in remote locations across the length of the trail. PNTA Job Corps Crews operate in partnership with Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center students, providing the opportunity for participants to apply trade skills and gain valuable field-based job experience.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.