For the thousands of people who planned and saved and trained for a 2020 PCT hike—not to mention made it through the permit queue—this year was heartbreaking. As Covid-19 swept the country this spring, and trail organizations scrambled to react to the fast-moving news, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) ended up recommending that hikers not attempt a 2020 thru-hike on the PCT, regardless of whether or not they had a formerly valid permit.
The vast majority of 2020 PCT thru-hiker hopefuls followed the PCTA’s guidelines, which were based on the CDC’s recommendations.
While the possibility of simply postponing a six-month thru-hike to the next year is not feasible for many people, there are plenty of 2020 hikers looking to get on the PCT in 2021.
Disclaimer before we update you: we don’t know anything about 2021 for sure, so consider this simply an update, and not the final say. The Covid-19 pandemic is still very much a reality, and it’s impossible to predict what the situation will look like in spring of 2021.
That said, here’s what we know as of now.
2020 Permits Do Not Transfer to 2021
If you had a PCT permit for 2020, it is not valid for 2021. This was one of the major questions when the PCTA asked hikers to stay local and not attempt a full thru-hike this year. This summer, the PCTA reported that federal land management agencies decided to not give priority to 2020 long-distance permit holders. They stated that the permit system, if it opens, will be equal and open to all PCT hopefuls.
PCT Permits Will Not Be Distributed in October
The first permit release is typically in late October, which would have been within the next week or so. The PCTA made the decision to not open the permit registration for their traditional October date, as the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, with travel recommendations uncertain and case numbers in several states continuing to rise.
January Permit Release is Still Uncertain
The second wave of permits traditionally happens in mid-January. As of now, the PCTA is still undecided about whether they will open the queue for permits. Regardless of permits, the PCTA plans to update people by mid-January as far as a final decision for the 2021 season. You can read the latest PCTA statement on the 2021 hiking season and the Covid-19 pandemic here.
The PCTA is Not Officially Recognizing 2020 Thru-Hikers
For the small number of people who continued with their PCT thru-hiking plans, the PCTA is not recognizing them on their 2,600-miler list. This is because 2020 thru-hikers completed their hikes despite travel restrictions and recommendations from the CDC and the PCTA.
Note on Predictable Controversy
While the PCTA is the governing organization that works to enhance the sustainability of the PCT by issuing a limited amount of start-date permits each year, mitigating damage from high-volume travel, they cannot legally prevent someone from obtaining federal land-use permits and hiking the PCT next year. It’s our job to acknowledge that, and it’s also our job to remind people that hiking 2,600 miles is a privilege, and traveling to the trail, and then between trail towns has the potential to spread infection.
As we did last year, we encourage people to consider their actions and the moral implications of doing a 2,600-mile hike that can in no conceivable way be unsupported during an ongoing pandemic.