Here is our quick and dirty guide to towns on the PCT that we have been through. Many of these, Beardoh has had the pleasure of passing through on two, three or even four occasions, and some were skipped on one thru hike but perhaps not on another.
Our intention is meant to discuss the ease of getting into and out of towns, give some impressions about the town’s feel, resources, etc. This guide isn’t meant to be a replacement for guides that are currently out there. Namely, Yogi’s. Her guide is quite excellent and well researched and we recommend it for your hike.
The PCT is long, so this guide will be broken up into 6 sections. Our suggestion is to read through all of the sections before your hike and then to download the PDF copies for later use while on the trail.
The thoughts here are our thoughts and since this isn’t an official guide that partners with towns and businesses, we are going to be straight about our experiences. We want to point out which towns we believe are good places to simply get in and out as well as places that have made for restful zeroes. We write this as if we were sitting down with you, the reader, and trying to give you a quick rundown of our thoughts on the various towns of the PCT before you head out on your thru or section hike of this wonderful trail.
So…on to southern California
Mt Laguna – Mile 40 NOBO
I walked right by this spot during my first thru-hike and was none the wiser. When we hiked the trail together, we mailed a food drop to Mt Laguna and enjoyed a nice meal. There is an outfitter that has a surprising amount of gear packed into the shop and decent high-end gear at that. We had a great meal at the Pine House Cafe. If you don’t mind carrying food from the terminus to Warner Springs, skip it. Since this is early in the hike, it is easy to know your schedule and to coordinate with the post office schedule. You can ship to the grocery store which will allow for a wider range of times to pick up a package. Mt Laguna is just off trail, so it isn’t a major time commitment either way.
- Going fast – skip it
- Moderate pace – enjoy a meal and split up your first food carry.
Julian – Mile 77 NOBO
This town is well known for its pie. On my first thru-hike, the pies were not well known to me until passing by and talking with other hikers. Julian is a bit off the trail and a hitch. Scissor’s Crossing is the asphalt intersection near the PCT where you’ll ply your luck in, what is for many, the first hitch of the PCT. Scissor’s Crossing doesn’t have a ton of traffic, but lots of hikers are able to get rides. Julian has several restaurants and a decent amount of lodging, but it is a little mountain tourist town and the motels are often full. They were full when we were there on the second thru-hike, but some friends let us sleep on the floor of their giant motel room. Don’t forget to stop into Mom’s Pies and mention you are a PCT hiker to enjoy your free piece of pie. Julian also has a decent Mexican restaurant named Poncho Villa’s. We didn’t plan to stop into Julian, but the previous day’s particularly foul weather had SweetPea and I sleeping in a privy and the thought of drying out in a motel room and eating pie was seductive enough to lure us from the trail.
- Going fast – skip it / You could spend a bit of time waiting for a hitch at Scissor’s crossing – and that could ultimately determine whether you go in or not. You’ll be able to get some town food without the effort of hitching at Warner Springs, just anoher 30ish miles up the trail.
- Moderate pace – enjoy a meal, some pie and possibly a shower, bed & laundry.
Warner Springs – Mile 109 NOBO
Nearly every PCT hiker will stop into Warner Springs as it is very close to the trail. There are not a lot of services here, but at mile 109, it is a good spot to mail a package. As of this writing, I believe the only place to mail a resupply package is the Post Office, which I have used on both hikes. The Warner Springs Community Center is THE place to be in town. They have a great setup for hikers and they are expecting you. They sell food (burgers, fries and such) as well as some simple resupply items such as Ramen Noodles and Idahoan mashed potatoes. There is a restaurant at a nearby golf course, that is a short hitch away as well. The Community Center allow hikers to use the lawn out back to camp – expect to see a sea of Big Agnes orange. 🙂 Inside the community center, there are computers to get online. This perk is awesome for making some early-hike gear changes. There isn’t exactly laundry services here, but I have bucket washed clothes here on both hikes.
- Going fast/Moderate pace – Mail Resupply Box
Mike Herrera’s Place – Mile 127
Mike’s place is not a town or resupply spot, but it is worth stopping in if you want the rest. There is a water tank on the way into Mike’s that has served many hikers over the years. Mike’s property is just down the road from the water tank. Often there is a friend of Mike (or Mike himself) on the property making some food for hikers. There tends to be sodas and beers about as well.
- Going fast – skip it
- Moderate pace – stop in, possibly overnight…enjoy some social-ness and possibly food and drink.
Paradise Valley Cafe – Mile 152 NOBO
Another place to grab food for your belly but not your pack. Not far from Idyllwild (25ish miles), but most likely a day away for most hikers. Good food, good portions. About 1 mile off trail.
- Going fast/Moderate pace – stop in, fuel up.
Idyllwild – Mile 179 NOBO
Lots of restaurants, some lodging, a campground, grocery store for resupply. There will most likely be a lot of PCT hikers at the campground (it is a cheap place to stay) and several people taking zeros here – showers, laundry in the sink. Another place that some friends have stayed and liked a lot is the Silver Pines Lodge.
Even though Idyllwild is a bit off trail, it is a long haul between food resupplies if you are going to skip the town (Warner Springs to Big Bear is 157 trail miles). From the PCT, you can hike down to the Devil’s Slide Trail (2.6ish miles) to the Ernie Maxwell trailhead and try to snag a hitch or continue hiking on the Ernie Maxwell trail all the way to town (3.7 additional miles from the trailhead)
- Going fast – hitch down from the trail head and resupply. If you are hiking 30+ mpd, skip the extra miles.
- Moderate pace – stop in, fuel up, possible night in town
Cabazon – Mile 209 NOBO
Up until recently, Ziggy & The Bear were trail angels in Whitewater (which is along the PCT and closer to the trail than Cabazon). This had been a great location to send a package. Nowadays, you can hitch or Uber up the highway to Cabazon (4.5 miles west of the trail) and grab a bite at McDonalds, In and Out Burger, or the Portero Canyon Buffet. We can only vouch for the first two…Maybe someone can let us know about the buffet? Cabazon has a convenience store, but not an actual grocery store to our knowledge. There is a casino hotel if you need a shower, AC and a bed. If you are hitching, you are largely depending on people picking you up from the Whitewater on-ramp.
- Going fast/Moderate Pace – Don’t depend on Cabazon for resupply, but you could top off with snacks at the convenience store or escape the heat and enjoy a burger. Most hikers will pass right through without stopping.
Big Bear Lake & Big Bear City- Mile 266 NOBO
These two towns feel like one continuous long spread out town. We double zero’d here when hiking together…and I did a zero + nero during my first thru-hike. I really like Big Bear as a place to take a little break. There are lots of lodging and food options, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive town. We have stayed at The Big Bear Hostel as well as the Motel 6 over the years and they have both been good. Hikers also stay at the ITH Big Bear Mtn Lodge (we have head good things). There is a large Von’s grocery store that should be ample for the needs of most thru hikers. We have stayed in both Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake, and prefer Big Bear Lake even though it is further from the trail. The Big Bear Hostel is convenient to the post office and a bunch of restaurants. Also, they organize a shuttle to get you back to the trail in the morning. Hitching into town is not too big of a problem. In the past, there has been trail angels that post notes with their phone numbers as well, if you can’t get a ride quickly. The PCT/road crossing is well positioned for scoring a ride into town. Hitching out is not too tough either. These towns are accustomed to PCT hikers.
- Going Fast – even though it is a hitch in, it is a really good resupply and place to add on some immediate calories with a variety of dining options.
- Moderate Pace – consider a zero here, if you haven’t just taken one in Idyllwild.
Cajon Pass – Mile 341 NOBO
MCDONALDS! – maybe as you read this, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. But, most likely the air conditioning, endless refills, cheap ice cream and the rest that this fast food icon has to offer will be true joy to the eyes, belly and spirit as you come upon Cajon Pass. Most hikers stop at the McDonalds. There is a convenient store next to the McDonalds and a hotel nearby as well.
If you are getting to Cajon Pass late in the day, be careful not to sleep to close to the well used train tracks. They blow their horns through this area and it is LOUD.
- Going fast – stop in to McDonalds and keep moving
- Moderate pace – stop in to McDonalds and keep moving unless you are aching for a bed.
Wrightwood – Mile 369 NOBO
There are a couple ways that a person can get into town. 1 – There are trails that lead from the mountain down to town. 2 – You can hitch from the trailhead at Highway 2. We have hitched (sort of) into town both times. There are day hikers and other tourists that you will probably be able to hitch with. Our ‘sort of’ hitch was a car that picked us up and then informed that he was a taxi mid way through the trip (blah!). There are trail angels who are taking hikers back to the trail in the morning and you may be able to swing a ride back down to town with them if your timing is good. The hardware store accepts packages and has a list of folks in town who will host hikers at their homes. We have not stayed with the trail angels in this town, but have spoken with several hikers who have had great experiences. There are a few restaurants in town as well as a small grocery store. There seems to be some love in Wrightwood for PCT hikers and lots of folks willing to help.
- Going fast – stop in to Wrightwood unless you want to have a very long food carry (188 miles).
- Moderate pace – definite stop and a good spot for an overnight.
Acton KOA Campground – Mile 443 NOBO
The KOA Campground is virtually right on trail. You can get showers, do laundry, get town food delivered, hang with hikers, and spend the night. I have stayed here on both thru-hikes and have enjoyed all of the above both times.
- Going fast – at least pick up a bag of Cheetos / or hold out for Agua Dulce
- Moderate pace – plan to stop in, get some town food, socialize, clean up
It should be noted that the KOA is only 10ish miles from Agua Dulce, where trail angels await. Our experience is that we found ourselves at the KOA mid-afternoon after sleeping at Messenger Flats and it just made sense with respect to time/distance to stop in.
Agua Dulce & The Hiker Heaven – Mile 454 NOBO
Agua Dulce is where the iconic Hiker Heaven is located. Donna & Jeff Saufley, as well as their cadre of volunteers, have honed a well tuned experience for hikers stopping at their place. They have assisted thousands of hikers for over a decade. We have shipped packages there twice. There are usually folks with cars helping out to give hikers rides to larger towns for gear purchases or medical needs. They even have a sewing area for gear repair. You can stay overnight here, take a shower, do laundry and pretty much everything. The town of Agua Dulce has a few restaurants and a couple small grocery stores that are adequate for most hiker’s resupply needs.
- Going fast – Agua Dulce/The Saufley’s is a great place to stop. Maybe do laundry and meet Donna and crew.
- Moderate pace – Stay overnight, possibly take a zero, enjoy some town food.
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