Photo: Shi Shi Beach Olympic National Park Washington

With sea stacks in the distance, low tide forms a checkerboard of puddles at Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park.

Photograph by Melissa Farlow, National Geographic

By Doug Schnitzspahn

Forty years ago, conservationist Ron Strickland had a dream of connecting the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) would allow a hiker to make her way, like water, from the top of the Continental Divide all the way to the sea. Unlike other famed long-hiking trails, the PNT wouldn't just follow the backbone of a range of mountains—instead, it would cut a cross section through the varied topography and ecosystems of a whole region.

Running along the Canadian border, Strickland’s trail would pass through Montana’s Glacier National Park; across Idaho in the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains; into Washington and the Okanogan National Forest and the Salmon-Priest and Pasayten Wilderness areas; through North Cascades National Park; across Puget Sound; and finally end up on the wild beaches of Olympic National Park.

That dream became an official reality in 2009 with the passage of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which designated Strickland’s route as a National Scenic Trail to be maintained by the Department of Agriculture. For Strickland, the trail is a type of new Northwest Passage, but one concerned with celebrating the American landscape instead of exploiting it. Hiking the entire 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) of the PNT is not as easy as conquering more established long-distance trails—one section requires bushwhacking, encounters with grizzlies are possible, and there are few fellow thru-hikers. But those difficulties are what make the PNT so enticing.

Need to Know: Get more info from the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (www.pnt.org).


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