Cleveland National Forest
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  • Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

    Welcome to the Cleveland National Forest Pacific Crest Trail Page

    Many hikers will begin their Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) journey on the Cleveland National Forest heading north, and in many instances, they have questions about the road ahead. Below, you will find tips, must-know facts, permit information, gear recommendation, and proper trail etiquette as it related to the trail along the Cleveland. Many of the hikes listed can be done in one day.


    Pacific Crest Trail California Section A

    Though not officially finished until spring of 1993, the Pacific Crest Trail was deemed a National Trail System in 1968. Spanning a vast 2,663 miles in length, the PCT begins on a low hill near Campo (elev. 2,915′) and runs northbound towards the Canadian Border in British Colombia. The first 110 miles of this trail is known as Section A, which starts in Campo and traverses through the Cleveland National Forest. It then passes through Lake Morena County Park, tunnels beneath Interstate 8, and climbs through chaparral, scrub oak and pines to the rim of the Laguna Mountains. Along the way hikers get rewarding views of San Diego, Mexico, the Anza-Borrego Desert, several mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean and vast open meadows and cattle ranges.



    For those interested in backpacking long distances along the PCT on the Cleveland, it is advisable to consult various resources before beginning. Those looking for permits or proprietary information can contact the Descanso Ranger District at (619) 445-6235. They can further advise on seasonal expectations, good overnight camping options, current trail hazards, and what to expect. Permits are required to hike the PCT through the Cleveland and beyond. For more information on permits please see below.


    Day Hiking

    There are a variety of entry and exit points, each one offering different mileage and level of difficulty. These can be done as day hikes, or multiple day hikes. The PCT spans 110 miles through the Cleveland but many hikers choose to hike point to point, or trailhead to trailhead. To select the correct hike for you, please see some of the popular options below:


    Permit Information

    LONG DISTANCE HIKING (over 500 miles): Those looking to travel 500 continuous miles or more can apply for a long-distance permit through the website. Long distance permits are limited to 50 individuals per day to start from the Southern Terminus during peak months (March-June).


    SECTION HIKING (less than 500 miles): For those looking to hike less than 500 miles with a starting point located near or within the Cleveland National Forest boundaries, a visitor’s permit can be obtained locally from the Descanso Ranger District on the Cleveland National Forest. The visitor’s permit is required to disperse camp within the Hauser Wilderness and on all Cleveland National Forest lands outside of the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. Dispersed camping outside of a developed campground is not allowed in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area.


    Due to continued resource damage, and as an effort to decrease further degradation, the Descanso Ranger District has placed a seasonal limit on Visitor Permits for the section of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) crossing District lands. Visitor’s permits are required for dispersed camping in the Hauser Wilderness and upon Forest lands along the PCT up to the southern boundary of the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. If a PCT section hiker plans to disperse camp within these areas, they are subject to this seasonal limit. Seasonal limits do not apply to camping in the USFS Indian Flats area (Section B) north of Warner Springs.


    Visitor permits will be limited seasonally from March 1st until May 15th starting in 2017, continuing annually at the discretion of the District Ranger.


    • Only one individual can be assigned to each visitor permit.
    • Only five individuals requiring visitor’s permits for dispersed camping will be permitted to start a section hike through the Descanso District boundaries each day within the seasonal dates.
    • A visitor’s permit can be acquired as early as one month prior to the requested day. (Example: a start date of March 1st can become available for reservation on February 1st.) To obtain a permit, call the Descanso Ranger District Office at 619-445-6235.
    • Permits will only be issued by the administrative staff in the Alpine District Office via phone. No permit requests will be processed by email. No USFS staff or volunteer outside of the Alpine District Office are authorized to issue permits within the restricted dates.
    • Day users of the PCT, or hikers camping in developed campgrounds, do not require a visitor’s permit and therefore will not be effected by these limits. Hikers looking to camp along the trail between the Mexican Border and the Laguna Mountain Recreation area will require a visitors permit. Hiking from campground to campground is possible but challenging, especially starting from the border and traveling the first 20 miles to Lake Morena County Park.


    For those starting their section hike closer to the San Bernardino National Forest, contact the San Jacinto Ranger District in Idyllwild at 909-382-2921. 


    Must-Know Facts

    • Wood or charcoal fires are never allowed outside of developed campgrounds or picnic sites. However, portable stoves or lanterns that use gas, kerosene, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are permitted unless elevated fire conditions prohibit their use
    • Water sources on the Cleveland are very scarce and can typically only be found at the County Park Lake Morena or purchased at the Mt. Laguna General Store. From Laguna to Warner Springs none is available


    Resupply Locations

    Along the 110 miles, you may need to resupply your stock, find lodging, or pickup goods at a USPS. Below you will find a list of locations that offer a variety of services: