The Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”) is one of the world’s most famous through hikes, known for its wide diversity of wildlife and views sure to leave you breathless. You will high up at 6,404 feet so remember to pace yourself and account for the thinner air.
What Makes It Great
This section of the trail is ideal because you are legally allowed to camp wherever you like as long as you are 100 yards off the trail. There are designated camping areas like Cooper Canyon Trail Camp, but if you are a confident outdoorsman, you can hike until you see a good spot and plop down your tent. My favorite camp spot is down at the Little Rock Tributary (6,014 ft), 1.5 miles north on the PCT from the first intersection with the Buckhorn trail (explained below) the first PCT intersection. During the dry season, the creek bed offers the perfect, flat spot for a small tent and your gear.
From the Buckhorn Trailhead, you will hike in 1.5 miles until you reach the first junction. Here, at your first intersection with the PCT, you will have two options for where to go next.
a) A left will take you into Cooper Canyon where you can camp and enjoy a fairly mellow grade for a short hike and a camp at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp
b) A right will take you north along the PCT towards Burkhart Saddle and Devil’s Punchbowl if you make it far enough. 3.2 miles from this junction you will climb up to the top of Burkhart Saddle (6,970 feet). This is my personal recommendation; the views are better and the remote feeling of isolation is always much more extreme. If the saddle is your destination, drop your gear at The Little Rock Tributary and make the hike to the saddle with a lighter load.
If you have the right equipment (desalination tablets, water purifier or another water purifying devices) you may not even have to carry all of your water. There is water access to lots of this hike, but due to the unstable nature of California’s water supply don’t completely rely on grabbing water along the way. It is also important to remember that the sun fades fast in this high desert terrain because of the steep walls of the canyon so be sure to leave ample time to find a spot to set up your camp.
Who is Going to Love It
Those of you who love to get off the grid but do not have time to hike the whole PCT will love this spot. You will need to have the right gear, and cannot be scared of finding your own campsite, but if you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll love this place. The acrimonious canyon views are stunning in their sheerness but also in the reminder that you are still within LA County. The Burkhart Saddle viewpoint is not too shabby either, as you will get views of the canyon to your south, and the beginning of the Mohave Desert to your North. If all this sounds good to you, give it a shot.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Interstate 210 in the city of La Canada, exit at Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) and drive northeast for 34 Miles then turn left into Buckhorn Campground. Follow the camp road all the way to the parking lot at the back of the campground where you will find the Buckhorn Trail Trailhead. Use your adventure pass (on sale at Sports Chalet at the base of the Angeles Crest Highway) to park here overnight. There’s an outhouse here that’ll be your last chance at a bathroom so plan wisely.
Go to www.pcta.org to get detailed maps of this and all other sections of the PCT. For this hike you will want the maps labeled California Section D – Page 5B and 6.