Three Pacific Crest Trail SoCal Day Hikes

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Hiking and Travel Tips

Section and Thru Hikes get all the chatter on the internet but day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is just as epic of an experience! I have been day hiking the PCT in the desert and in this article I am sharing my three favorite Pacific Crest Trail SoCal Day Hikes.

Pacific Crest Trail Marker in SoCal near Big Bear Lake California.
I’m always on the lookout for another PCT Sticker while on the trail.

I have ONLY day hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
Hiked the PCT in Washington, check.
Hiking the PCT in Oregon, check.
A hike on the PCT in California, check.
Spending the night on the PCT, not yet.

I have hiked almost 200 miles of the PCT but all of the miles have been on day trips. There’s just as much joy to be found I believe on these trails as a day hiker as a section and thru hiker can find. The SoCal section stretches for hundreds of miles and with its close proximity to several cities it’s easier than one might imagine to day hike the PCT in Southern California’s Desert Section.

First things first…

It’s a privilege to go hiking on public lands. Especially while you are taking a trip, on vacation, or on a holiday somewhere you don’t live. Giving love and respect to the culture is vital and while we are at it…Leave No Trace and Pack Your 10 Essentials :)!

Now onto the long trails stuff…

Here are my three favorite Pacific Crest Trail SoCal Day Hikes that I have done!

Snow Creek Canyon

Mile Marker 207 NOBO and 2448.3 SOBO according to Halfmile’s PCT Notes.
NOBO: This trailhead leads SOBO and NOBO in fun and exciting directions. It starts in a small neighborhood nestled in a canyon just outside of Palm Springs. Parking is available on the side of the road and you are inches from the PCT crossing. If you head NOBO you will zigzag through the desert and find yourself going under the famous I-10 bridge. From there you can exit out on the other side of the interstate and be on your way to Whitewater Preserve.
SOBO: Follow the trail through the neighborhood, past the closed vehicular traffic gate, and onto the dirt path after about a mile climb on a paved road. You’ll be headed towards San Jacinto and rewarded with sweeping views, spectacular scenery, and a generous helping of wilderness.
There is water that must be treated at the Snow Creek Canyon faucet if heading SOBO.

Big Bear, Highway 18

Parking: Paved lot on left side if heading towards Big Bear.
Mile Marker 266.1 NOBO and 2389.1 SOBO according to Halfmile’s PCT Notes.
Once you cross Highway 18 (move fast and look both ways) you are on the PCT! What awaits you is a winding and twisting section of nice grade that takes you through Big Bear’s high elevation forests, offers views of the lake and Big Bear Mountain/its famous ski slopes, and through past fire and rock slide areas.
Big Bear California reminds me of being in Colorado, Flagstaff, or the Sierra’s when out hiking on the trails. Make sure you pay attention and don’t wander off on one of the mountain biking trails. They do come flying around the corners!
You are moving away from Big Bear so while you still get views of the lake and mountains you are headed back towards the Sand to Snow National Monument and the more “desert” section of the region. If you stage cars correctly and have access to more than one vehicle you could do a 15 mile day hike from Highway 18 to Onyx Summit or vice versa.
I saw a dog, horse, deer, and zero other hikers the last time I did this day hike!

    Cajon Pass

    Parking: Busy interstate highway intersection with a McDonald’s, the Cajon Pass Inn, and gas station.
    Mile Marker 341.9 NOBO and 2313.2 SOBO according to Halfmile’s PCT Notes.
    This is a fun one if you know someone hiking a longer section of the PCT. Perhaps you can meet them during a thru hike bubble or with a section hike group. From here there’s a hiker friendly inn named after the pass. Another opportunity is you will also be able to take the side trail on Wagon Train Road. It runs along Historic Route 66 and there’s a memorial from the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trails here. When heading NOBO if you want to turn this into a two day adventure you can hit the summit of Mt San Antonio/Baldy. This is the top of LA and you can have a car staged at one of its day hike trailhead parking lots. It packs a bit of thru hiker culture, US history, time on the PCT, and a summit.
    I haven’t done it yet! Wanna meet me for a SoCal Day Hike?!

      The Pacific Crest Trail in Mission Creek in SoCal.

      A thru hike can be life changing. A section hike can be an unforgettable experience. Many hikers do not have the access, privilege, or means for those.
      The PCT offers three states worth of 2,650 miles that have many great spots to do a day hike. These day hikes can be more special than many think.

      To me any day on the trail is better than a day not on the trail. You still have the opportunity for this to be a life changing and/or unforgettable experience.

      Day hiking the PCT in SoCal is definitely underrated. Just how underrated is up to how you choose to take on and learn from your experience while doing it!

      Thanks for reading and supporting Happy People Hike, comment below with any questions about these PCT SoCal Day Hikes or tell us your favorite hike on the Pacific Crest Trail!

      Happy Hiking,
      Mike R

      Mike Rudd

      Mike Rudd

      Nomad, Dood Dad, Planet Lover. Hashtag59 & Happy People Hike Lead Intern. Freelance Writer and Content Creator. Health and Wellness Curator.

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