To begin your PCT journey here, you must first find transportation to Mile 0––a remote location on the border with Mexico. There you’ll capture your send-off photo with the PCT pillars and start walking a dirt track toward the small town of Campo. The “Campo Green Store” is your last chance to top-up water or supplies before continuing into the hills. The next guaranteed water source is Lake Morena, about 18 miles and perhaps more than a day away. You can check the PCT Water Report for the status of ephemeral streams along the route.
From Campo, the trail meanders northward as a well-traveled footpath, among rocky and brush-covered hillsides. Though the walking is not too difficult, these miles can be dusty and hot, even in early season. About 12 miles from the start, you’ll get a view into a sizable gorge just ahead. This is Hauser Canyon, and it presents the first major down-and-up of the trail. It’s also a popular spot for the first night’s camp. After descending into the drainage, you’ll find several good tent spots among trees near the creek (NB mile 15.4). If you plan to stay here, you should arrive with all the water you need, unless you have a reliable tip that the creek is flowing.
The climb out of Hauser Canyon is more than 1000 feet in just over 2.5 miles, on broad switchbacks that will really test the legs. Once at the top, you’ll see the Morena Reservoir in the distance, then it’s a relatively quick descent on the remaining miles to get there. Lake Morena County Park (NB mile 20) has a PCT trailhead and also public bus service to San Diego, in case you wish to start or finish a section hike here. The campground has tent sites available to PCT hikers for a small fee, as well as public restrooms, showers, and potable water. About half a mile along the road is the Oak Shores Malt Shop, a favorite of PCTers for refreshment and modest resupply.
Unless you have the PCT Long-Distance Permit, you will need a Cleveland National Forest wilderness visitor permit for dispersed camping within the national forest. Developed campgrounds do not require a wilderness permit, however. You may also need a California Fire Permit, regardless of where you camp.