PCT: Etna Summit to Seiad Valley

Miles 1599.7-1655.9 of the northbound PCT: Through the stunningly colorful landscape of the Marble Mountains Wilderness.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
88 km
Ascent
2.4 km
Descent
3.8 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
417 m
High Point
2.2 km
Gradient
PCT: Etna Summit to Seiad Valley Map

<i>Notice: Most of this section of the PCT closed in 2021 due to the McCash Fire, and a portion of the trail burned over, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Check the PCTA Closures Page for updates and more information.</i>

Description

Of all the miles that the PCT travels through Northern California’s Klamath Range, Section Q through the Marble Mountains may be the most spectacular. This subrange is named for the marbled appearance of its highest peaks, which are striated with multi-colored geology. The summits are crowned in bare rock and alpine meadows, with flanks draped in forest and riddled with lake basins. For 32 miles, the PCT travels through a designated wilderness on this landscape. The section does end rather mundanely with a road walk to Seiad Valley, but the preceding traverse of the Marble Mountains is not to be missed.

The start of the section already provides a great view from Etna Summit (NB mile 1599.7), but the trail climbs gradually from there and soon finds even wilder vistas. The next several miles alternate from ridge crest to mountain slope, as the trail either traces an airy skyline or cuts a meandering contour. There are rugged sections, but it’s mostly smooth walking with no huge climbs or descents. Swaths of forest have burned in past wildfires, allowing for even farther views amid an abundance of young growth. Sunny days can be taxing, however, with little shade available.

The first water source is Cub Bear Spring (NB mile 1607.2), which is a short detour on a side trail with some campsites scattered about. Another option for water and camping is Shelly Lake outlet stream (NB mile 1610.3). Continuing on, there’s an unnamed trailside lake, and then there’s Marten Lake (NB mile 1614). Both are small but offer convenient camping with great views, especially Marten Lake. An arguably better spot is just a mile farther, however. Past Marten Lake, the trail follows a series of meadowy ledges across precipitous granite slopes. Then it finds a rocky but suitable bench near a seasonal stream (NB mile 1615.2), where the view is unbeatable. Spires tower overhead, and Mount Shasta crowns the distant horizon.

From there, the trail switchbacks up a rocky gully to a notch in a jagged ridgeline and overlooks the curiously named Man Eaten Lake on the other side (NB mile 1615.7). The trail continues to generally contour from there but holds some punchy, steep sections. Rocky slopes are interspersed with pine forest, brushy burn areas, and grassy meadows.

As the PCT nears Marble Mountain, other trails break off for destinations like Red Rock Valley, Sky High Lakes, and the top of Marble Mountain itself. These offer tempting side trips and loop options for section hikers. The PCT proceeds for a while along the ridge called Marble Rim, but then drops abruptly into Marble Valley (NB mile 1623), where the namesake mountain rises in ripples of red and gray overhead. The valley offers a few good campsites, though it’s perhaps more common for hikers to press on toward other camps from here.

An ascent along limestone bluffs leads out of Marble Valley, and the trail proceeds through streaks of meadow and forest on the mountainsides. Another good camp is Paradise Lake (NB mile 1629), which is also popular with backpackers on shorter routes. Next, following a crest called Big Ridge, the trail passes through some burned forest, including the scar of the 2021 McCash Fire (NB mile 1633). Conditions for the next few miles may be unpredictable, as the fire burned in a patchwork over much of this ridge.

Eventually, the trail drops from the ridge and makes a twisting descent into a steep valley. In the bottom, it finds Grider Creek and crosses on a bridge (NB mile 1642.5). Water is now plentiful as the trail follows this creek down the valley, crossing it a few more times on bridges. This is a rather long but pleasant walk through diverse forest, and mostly downhill. The dreaded road walk comes next, however, when the trail reaches Grider Creek Campground (NB mile 1649.4). The campground makes a good place to stay, or at least relax and dip in the creek before continuing into town.

Seiad Valley (NB mile 1655.9) is 6.5 miles farther, on dirt and then paved roads, including Highway 96 for the last mile or so. This tiny town makes a popular hiker hang out with a small store, cafe, post office, campground, and lodge. For those continuing onto Section R, it’s wise to rest up here before tackling the big climb out of town.

Permits: No permit is required for hiking or camping along this section, which is within Marble Mountains Wilderness and Klamath National Forest. However, a California campfire permit is required for any use of fire or stove.

Sources: https://wild.pcta.org/hike-from-wild/marble-mountain-wilderness-california/ https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/klamath/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5104740 https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area