PCT: Scissors Crossing to Warner Springs

Mile 77 to 109.5 of the northbound PCT: Continuing a long, waterless stretch through desert hills, then finding greener pastures in the broad valley to the north.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
49 km
Ascent
1.2 km
Descent
964 m
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
687 m
High Point
1.3 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Scissors Crossing to Warner Springs Map

Description

This is the northernmost extent of California Section A on the PCT, traveling from the low desert at Scissors Crossing to the comparatively green hills around the town of Warner Springs. Going northbound, the trail initially follows a spine of mountains, offering nonstop views among attractive desert foliage and rock outcrops. It then descends to find shady drainages and grassy valleys in the final miles to end the section.

Scissors Crossing (NB mile 77) is in the middle of a long stretch with no natural water, so you’ll need to refill from the cache under the bridge, or get to the nearby town of Julian before continuing on. North of Scissors Crossing, the PCT is fairly steep uphill for the first mile or so––hit it early to beat the heat. There is no shelter from the elements on these rocky slopes, but decent bivy sites are spread along the trail in case you need to hunker down.

You will pass through a number of metal gates on this stretch. Gate number three (NB mile 91.2) marks the turn-off to the “3rd gate water cache.” This sizable cache is benevolently supplied by local trail angels, and it may prove crucial on this thirsty extent of trail. Take only what you need to make it 10 miles to Barrel Spring, and be sure to leave the area exceptionally clean. Note that if the 3rd gate cache has run out, you can most likely get water from an underground cistern about a half-mile farther up the dirt road. There’s no camping at the cache because it’s on private property, but there are some spots along the trail nearby.

North of 3rd gate cache, the trail works its way gradually higher in the San Felipe Hills, reaching a high point of about 4400 feet before trending downhill again. Barrel Spring (NB mile 101.1) is a piped natural spring that flows for much of the year, with spacious and shady campsites nearby. This is another heavily used site, so be sure to minimize your impact. The spring is just before the crossing of Montezuma Valley Road, which could make the end of a section hike.

About 4 miles away along this road is the community of Ranchita, where the Montezuma Valley Market used to be a popular resupply store and beer garden. Tragically, the business burned down in April 2021, but at the time of this writing, efforts were underway to rebuild. The next resupply is in the town of Warner Springs, though the main store there is reportedly closed for 2021 due to COVID. There is also a post office in Warner Springs, however, making an option for sending a resupply box.

Northbound from Montezuma Valley Road, the PCT crosses a landscape very different from the cactus-covered mountains of previous miles. It’s a valley of rolling hills and open grasslands, which can be brilliant green and flecked with flowers in spring. The plains are dotted with white granite boulders, most notably Eagle Rock (NB mile 106.2), which actually resembles a soaring eagle from one angle. This stretch of trail passes some cattle troughs as well as the seasonal San Ysidro Creek (NB mile 105), in case water is needed. The final mile goes through pleasantly shaded live oak groves to reach a road crossing in Warner Springs (NB mile 109.5), thus concluding California Section A.

Permits: No special permits are needed for hiking or dispersed camping between Scissors Crossing and Warner Springs, just be sure to avoid private property or otherwise off-limits areas. You may need the California Fire Permit, however, for using a stove in your campsite. Hikers going more than 500 miles along the PCT are always advised to get the PCT Long-Distance Permit.

Sources: https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/ https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/local-permits/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

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

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, September, October, November, December

Features

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

Guidebooks in this area