PCT: Scott Mountain to Etna Summit

Miles 1560.2-1599.7 of the northbound PCT: Through the rugged expanse of two wilderness areas, each studded with granite peaks and sparkling lakes.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
63 km
Ascent
2.7 km
Descent
2.5 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.6 km
High Point
2.3 km
Gradient
10˚
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Scott Mountain to Etna Summit Map

Description

<i>Notice: Much of this segment of the PCT closed in 2021 due to wildfires, and several miles of the trail actually burned over. Check the PCTA Trail Closures page for updated information.</i>

In this latter part of CA Section P, the PCT leaves Mount Shasta behind and ventures into the mountainous wilderness of the Trinity Alps. With few road crossings and abundant solitude among deep forest and jagged skylines, this is truly a highlight section of the trail. Wildfires burned through the area in 2021, however, likely affecting trail conditions, campsites, and water sources. Be sure to plan carefully and have backup options in place.

Scott Mountain Summit (NB mile 1560.2) has trailhead parking off the highway but no water or other amenities. In the northbound direction from there, the PCT climbs another mountain and curves to travel south for a few miles. It also enters the Trinity Alps Wilderness (NB mile 1562.8), a world of granite-hewn peaks and lakes.

About two miles past the wilderness boundary is a cluster of campsites near a pair of small springs (NB mile 1565), and about a mile later is Mosquito Lake Creek (NB mile 1566). The trail then arcs high into a granitic basin and near the ridgeline among scattered domes and cliffs. It continues on an upward trajectory and nears the timberline, then enters the footprint of a wildfire near Eagle Peak (NB mile 1570.5). The extent of the damage is yet unknown, and hazards are likely to remain even after the trail reopens, so use caution for the next several miles.

The burn area ends near Carter Meadows Summit (NB mile 1580.1) along Highway 93, where there’s a trailhead with ample parking. The tiny town of Callahan, which has a post office but not much else, is 12 miles east by road. From Carter Meadows, the trail ascends a ridge and quickly reaches clearings on scree slopes. From there, you’ll look over a green creek valley and into the freshly singed scar of the Haypress Fire on the other side.

The 2021 closure area ends at the Russian Wilderness boundary (NB mile 1585.5), where the trail crests a rocky ridge and finds a view of an alpine lake below. Similar scenes abound along the next 17 miles through this wilderness area, as the trail carves across steep slopes in U-shaped glacial basins. Water is mostly in the form of seasonal creeks, but some of the lakes make reasonable detours. Most notable is Paynes Lake (NB mile 1594), which has beautiful campsites barely 100 yards off the PCT. North of this lake, however, there may not be reliable water until Cub Bear Spring (NB 1607.2) on the next section.

CA Section P finishes at Etna Summit, with a panoramic ridgetop trailhead along Sawyers Bar Road. The town of Etna 10.5 miles north is a common resupply stop with a friendly mountain town vibe. It offers ample services, including a grocery, outdoor gear store, and campground in the city park.

Permits: Camping in the Trinity Alps Wilderness requires a permit from the Forest Service, except for those who have a PCT long-distance permit. The wilderness permits are free and self-issued, but may only be available in-person at ranger stations. See the Trinity Alps Wilderness online for more info. The Russian Wilderness area does not require a permit for hiking or camping. As with elsewhere in California, a campfire permit is also required for any use of fire or stove along this segment.

Sources: https://wilderness.net/visit-wilderness/?ID=507 https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/stnf/recarea/?recid=6521 https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

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

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

Features

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

Guidebooks in this area