PCT: Tehachapi Pass to Walker Pass

California Section F of the PCT: A procession of parched hills leading into the Sierra Nevada.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
135 km
Ascent
4.3 km
Descent
3.9 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.1 km
High Point
2.1 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Tehachapi Pass to Walker Pass Map

Description

The 85 miles from Tehachapi to Walker Pass make the entirety of California Section F, with no major road crossings in between. Here the PCT begins its northbound ascent into the Sierra Nevada, though the high peaks remain several days away. This section follows a procession of hills at the southern extent of the range, receiving a variable mix of desert and mountain weather, but almost always with little water on trail. In fact, this is typically the driest section anywhere on the PCT, with waterless stretches of 30+ miles. Expect long and heavy hauls, amid conditions that could range from scorching hot to numbingly cold.

The section begins with a dry stretch of nearly 20 miles, and the previous section has no water for several miles southward, either. Therefore, leaving the trail at Tehachapi Pass (NB mile 566.5) or earlier at Willow Springs Road (NB mile 558.5) is almost imperative before embarking on Section F.

To begin, the trail parallels the highway as a dirt road for about a mile, then a footpath leads sharply into the hills. A switchbacking ascent on sun-exposed ridge delivers the PCT above 6,000 feet in just a few more miles. Hikers hitting this section late in the day might choose from one of several small campsites scattered about. The walking gets easier higher on the ridge, as the terrain levels out and forest gradually takes over from desert scrub. The PCT joins a jeep road for a few miles and passes some more wind turbines, but for the most part the scenery up here is much more natural than on Section E’s expansive wind farms.

A water source finally comes at Golden Oaks Spring (NB mile 583.3). This spring is generally reliable, but quality can vary. Check the PCT Water Report for updates. Rolling hills and shrub forest comprise the next several miles, crossed by occasional infrastructure like powerlines and dirt roads. Climbing steadily higher, the PCT reaches its 600-mile mark, and by then the surrounding have transitioned to a woodland of oak and pines. Another water source and a good campsite can be found shortly after, at Robin Bird Spring (NB mile 602).

Landers Camp (NB mile 608.9) is another comfortable place to spend the night, and provides a crucial water source. There is a fire tank beside the trail, and a flowing spring that’s a short detour. The next water may not come for more than 40 miles northward, so load up here! Beyond Landers Meadow the trail soon drops off the highland rim and descents rapidly toward Kelso Valley. There is sometimes a water cache at Kelso Valley Road (NB mile 616), but don’t rely on it. This road does provide a chance to break up the section, but has very light traffic so hitching might be hard.

By now the PCT is decidedly back in the desert, but there is more elevation ahead. From Kelso Valley a string of parched hills takes the trail up and down, but mostly up, for the next several miles. The vegetation transitions once more from shrubs to pines, and granite outcrops hint of the mountain peaks that lie over the horizon. There are some possible cache points and seasonal sources in this stretch leading to Walker Pass, but they may not be reliable, and some require considerable detour from the trail. Consult PCT Water for the latest information.

Eventually the trail descends to Walker Pass , and the end of Section F is finally reached. There is a campground (NB mile 651.3) with picnic tables and a shelter, but no water unless a cache has been maintained. The road here is well-traveled, however, giving the option to hitch either east or west for resupply. As a major trail access point, Walker Pass is a popular spot for hikers to convene and discuss strategy. Northbound travelers can share water info with those headed southbound, in exchange for word on conditions in the Sierra.

Permits: This section enters parts of Sequoia National Forest, though no special permits are needed for these areas. Campfires are not generally allowed, but anyone camping overnight may still need the California Fire Permit for use of a camp stove.

Sources: https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/

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

March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

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

Guidebooks in this area