One of my favorite parts of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail was the sunsets. I saw the most magnificent sunsets during this trip. Each day as it grew closer to night, I would look at the topo map and try to figure out where to camp to have the best chance at a fantastic place to view the sun going down. Some sort of ridge, at the tree line, with a wide open view to the West being preferred. I looked forward to eating my dinner, sipping on some hot chocolate, and watching a dazzling display of colors dancing around in sky. From months of walking, I have narrowed it down to these five PCT sunsets as being my favorite.
This was one of my higher, more exposed camping spots at 10500 some feet, PCT mile 1010. There is a ridge line you travel on below Leavitt Peak, overlooking The Emigrant Wilderness of the Stanislaus national Forest. There are a couple of areas where some low growing mountain trees provide an adequate wind break, with flat spots for pitching a tent.
Because of the high elevation, the sunset was fantastic, because you could see for miles, over all of the nearby peaks of the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Indian Heaven Wilderness
“Camped at 2200. Beautiful site up on a ridge with a view of the mountains: Adams, Hood, and Jefferson. Three great peaks of the cascade range all within a heads turn. The Indian Heaven Wilderness is a wonderful place. Meadows of grass among the low forests. Huckleberry Bushes as far as the eye can see.”
You can’t see this campsite from the trail. It is hidden off the path right on the edge of Berry Mountain. There is not much room for a tent, so cowboy camping is a must. To the south you can see Mount Hood pretty clearly, with Jefferson hiding slightly behind it. I am sure that on a clear day you could see all the way to the Three Sisters. Through a gap in the trees you can see Mount Adams to the North. Framed by lofty pines, it looks like a stained glass mural, illuminated by light to show its magnificent colors.
Goat Rocks Wilderness
Other than the last couple of nights when there was frozen rain built up on my tent, this was one of the coldest places I camped at. It was so cold and windy that my only journal entry was “Camped at 2273”. At least the view was worth it.
While heading further up to Old Snowy Mountain, the tree cover was getting sparser. But we kept pushing, looking for a better spot. We camped a bit north of the Snowgrass flats area, at one of the last little clusters of trees. Good thing we decided to stop, because there was nothing but barren mountainside heading up to Goat Rocks the next day.
This sunset created a vivid scene, centered around Mount Adams off in the distance.
Three Fingered Jack
There is a small saddle between Porcupine Rock and Three Fingered Jack, around PCT mile 2006. There is not much up there except for scraggly, beaten down shrubs. But what else can you expect at the top of a mountain?
The campsite provides a spectacular view of the beautifully striated north face of Three Fingered Jack, as well as a view that goes far out to the west overlooking the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. There is not much room for camping. But if you are willing to cowboy it, there is space for a couple of people in a small area protected by some trees.
As the sun left, clouds began to form and rise up out of the valleys. Some of these small clouds passed up over the saddle we were on. A quite surreal experience to have clouds drift by only feet overhead.
“Camping up in the rugged North Cascade Mountains at 2596… hiking out from highway 20 was so beautiful. Huge towering, rugged mountains. Dotted with green pines and some trees that have begun to turn yellow. Saw a magnificent sunset going up to the top of cutthroat pass. Vibrant colors splashed against the looming cloud masses.”
This was by far the most dramatic sunset I encountered. The Sun was going down at just the right angle behind the steep mountain peaks of the Northern Cascades. Its light splashed up onto the clouds like a laser beam of intense color. The pictures that I took don’t even begin to do it justice.
Bonus: Top Sunrise Mojave Desert
The desert had the best sunrises, but one in particular stood out to me in the Mojave Desert. It was during the aqueduct section, North of Neenach, after the pipe but before the wind farm. The sky was lit up in so many different colors. The gnarled limbs of the Joshua trees stood out among the sea a chaparral, silhouetted in the sun’s light.
What were your favorite PCT sunsets? Let me know in the comments.