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Three or Four Miles on the PCT...

 ...that is good enough for me. 

I'll never be a thru-hiker. Or really a backpacker of any kind. I hiked two miles into a camping spot once and that was far enough to have to schlep all that gear. I much prefer to have all my stuff at a home base, go out for long hikes with a simple daypack, and have a cozy and already set-up site to return to, with some tasty food and a cooler full of beer in the car. Thru-hiking also requires organizing food drops and too many other logistical issues that would suck all the fun out of being in nature.

That doesn't mean I don't get it though. I can absolutely understand why people thru-hike. It's the same reason nutheads likes me run ultramarathons (or sign up for them and not run them as this year is turning out. More on that next week.). I respect the need to get out there and do this insane physical thing. So I get a little giddy when I get to hike a small section of the Colorado Trail (which I did two summers ago), the Appalachian Trail (which I did this past fall), and now some segments of the Pacific Crest Trail. I'm standing on the ground where some incredible people have performed an incredible feat. I like that connection.

trail marker for the Pacific Crest Trail

I hiked tiny bits of the PCT last month in Oregon, and have crossed it several times on my hikes in California. The best PCT-adjacent hike I've done so far (that only took me on the PCT for about a quarter mile) is the Cluster Lakes Loop in Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

As you might guess from the name, this 11ish mile hike features lake after lake after lake. The trailhead is crowded, but as soon as you get past the lollipop stem and onto the loop, there are very few people, at least on a Saturday evening in June. 

trail marker sign to lots of lakes

It was about 105 degrees in Redding, California, but the hike is over 7,000 feet where it was a cool 88. Still not cool enough for you? No problem. Pick a lake along the trail and jump in. You'll probably have it all to yourself. These are the official lakes on the route.

  • Summit Lake
  • Echo Lake
  • Upper Twin Lake
  • Lower Twin Lake
  • Feather Lake
  • Silver Lake
  • Big Bear Lake
  • Little Bear Lake
I imagine there were plenty more lakes along the PCT since many of the ones on the sign were not on my route. There were also a handful more unnamed lakes and extra, extra large puddles. Packing a lunch and some sunscreen and a good book to spend the day on the banks of one of these lakes will always seem like a better proposition to me than hauling 50 pounds of gear and worrying about bears (or lunatics) attacking me in the night.

lake with a log lying near the banks

small lake surrounded by burned trees

If you're in Lassen and this 11 mile lake loop is a bit much for you, the park has dozens of great other (and other worldly) hikes. It's well worth a visit. 

forested valley seen from a mountain top