A short and unique section of the PCT which boasts mountainside meadows, marble outcrops so white you’d mistake them for snow, and a forest scarred by wildfires – once devoid of life – now lush and bursting with color. Backpacking the PCT from Etna to Seiad Valley would be the perfect escape on a long weekend.
Distance: 50.2 Miles
Time: 3 Days
Map Used: Halfmile’s PCT Maps – Section Q
Day 1: Etna to Fischer Lake
Miles: 14 Elevation +/- : +2655/-2437 Camp Elevation: 6198 ft.
After hitching a ride out of the small town of Etna 10 miles up to the trail head, we started an early morning climb heading northwest up and away from Sawyers Bar Road. The first 2.5 miles has over 900 ft of elevation gain.
Crossing over a saddle around PCT mile 1603, you’ll make a quick northward descent down the western slope of the mountain ridge and then begin a relatively flat travers for the next 4 miles.
About 9 miles into the day you will come to a nice saddle and clearing that offers expansive views to the northeast.
Leaving the saddle, you then begin a slow decent over the next 2 miles until you reach the first pleasant campsite on the outskirts of Shelly Lake meadows. It’s a nice campsite, with plenty of flat spaces for tents, but in mid June there were still too many bugs for us so we decided to push on.
A little more than 3 miles down the trail you will find the seemingly untouched Fischer Lake (CS1614), which is nestled into the side of the mountain and hidden behind the line of trees on the left side of the trail.
Day 2: Fischer Lake to Paradise Lake
Miles: 15.2 Elevation +/- : +3333/-3387 Camp Elevation: 6144 ft.
The second day begins immediately with a quarter mile ascent to a second, less enticing, Marten Lake. After quickly passing Marten Lake, you’ll begin a rocky traverse along beautiful hillside meadows that sit at the edge of a cliff. While there’s no shortage of beauty early on, this first section of hiking is more than enough to get your heart pumping.
A little over 1 mile into the day, you’ll cross a small creek and begin switchbacking up towards a mountain pass. Once you reach the pass you are hit with view of one of the bluest glacial lakes I have ever seen (the pictures don’t do it justice). After crossing through the pass you begin to switchback down the opposite side.
Right around mile 3 of the day the trail finally starts to level out, but not before you have had your fair share of huffing and puffing. You’ll spend the next 6 miles approaching the alluring marble outcrops of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
About 10 miles into the day, you reach a wood cabin in the heart of the marble valley. Take a break here, because almost immediately after you pass the cabin, you’ve got another long, heart pumping climb before you make it to the aptly named Paradise Lake, your campsite for the night (PCT mile 1629).
Day 3: Paradise Lake to Grider Creek Campground
Miles: 20.4 Elevation +/- : +2866/-7306 Camp Elevation: 1704 ft.
What will be a long and strenuous day starts with a mild upward traverse through lush greenery which eventually leads into a steep climb – it’ll get your blood flowing early on. You finally reach the top of your climb around 2 miles in. Take a minute to soak in the blue mountains and the vast expanse of wilderness around you.
After topping out, you then begin a level traverse near the top of a ridge line for another 2 miles. From this point, about 4 miles into the day, you begin your 17 mile 5,500 ft. descent to Grider Creek Campground.
The first half of the descent cuts through a completely charred forest. What was once black and desolate is now lush with tall green overgrowth.
Bushwhacking multiple miles through the head high brush, you finally ford a stream (nothing extreme, but you may get a little wet) and find a nice campsite around PCT mile 1642 – a half mile before the first Grider Creek crossing. If you’re not feeling like you’re up for another 8 miles of hiking, make camp at this site for the night. Once you decide to go past this point there aren’t any more camping opportunities until the Grinder Creek Campground 8 miles ahead.
You should plan to have a car or ride waiting for you at the Grider Creek Campground, otherwise it is a 6 mile road walk into the very small town of Seiad Valley.