Skyline Trail (Cactus to Clouds) is a 18.8 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Palm Springs, CA that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from March until October.
The Cactus to Clouds Trail from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak has the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the United States. Also known as the Skyline Trail, it climbs 8000 feet from the desert to Long Valley, then joins with the main trail to gain another 2600 feet to the summit. The Cactus to Clouds hike is long. You start on the desert floor and climb to 10,804 feet. You gain over 8,000 feet in the first 12 miles and much of this is hiking in dry arid desert conditions. This trail is nearly always completed by returning from the peak to the upper station of the Aerial Tramway and taking it back into Palm Springs. Please note that there is a fee for using the tram.
I completed a partial recon hike during daylight hours just to become familiar with the trail prior to hiking it on the 23rd. I stepped off at about 0700, it was already almost 80 degrees. I hiked up 4 miles just a bit short of the 4300ft marker. I had a map that showed distances to specific markers on the trail. I found that none of the distances on the map matched my GPS. For example, Rescue 1 is marked as being 2.1 miles. My GPS had it at 2.6. Based on the time it took to get to it, I am inclined to say that the GPS has the correct distance. It got hot really quickly and the heat (up 95) took its toll during my 8 mile out and back. There were more people on the trail than I expected. Most of them just hiking in a short distance, and others doing some trail running. Neither going up to the top. If you attempt to hike this make certain you are prepared and you start early. We are starting at 0315, next week.
What an awesome challenge! You must be in shape and experienced before attempting this hike. If you have never hiked this trail before, I strongly recommend doing a daylight pre-hike first. I hike the first four miles up the week before our Sunday hike, just so I could become a little familiar with the trail prior to starting off in the dark at 0315 Sunday. It is pretty easy to get turned around on the trail. Especially in the dark. Our starting weather was perfect. About 70/75 degrees. The temps went up a little, but by the time we were at 6000ft, we had easily beaten the heat of the desert and the temps started going down. When we made it to the peak it was raining, the winds were about 30/35mph and the temps were around 35 degrees with the wind chill factor. Make sure you have a map and compass, and a GPS tracking device. There were about three or four other groups doing C2C today as well. We played leap frog with one of them most of the way up. I took 6 liters of water and was down to my last half liter when we finished. I also used electrolyte tablets twice during the hike.
If you are up for a challenging hike this is a good one. I really enjoined it, great views.
If you like a challenge hike and would like a good workout then this day hike is for you. Two friends and I hiked the C2C2C. The tram was down for maintenance until the end of September so we did the complete 30-31 miles up to the peak and back down the same route and had a great time. As others have mentioned:
1. Be physically prepared. If you plan to take the tram down then it is less risky but if no tram, it is going to be a long day. We started at 3:20AM, and made it back to the museum at about 7:15 PM, just as the sun came down. We purposely waited and timed the sun so we end the day at sunset to avoid the heat as much as possible. I have done multiple same day 10,000 ft climb and descents the past month before attempting this hike and did a Mt Rainier summit several days before our hike. All I am saying is to complete something similar before doing this hike.
2. Have plenty of water. Minimum of 4 liters but 5 to be safe. You can always stash them for others if you don't use them.
3. Have GPS. You can go off trail in the dark if you don't have GPS. Though trails are easy to find during the day but at night it's harder, especially when others have created many small paths that goes off to the side of the trails over the years. Many of the side trails you will discover during day lights they are good short cuts to the switchbacks.
4.If you do this along have a PLB. You will lose cellular phone signals along the way up. You will get signal at SJ peak.
5. Have fun!
Good challenging hike. Steady uphill all the way to the tram. This is a good training hike for Mt Whitney and Rim2Rim2Rim Grand Canyon.
Fully understand what you are attempting here. This is not for beginners and quite difficult. Prepare for possible significant temperature changes from bottom to top and extremely steep grades throughout. This hike affords little respite from the relentless trek to the summit. If you make it to the tram the rest of the hike seems like cake. I went thru 6 liters of water on this hike in mid June. The views are not spectacular for the difficulty of the hike but if you leave early enough you catch a beautiful Palm Springs all lit up.
Sorry, but this wasn't the hardest hike I've ever done and the scenery was most certainly not the highlight. It's just a trudge uphill with views of Palm Springs, and I don't like cities. Once we got to the mountain part of the hike, I was much happier. The cactus-to-crowds portion is just something you do to say you've done it.
Amazing hike! Start no later than 3am, and bring lots of food and water. Was an incredible adventure, and I'm so proud so say I've done it! If you want to continue to the peak the same day, start trail head at midnight. Have fun!!
hard . incredible feat of endurance. followed around by hummingbirds who were very curious about us
Most brutal I have done, but well worth it. The scent seems endless but rest assured, the break is when you reach the top of the tramway area around 8200'. From there you can relax and finish your ascent to 10,600'.
This trail has a different character than others. While the trail is a worthy adversary you'll be racing sunrise trying to get elevation before he morning sun begins to cook the east faces. The trail is maintained by locals and they do an excellent job.
Some things to keep in mind
Park in the free garage across the street from the art museum.
The trail head is located in the far right corner of the museum parking lot.
Plan on stepping off between 2-4 am
Get as much elevation as you can before the sun pops out.
Water water and more water.
The trail is marked by white spray paint dots on rocks at random intervals.
One of the most difficult trails I've done. Right from the start it's practically straight up for 5 miles. Levels off for a mile or so. Then steep again. The last mile and Half is straight up and quite the challenge. It snowed the night before so it was also wet and slippery. My advise to anyone wants to hike it. Make sure your in good shape and talk to someone who has done the hike before.
It was the hardest trail I ever tried.
Loved it! Couldn't have asked for better weather.
Hardest trail I've ever hiked
Amazing trail! As a reference for times:
Start at Art museum: 3:15 am
At tram 7:45 am, took 30 min break. Left 8:15
San Jacinto peak 10:45, stayed on top for 30 min. Left 11:15.
Back at tram 1:15 pm. Grabbed beers and burger at the restaurant.
I was booking it during this hike and glissaded a good bit back down from the snowy areas around the top. Look for the painted dots. Essentially staying on any well worn trail will get you to the tram. Still a fair amount of snow, though easily do able with poles or microspikes. I foolishly left my microspikes at home and it was a bit slippery at times on the snowpack. For people planning supplies, I had a 3L camelback, which I refilled at the tram. Used all of my water both times, and it was just enough. Ate about 1500 calories in snacks and would have appreciated a small bit more. It was very windy when I went up with wind advisory and 50mph gusts, though this seemed to be not the usual and known from the weather report.
My one caveat, beware of the trails above Long Valley. They are not marked and in the deeper snow areas, you can lose them for short stretches.
Also, big thanks to the kind folks who work at the tram, the nice cleaning man who let me in before it opened in the morning to refill water, and huge shout out to the woman in her 70's who does the Skyline from the museum to the tram weekly. I shared a cab with her back to the museum from the tram base. Don't let her routine completion fool you though, this is a tough hike.
Toughest, highest, longest single day hike I've ever done! So rewarding to have checked this one off the bucket list!
We had heard that it was easy to get lost in the dark so decided to check out the early part of the trail the day before. So glad we did! After a few wrong turns we made it to the painted rock which is where the trail really starts. Next morning, we started at 4:30 am and had no trouble finding our way. We witnessed the most incredible sunrise on the way up and made it to the ranger's station in 5 1/2 hours flat. The last climb up to and past Coffman's Crag really kicked my butt! Took a half hour break to eat then continued on to the summit. Still quite a lot of snow along the trail but, thanks to our trekking poles, we managed fine without micro spikes. My legs were screaming at me every time we had to climb and I had to stop and rest quite often to catch my breath. Felt the altitude a few times (lightheaded and a little dizzy) but it passed after a few minutes. Reached the summit at about 1:45 and made it back in time to catch the 4:30 tram down. It was mind boggling to see what we had just climbed up!
Caught a cab to the museum and headed to In n Out for the best tasting, completely guilt-free, Animal-style cheeseburger I've ever had (according to my Polar, I burned over 5,000 calories in a single day!).
This is not a hike for the faint of heart but with a little conditioning and lots of willpower, it is doable and the views are totally worth it! Starting early in the morning will ensure that heat is not an issue but make sure to carry at least a gallon of water and pack layers to put on at the top (49F at the summit).
Good luck and god speed!
Trail to tram passible. Some snow around 7,000 feet but mostly off of the switch backs. I was able to make it to the tram Plateau from art museum in 4hrs22min. 71/2 more realistic for hiking. I forgot how steep the last 2,500 feet are.