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backpacking
22 days ago

We started at Castle Rock instead of Saratoga Gap. This was highly recommended by the rangers and afforded us beautiful scenic views on Day 1 until meeting up with the traditional trail which mostly follows the highway for the first day.

Day 1: Starting from Castle Rock, hiked 9.5 miles to Waterman Gap Camp. Super remote, but had a bathroom and water spout so it was perfect. Campsite 1 is the best!
Day 2: Hiked another 9/10 miles to Jay Camp in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. There are facilities here and it is not as remote but still great.
Day 3: The last ~ 10 miles take you back to Waddell Beach. A much recommended detour visits Berry Creek Falls. We actually ended this night at a beach in Davenport at the main stoplight across the highway from the restaurants. There were fire pits for a bonfire and we stayed the night on the beach. This was actually our favorite night.

The trail is closer to 30 miles than 25. We parked one car at Waddell Beach and another at Castle Rock since there is NO SHUTTLE and none of us had phone service either. The start and end points are roughly one hour away from each other driving.

WEATHER was GREAT, btw. We slept half in our bags as we had really warm nights even now in mid-October. Overall a great trip and I highly recommend it for this time of year when it is really cold elsewhere.

backpacking
24 days ago

Did it in one day, starting at Hwy 9 and 35 , finishing at Waddell Beach. Its around 29-30miles, not 25. Took us 9.5hrs excluding 2 breaks to eat and tape up our feet. Would have done it in 2 days but Big Basin is reservation only and books 2 months in advance so book early.

Completed the trail in 2 nights & 3 days. 1st day hiking was harder than the other 2 days. Basin was crowded.

Tip: A couple people thought to break in their shoes on this trail = lots of blisters. Also, bring poles if you have bad knees = lots of downhill.

This trail is amazing the sand will definitely take its toll on the legs. I recommend checking the tides before even getting your permit. The second impassable is slippery even at .2 to 1 foot there are parts will you will be walking on like tide pools.

There are plenty of places for water
Cooskie Creek is definitely campable and had amazing views

Truly incredible backpacking trip made more exciting by the challenge of managing schedules around the tides which make the trail impassable for stretches at a time. All different kinds of undeveloped coast for your enjoyment and it really did feel “lost”. Most days we saw only 4-6 people and no one else slept at the same campsites as us. It is busier in summer, we went at end of September when they limit permits per day to 30 instead of 60 and which is close to the rainy season so we got sprinkled on a bit the last day. I would do it again in a heart beat!

I strongly disagree with people who say the hike is the hardest hike they’ve ever been on - I would argue they likely have little to no experience backpacking in The West. I wasn’t even sore when we finished the trail. As someone who has summitted many 14ers including Whitney and also backpacked most of Yosemite, this was more mental challenge and less physical than the others I mentioned. Only about 5 miles of this trail is a typical trail. The rest is packed sand, fluffy sand, pebbles, boulders, or some kind of lava rock. Trekking poles are a must if you are prone to rolling your ankle (or just want to move quickly without fear of losing balance on boulder fields). You will need to think about where you are going before you take each step most of the way.

I think anyone in moderate or better shape can handle this trip but give yourself an extra day or two so you aren’t in a time crunch and tempted to take risks with the tide. The trail is truly impassable in 2 stretches and there is no where to wait it out if you are between campsites - you will be swept out to sea and die. So... be smart and err on the safe side. Rule of thumb is be out of impassable zones 2 hrs before high tide and wait until 2 hours after as there are sneaker tides that shoot up occasionally as the tide goes out. We would get up at 6am, hike until 2 hours before high tide and set up our tent at a campsite for a nap, cook a hot meal and pump water for that four hour window and then hike until dark once it was safe to continue.

The first 4 miles and last 4 miles are the toughest because it is soft sand that your feet sinks into so it takes a lot of effort, esp with an extra 35 lbs of backpack. I had no sleep the night before as I drove up from SF after midnight and was ready to turn around a mile or so into Mattole Beach but I am glad I did not. The worst of it’s the very beginning or the very end.

If you’re thinking about doing it, you should. Note permits can be a challenge so apply sooner than later!

backpacking
1 month ago

Started at Castle Rock HQ, ended at Waddell Beach and loved every minute of this hike. Camped at Waterman Gap and then Jay camp and both were in good shape and nice. Thanks to our awesome state park rangers, staff and volunteers! Definitely would do this again.

trail running
1 month ago

Super fun. Ran skyline to sea marathon with Pacific Coast Trail Runs. Very fun event. Highly recommend.

backpacking
1 month ago

I did this last week. It is the hardest hike I have ever been on.

This is a beautiful trail, and probably that's an understatement.
For starters, this was my first ever backpacking trip. So, first ever backpacking trip for a person who's 5feet (petite) and who hits the gym 10times a month on average. Whatever i read on this site and several other blogs definitely made me feel scared that I might not complete this and I'm doing something dumb. All i want to say is, this is not an impossible trail, being in shape and being fit helps, doing other backpacking trips before this might help too. But this can very much be your first backpacking trip as well. But again, if you're one of those who might get tired or might face severe body aches walking 5miles on flat/concrete land - then you might not want to consider doing this one. (I do want to add that I was on ibuprofen all three nights while hiking to reduce some body pains)

We started off at Mattole on Wednesday evening around 5PM and walked till about 8PM and camped around the lighthouse. We were not in the more crowded campground areas, we just managed to find a spot where it was just us and that did feel good.
Thursday - we started from the lighthouse and began walking around the first impassable spot, we took a lot of breaks, enjoyed the views, and hiked till Randall Creek and camped there. Again, we managed to find a not-at-all crowded spot which worked good.
Friday - we started from Randall Creek and started walking the flat lands, again we took a lot of breaks, enjoyed the wind, the sun, the views and by the end of the day we came a bit farther than the major campground and again camped in a secluded spot (this one is just before the next impassable section)
Saturday - we were determined to complete this trail and head back to black sands. we started a little early around 9AM (earlier days was around 11AM) and did not make major stops on the impassable section. We did one major stop at Buck Creek for breakfast and began hiking again. Honestly, the toughest part of the hike is the last 2miles. We successfully finished and reach black sands beach at about 5PM.

Our original plan was Wednesday to Sunday, but we managed to get done by Saturday!

Couple of things:
Take your time, don't be in a rush just to finish the trail for the sake of finishing it. The view, the sun and the wind is pure and gorgeous. I'm very glad we took hour long breaks in so many spots and just enjoyed sitting out there in wilderness doing absolutely nothing.

Rocks maybe your new best friend. I understand a lot of reviews or blogs mentioned the last 5-6miles is beach sand and it is difficult. Heck yeah, it is difficult. For most of the part, i found my way around trying to walk on loose small rocks. For me, every time i saw that i could walk on the rocks, i was pretty glad. This may not work for everyone, keep in mind it is very very easy to sprain your ankle or get your ankle bent while walking on rocks (big or small, both of them exist in this trail)

Tidal timing is everything. I mean it, if you do not feel safe at any of the impassable sections to get through, just stay back. We did that. Honestly, we just memorized the general tidal timings from a high-level perspective. For us it was just being smart about the tides. If you have a general idea about tidal timings and did some good research before, you should be good. Again, carrying a tidal map is an absolute necessity. We did that, but we hardly opened it.

Pack light - if this your first backpacking trip, do pack light. We over analyzed our intake of food and toiletries and packed a little extra than needed. A bit more planning or idea might have helped us on that front. I would definitely suggest you to review your previous hikes you've done and see how your body consistently reacts to hiking. For example: I know if i'm on a long hike, by the end of it I lose most of my appetite and just require more water. But again, i forced myself to eat as much as possible to hike this one.

Stay hydrated, the first 3-5miles may not have any creeks, but there are abundant creeks through out the rest of the trail. So water should never be a problem, except bring a purifier for sure.

Snakes: We did spot a couple of snakes, they were not rattle snakes. Not sure what they were, but we did spot one at Buck Creek while filling water and one around the land where we camped for the 3rd night. Be careful and check your entire surroundings before you camp somewhere.

Enjoy the hike, it's beautiful and has some amazing view of the world's biggest ocean's coastline. Anything said to describe the trails beauty is not sufficient. It is something to just experience and soak it in.

It is a long hike for sure, there were a couple of times in different days where i was tired and waiting to see if there's flat land anywhere at all. It can take a toll on you if you're not mentally up for it. For me, as much as a hike requires physical strength, it requires mental strength too.

A few important things that need to be stated:
People using this trail are extremely problematic. Do I have your attention? I’m talking to you. There was trash in damn near every campsite we walked by. Half burned food packs in fire pits, cans, toilet paper and baby wipes every-damn-where, and on far too many occasions, piles of shit with a rock placed over them.

If you do not know what backpacking etiquette is, educate yourself first, OR DO NOT GO.

1. PACK OUT YOUR TRASH. All of it. Do not burn it like an idiot. We all know plastic and foil packaging should not be burned.
2. BURRY your feces and toilet paper (if you don’t pack the TP out; do not burry wipes, they must be packed out) 6-8 inches deep.
3. DO NOT HARASS THE WILDLIFE. This includes getting too close for photos as well as polluting their home with your trash.
4. LEAVE NO TRACE.

This is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done, and to see the remnants of peak season use litter the pristine gem is beyond disappointing.

i was always in a hurry to see what was around the next corner. next time got to slow down and appreciate it. our August hike had perfect weather and tides. it is a great hike, not nearly as difficult as anticipated. plentiful water, no need to carry more than a liter at a time.

Did 11 miles out and back since I couldn’t get a ride home from the beach. Downhill helps but there are some climbs for sure. Take plenty of water.

Left Mattole Sunday morning and made it to Black Sands on Tuesday a little before noon. One of the best backpacking trips I’ve been on. We had one clear day and then a couple foggy days. Make sure you check the tides and truly obey the schedule. There were a few times that we were a couple hours on either side of high tide and we had some waves come up to our waist, this was ok but I can see how some might have gotten washed away if it was any later or earlier. It was definitely not easy and if this is your first backpacking trip I’d recommend doing another trip first before trying this one out. However it is doable if you are in good shape. Lots of walking on sand and loose rocks. Everyone we met on the trail was very nice and our group now has many memories to take home with us. I definitely recommend this trip and would do it again (but for now it’s ice and Advil for the legs).

Incredible! A genuine California experience. Some tips that I learned: hike the trail close to a new moon (the lowest tides will be during the day) and pay attention to vague signs leading you over hat rock. It was a wonderful trip though.

Amazing backpacking trail. beautiful views and campsites along creeks; we got a swim in each night. The low number of permits keep this lightly trafficked and we ran into few people. You do need to plan around the tides and walking on sand and rocks for most of the trail is hard on your feet, so bring tape for blisters. We did the trail in July and had great weather.

hiking
2 months ago

I loved this hike! Beautiful views and great shade. I came back on Middle Ridge Rd. instead of coming back on Hollow Tree Trail and really enjoyed it.

backpacking
3 months ago

Perfect Beginner Backpacker 3-Day Trip.

Don’t camp in your car the night before hitting the trail. Ranger Rick didn’t like that at all. Otherwise the trail follows a highway for the first two days. The second day you stop by Big Basin HQ where you can reload on any food or gear you may need. Even have showers. Third day you leave the highway sounds and follow a creek that leads to the ocean. This is the most rewarding and beautiful day. (Camped at Waterman Gap and Jay Camp)

Apparently the shuttle no longer exists. We hitchhiked to downtown Santa Cruz and then 50$ Uber’d to our car at Castle Rock State Park.

Weather was never permitting long sleeves, even at night. The shade under the tree groves was perfect, no chance of getting sunburned. Mosquitoes were heavy though and had to remain in our tents any time we weren’t moving.

Amazing trail. This was my first coastal hiking, and as the other reviewers said here, it is important to download a tide chart and understand how to read it as there are two 4-mile stretches of impassible zones.

I found low tide easier to hike because the sand was more packed, and I could avoid more of the cobblestone type rocks. The northern impassible zone would likely be truly impassible in my experience (I travelled at full moon and very light surf and winds) - I hit that part at receding tide and even then some areas were iffy.

The impassible zone south of Miller flat may be doable in high tide with calm conditions, but I wouldn’t risk it.

The views, solitude and wildlife make this trail one of my all time favorites. I bought a map, rented a bear canister and got a free tide chart from the lost coast adventures shuttle.

Please note that there is no cell service in Settlers Cove and anywhere along the coast - so plan in advance.

Cons:
- 5+ hour drive to Bay Area
- $80 shuttle ride not including tip
- Walking long stretches on wet, unstable rocks
- Lots of poison ivy
- Had to climb portions of rock that are very dangerous where tide came in too high
- Walking at an angle in sand that is not packed down at all, caused foot injury for me
- Lot of people backpacking the trail
- Tides coming in and out very stressful, reaching and finishing impassable zones challenging
- Zero marking on trail
- Bear footprints on beach
- Very difficult to be rescued in this area and is dangerous enough to be a concern
- no cell service
Pros:
- Beautiful scenery
- Some private campsites

My boyfriend and I are avid backpackers and completed this trail in 2 nights/3 days in mid July.
I did not enjoy it and found myself looking down for a lot of the trail trying to stay balanced on the rocks. I personally do not find walking on rocks to be enjoyable when backpacking. My boyfriend liked the trail because of the challenge. For me, it was too difficult to enjoy. I thought this trail would be mostly walking on sand and did not factor in the rock aspect or stress with the impassable tide zones. There were a lot of people hiking the trail and I was hoping to be a little more isolated than that. There was one very sketchy portion of the trail we encountered on the first day where the water on the beach was too high so we had to climb up and over a portion of rocks that was very dangerous with some other people who took the same shuttle as us. (note: this was not at high tide) The one upside was that the scenery was beautiful. However, I advise really knowing what you are getting into, this is not an easy or moderate trail by any means.

hiking
3 months ago

I just finished a modified version of this hike starting at Castle Rock and staying at Lane trail camp. I agree with the others who have commented on this. You need to carry at least 2.5L of water. If you are taking my route, which is ~18 miles each way, then you should carry up to 3L when you fill up at Waterman Gap as there is no water source at Lane Creek camp. (I had to go an extra 4 miles round trip to get water once I camped there). Overall it was just a long hike. Some parts were really nice and others not. If you want to do a high mileage hike I'd would suggest doing Berry Creek falls trail 2x.

backpacking
3 months ago

Did this trail in 3 days 2 nights starting at Mission Peak and ending at Del Valle.

Suggestions:

When? We did this hike yesterday (mid July), it was extremely hot and taxing. Very dry. Mid spring would be a better option.

Where? We started at Mission Peak which means we basically were climbing the entire way. When you start at Del Valle, the first ascent is extremely steep but you basically descend the rest of the way to MP. I would suggest starting from Del Valle.

Who? I suggest this trail to all ages over 13. This is really difficult physically and mentally at some points. Anyone younger I might assume would struggle. It says dogs are ok on a leash, but I would say not ok to bring a dog during summer. The trails, especially in the back country, are poorly maintained. There will be many stickers getting into your socks and their paws/fur.

Water? Bring an abundance or bring a stove. Although the map indicates potable water sources the three camps we stopped at to fill up did not have potable water. There was a relatively new sign on the water pipe saying it was untreated water and you must boil before drinking. Those campsites were School Camp in Sunol, Joes Horse Camp, and Maggie’s Half Acre. In addition to the misleading water sources also be advised that the water sources are not on the trail and are pretty far off. They are also down very steep hills.

Electricity and cell service? You’ll lose service once you get out of the Mission Peak area going into the trail. You won’t have any service the entire way until you hit the Del Valle trail systems. But then you’ll most likely lose service again in Del Valle itself. My suggestion would be to coordinate your pick-up location and time as precise as possible. The only electricity I was able to find was in Sunol on the backside of the Visitors Center building.

Wildlife? We encountered an abundance, especially in Sunol. Coyotes, raccoons, deer, vultures, Hawks, eagles, rabbits, rattle snakes, ground squirrels, free range cattle. Mosquitos and flies were especially abundant.

Food? Pack in and pack out. There are some places to throw trash away, so don’t worry about having to carry it for too long, you’ll eventually run into a campsite or rest stop with a trash can. But there will be absolutely no where to get food unless you get an Uber Eats to the MP trailhead. We under packed in terms of calories, therefore we were pretty sluggish at some points. So make sure you pack more calories than you usually eat in a day. We brought freeze dried meals that we bought from REI, boiled water with out propane camp stove, and enjoyed. We failed to bring a variety of other snacks however. I would also suggest bringing packets of powder Gatorade or similar, you’ll need the electrolytes.

Clothing? During mid July, I wore shorts the entire trip and was fine. My legs did get really dirty and I did get the occasional sticker but overall was ok. Next time I’ll bring pants for some of the deeper brush we went through. The nights get pretty cold even in the summer, so make sure to layer properly. We also brought lightweight hammocks, small sleeping bags, and roll up sleeping pads. Depending on where you decided to stop for the night there may or may not be trees convenient for putting up a hammock, or there may not be worthwhile ground for sleeping on.

Smoker? Don’t F’ing do it. California has enough wildfires. It’s strictly prohibited in all the parks anyway. However, we are all human and I’m sure it will be done. If that’s the case wait until you get next to a creek, water source, or in a campsite bathroom. Unless there’s a trash or a toilet, take your butt or roach with you.

I think this is all I can think of at the moment. I tried my best to record the trail as I did it, but like I mentioned the cellular signal was spotty and I was rationing battery life toward the middle of the hike. If there’s anything else you’d like to know please don’t hesitate to reach out.

- Josh

A beautiful trip! If you’re decently in shape and have good balance, you can do this trip in 2 full days, but it’s nice to have some extra time to soak in the beauty.

Definitely wear waterproof hiking boots so you don’t roll your ankle (you probably will anyways. There is barely any elevation gain, but you will be walking on the slanted beach, which feels odd after many miles of repetitive strain. Bring layers!

You need a permit and a bear canister. We saw bear prints in the sand. There aren’t many trees hang your food from.

The impassible zones are indeed impassible at high tide! Make sure you check the tide chart, or get ready to be very wet. We went about an hour after a moderately high high tide and were chased by many waves. It was very fun, but know what you’re getting into.

A lot less strenuous than I thought. Nice three day trip!

Did this again on weekend of 6-29-18. Has become my early season Sierra stretch out. Really nice and bugs not bad. No trail hassle with deadfalls, but make sure you get into your trail camps early to get a decent pitch area. Not a solitude destination with road noise and weekend campers at Big Basin, but a great trek nonetheless.

hiking
4 months ago

Did this loop as a day hike ;)

Did this with 3 of my family members and a friend, decided to cut a mile off the hike by going down a "equestrian trail" what a mistake. As we got to the bottom sign reads not advised for hikers. this is mostly a downhill hike all the way. Very hard on the knees. Got to the point I thanked God for any up hill parts of the hike. Beautiful scenery. I say go for it. I am 55 years old.

hiking
4 months ago

Great loop if you fancy a challenge! Anti-clockwise seemed the best option - the early section is exposed so you get to do it in the cool morning sun if you go early.

Three stars for me as I’m not sure that I would do it again, except to test my fitness or as training in future. The anti-clockwise section from the start to Slate Creek was perhaps most enjoyable due to the varied terrain. A few km after Page Mill Site the terrain and scenery tends to become quite monotonous (but still beautiful!) however the final section from Big Basin back to the start fully tracks the road which takes some of the fun out of it.

In July there was water at Slate Creek, Iverson Creek, Fall Creek & Boulder Creek. Starting with 2.5l I comfortably made it to Boulder Creek before refilling with 2l but should have refilled 2.5l.

hiking
4 months ago

I’ve done this hike twice now, once in every direction, in the dead of the summer when the temps are high. About 12.5mi and 2,000ft of elevation. I wouldn’t call it difficult per se, it’s just long. Just under 5.5hrs at a moderate pace with two short stops. What I really enjoy about this loop, is that the majority of it is in the shade with beautiful forest views. Four stars because there really aren’t any breathtaking views from the top, though they are definitely nice - of more forest, as far as the eye can see.

Would gladly go again.

My husband, 11 year old son, and myself tackled this one last summer. It was our first through hike. The trees were enormous and we found the scenery inspiring. the camp grounds were easy to find and well maintained. We had no problem refilling water bottles at the camp sites. At the end there was a moment of of wonder and achievement as we caught site of the ocean.

I just wish there had been an easier way to find the trailhead and some way to call a shuttle at the end as we had no cell reception and had family “guessing “ when to pick us up.

A friend and I walked from Castle Rock to Big Basin. We certainly could have finished at Waddell Beach in one day. There is day parking available throughout the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail and you can pick up the trail in various spots. This is a fairly easy, uneventful trail. We saw a deer and a turkey, felt (!) loads of mosquitos and heard the gunshots. All in, I’m disappointed to say that this is my least favorite trail in the Bay Area. It lacks gorgeous views throughout most of the trail and the logistics are cumbersome. Still if you want to log 30+ miles and end up in the beach, here are a few tips: call the Big Basin headquarters and check for trail closures the day before and aim for a cool day as the trail can get unbearably hot. And do NOT rely on a cellphone connection to call a Uber/Lyft, taxi or friend.

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