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Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

HARD 184 reviews
#2 of 10 trails in

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is a 25.2 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Saratoga, California that features a waterfall and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.

DISTANCE
25.2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
2,440 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

beach

forest

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

bridge out

bugs

no dogs

Two of the Bay Area's most popular hiking locales -- Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods state parks -- promise one of the region's top backpacking experiences. A three-day, 25-plus-mile hike through these parks from the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean shows off everything to see in the South Bay woods, from the redwoods towering above to the banana slugs creeping along the forest floor. A popular version of this hike begins at the eastern terminus of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, at the intersection of Highways 9 and 35 (Saratoga Gap). The first third of Skyline-to-the-Sea tracks along a highway and is otherwise unremarkable, so a superior option is to start from the Castle Rock State Park headquarters a few miles south of the gap on Highway 35. Castle Rock offers wonderful vistas of the mountains stretching to the sea, and a safe place to park your car. The second and third days of the hike traverse ancient redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, passing the impressive Berry Creek Falls and ending at the edge of America at Waddell Beach on the Pacific Ocean.

backpacking
1 month 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
1 month 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.

hiking
2 months ago

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.

backpacking
2 months 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
2 months ago

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

3 months ago

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.

backpacking
4 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.

5 months ago

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.

5 months ago

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
5 months ago

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.

hiking
5 months ago

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.

backpacking
5 months ago

I'd give this hike 2.5 stars, so I'm being generous rounding up to 3 stars.
I don't typically write reviews, but I felt indebted since I often use AllTrails, and I wished someone had told me what I'm about to write -- so hopefully what I write can serve as value for someone in the future.

We backpacked this trail in 2 days, spending 1 night at Jay Camp (near Big Basin HQ).
As most have commented, it's more popular to backpack over 3 days, and I didn't see any comments regarding 2 days, so that's my purpose for posting in detail.

Firstly, especially important for backpackers, unless you're getting dropped off, you can't start at Saratoga Gap, you'll need to start at Castle Rock (for parking a car) which will add additional mileage (~3 to 5, depending on which trails you take to meet up with Skyline-to-Sea).
We didn't know about the extra distance, and the popularly noted first day hike to Waterman Camp is only ~8 miles, which felt short for one day, hence our decision to try to squeeze the more popular Day 1 & Day 2 hikes into just one Day.
Also, a significant portion of this hike is along the side of the highway (though not directly on the highway, you can clearly see and hear the cars zooming by and you're often walking along side peoples private property and houses) which I find to be a huge drawback and is why I'm subtracting at least 1 stars from the rating. You can take some alternative trails, as we did, to minimize the portion along the side of the highway, but this adds more distance to the total hike and you'll still be spending a significant amount of time along the highway regardless.
All in all, it took us over 20 miles to backpack from Castle Rock to Jay Camp, which is a lot longer than the estimated 15 miles we had in mind, and this can be an extremely tolling addition, especially when carrying 50lb backpacks.
We also found that the trails weren't always clearly marked and the trail markers present were few and far between, so you're often unsure how much distance is remaining and you also can sometimes get confused and question if you're on the right trail. This fact is another reason why I'm subtracting a star.

In summary, I found the best part of the trip to be the first few miles starting in Castle Rock to the High Way (taking as many alternative routs to avoid getting to high way quickly) as well as the last part of the trip from Jay Camp / Big Basin HQ to the Waddell Beach.

If done again, I would simply do an out&back from from Waddell Beach to Jay Camp / Big Basin HQ OR an out&back from Castle Rock to Waterman Camp instead of doing the Skyline-to-Sea.
Other downside (which effects my rating) that I want to note are; from Castle Rock to Waterman Camp you hike near a gun club and hear a lot of gunfire which is disheartening when trying to enjoy the sounds of nature and, as other folks have noted and I feel honor bound to repeat, Big Basin HQ is very popular and crowded with tourist, so it can get loud and not as relaxing to camp and enjoy the sounds of nature.

hiking
6 months ago

I hiked this trail on the weekend from the Saratoga Gap parking lot to Waddell Beach. I did it in one day, starting at 8:30am and finishing around 4:30pm with an average pace of about 20min per mile. This was a comfortable pace for me since most of the time it's downhill. At 8:30am, the parking lot was already 50% full, so come early! At Waddell Beach you'll have full cell phone reception with Verizon but non with AT&T. So factor that in in case you need to organize a ride back up.

backpacking
7 months ago

What a visually stunning hike! One of the most beautiful old growth redwood forests I've had the pleasure of hiking through. From about 2 miles before Big Basin Headquarters and all the way to 1 mile from Berry Creek Falls, are pure trail magic. We hiked the Saratoga Gap route (which I recommend), and experienced stunning views within the first few miles. Diving into the old growth redwoods on day one was amazing. The next 15 miles hiking through BIg Basin is out of this world. SO gorgeous. Overall, this trail is wonderful. Great hike for beginning backpackers. We used this trail as an early season backpacking trip trip, and had a great timei


Cons:
-Hiking along Hwy 9 loses the backcountry experiance.
-Waterman Gap Camp forces you to camp quite close to neighbors.
-Camping at Big Basin Headquarters is extremely touristy.

backpacking
7 months ago

A great 3 day hike for beginners. Beware if you are looking for views of the coast and oceans, this is not a hike for you as most of the trail goes deep into the redwoods. I would recommend arriving early at Big Basin Redwood State park to get a camping spot through the lottery (if you don't have one ahead of time). Other than that, the path was very well indicated, my only complaint is that at times the trail went along Highway 9, so on weekends it's not unusual to hear cars driving by.

8 months ago

It was okay, not my favorite.

backpacking
8 months ago

A great starter backpacking trip, although I recommend having one experienced backpacker in your group. We split this into 3 days and for us it was the perfect amount of time. Beautiful scenery, especially between Big Basin and Waddell Beach, where you feel like you've stepped back in time to the prehistoric days. Hips and feet were a bit sore by the end of the third day. Taking off my boots and putting my feet in the water has never felt so good!

backpacking
9 months ago

Did this with my husband for our anniversary a year ago. My first official backpacking trip! We took 3 days. Tips for the person picking you up, be sure they know where they are going! A breakdown in communication had us waiting almost 2 hours, there is no cell service at Waddell Beach. I would do it again and split the hike into two sections instead of three. I would also stay an additional night in Big Basin to explore that area more!

hiking
9 months ago

Four of us decided to do the Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach hike all in one day. In order for us to accomplish it form sunrise to sundown we needed to run a good portion of it. We estimate we ran about 15 miles of it with on and off with breaks of course. We are all active, but none of us are long distance or avid runners. The trail is well marked and soft and moderate for the most part. It was difficult and arjurous trek to do in one day. We took 8 hours total with about 1 to 1.5 hours of breaks. We took a long break at big basin where we grabbed a quick bite at the store, then kept going until we hit the beach at 3:45pm.

I would not recommend hiking this entire trail in 1 day unless you can keep a 3.5 mph speed non stop, otherwise you are looking at a 12-14 hike to complete without running.

To the guy that complained about view and there only being redwood trees. He is right there are only redwood trees, lots of them. The only complaint I have is not of the trail itself ,but of the beach. It was very sandy and I got it all over my feet and inside my shoes way too sandy for my taste.

Enjoy!

10 months ago

Beautiful hike through the redwoods. We did it in a day. The only problem was it was a 30 mile hike not 25 as it is called out here. That meant our timing got messed up. We were supposed to reach the sea by sunset and instead had to hike the last part with flashlights and missed the sunset!

10 months ago

....planning this for the first time. gonna break it into two days from big basin. Just not sure how I am getting up to big basin yet...and back home.

10 months ago

It was an amazing trip. Too my dad and I two days. It's best to have someone drop you off at the beginning and pick you up at the end.

backpacking
10 months ago

So we dove head first into this trail as my first backpacking trip. Going in January was a risk but the weather was perfect. We started at Castle Rock staging area and headed towards Waterman Gap. The views here are epic and the trail was a great challenge. My friend and I were very wore out by the time we made it to Waterman Gap. It was a great day. Waterman Gap was a cool little place and we were glad to see there was a bathroom and water. We had our choice of sites since we were the first ones to arrive. I found a good site with perfectly spaced trees for my hammock. We were bummed you can’t have a fire. Woke up the next morning and headed out toward Jay camp. This was by far the toughest day. The climb out of camp is 3 miles long. Anyone that says this is “all downhill” never did this climb! Once we got to the top of China Grade we only had about 4.7 miles to get to Jay camp. We arrived at park headquarters at 4:15 and the gift shop closed at 4:00 so no goodies for us. We hikes to Jay camp and chose site 6 for the night. Barely found trees that worked with my hammock. We slept good and headed out about 9:00. We were both pretty sore headed into day 3 but this was by far the best day. Leaving headquarters brought us deep into the forest that felt like we were in a different world. We had to take a little detour because part of the trail was closed but the atmosphere made it worth while. Another 10.5 miles to the beach!! All in all it was an epic trip. Most of the people we met thought that we were crazy doing this hike as our first backpacking trip but we made it!!!

backpacking
11 months ago

What should I say, I very much looked forward to this hike after someone had recommended it to me. And then what do you know, last year's rainy season had pretty much closed off the whole trail and I had to wait another 3 months, until April of 2017, to hike it. The anticipation welled and and April had rounded the corner. I'll just get down to business. I was disappointed. More than an entire third of the hike runs alongside a paved road (with cars!). The first trail camp is conveniently located along a tokyo drifting hot-spot and offers bountiful tire-screeching and engine-revving for the no-sleep enthusiasts. The second "trail" camp (Jay's trail camp) isn't even a flipping trail camp. It's at big Basin HQ and let's just say look forward to the crowds and gift shops to complete your wilderness experience. Anywho Berry Creek Falls was pretty cool...

backpacking
Sunday, November 12, 2017

Loved all the scenery, steady slope of trail, cushioned, great weather for mNovember, but the first half of the hike (castle rock to Jay camp) just hugged a road the whole time. My group and I felt like hitchhikers and didn't get the satisfaction that we were hiking deep into the redwoods. Second half was MUCH BETTER (Jay camp to Waddell beach) and would definitely do that section again!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First backpacking experience. Only did the roundtrip hike/camp from Castle Rock SP to Waterman Gap.
Downhill to Waterman - pretty much all uphill back to Castle Rock. Good variety in terms of scenery. Took off 1 star because of gunfire and highway noise (although honestly not a big deal). Looking forward to completing the entire Skyline to Sea Trail in the future.

trail running
Monday, July 31, 2017

Can't believe there are people actually complaining about "too many redwoods"- you just don't appreciate redwoods properly. Anyways, only 4 outta 5 cause signs can be awful at points. Started up at Castle Rock and didn't find out about the trail still being closed until I got to Big Basin- thanks for the heads up, guys. I guess the powers that be can write endless tickets should someone stay past sundown, but they can't update the main park sign or post anything to reflect the new distance. Was trying to do this in a day and had to turn back after Berry Creek Falls, was already at 23 miles coming into Big Basin originally due to previous unclear signs and some bad planning on my part. The 4 sided posts with arrows going in vague directions often don't help- just mark the side facing where the hiker will be coming from with "Trail X, take right, trail Y, take left"- I'm confused as to why this isn't the standard. Then I missed Sunset Connector Trail (only sign for it was on the back of the post, so you'd only see it coming from one direction), not sure if that woulda worked as the detour posted at Big Basin HQ was the 12 mile Berry Creek one- ya, just a mess of a hike in terms of clear directions. Anyways, as to why it's still a dope hike- Castle Rock is a beautiful place to start in the morning, loved seeing clouds cover the valley with my ultimate (unreached) destination, the sea, in the distance. The stretch beside the road isn't the best, but there's enough to keep you interested. There are some open sections over some interesting rock formations, plenty of impressive redwoods, and there is some wildlife- lizards, hawks up at Castle Rock if you start later, and I saw a green snake chowing down on a mouse which was insane. Obviously I can't review the whole thing since I had to stop short, but it's a heck of a thru-hike taking you through some nicely varied terrain- and yes, there are lots of Redwoods, still can't believe people manage to make that a negative. Anyways, I'm planning on finishing the last 12+ miles once my feet hate me a bit less, heck of a hike from what I did cover though!

backpacking
Friday, July 21, 2017

Great hike, around 31 miles in total, 3 days. I'm a beginner backpacker and I found this beautiful and not too challenging. We had a nice slow and steady pace throughout, around 2mph, and I found that very doable.

We started at Castle Rock around noon on Tuesday. There are some exposed sections and a couple of short scrambles around Goat Rock. Also: beautiful views. We stopped for a snack at Castle Rock trail camp (pit toilet, water), and then left for Waterman Gap. Camp was quiet and secluded, but near highway 9. Car noise died down early and we had a peaceful nights sleep. There's water and a pit toilet, no food lockers. Total day of 9.3 miles.

Day 2 we started around 8:30 and hiked the 10 miles to Big Basin Headquarters. There are a few short exposed sections here as well, and some steep up and downs. I didn't find it very challenging, and enjoyed it. Took a long lunch break at HQ, it was crowded, but we were able to grab some supplies we needed and a quick snack. Left for Sunset camp around 2:30, made it there around 5. I've done the reverse hike (Berry Falls to HQ via Sunset trail) and found it more challenging in that direction than going this way. Did feel like we were a little late getting to the camp, many of the sites were occupied by large groups, and only small/awkwardly placed ones were left. There are food lockers and a pit toilet, no water. Water is available about .4 mile away, down a fairly steep grade, at the falls. We'd stocked up at HQ and decided to skip it till morning. The total for the day was 14.3 miles.

Day 3 started around 7:30, hiked down to Berry Falls and spent some time filtering our water for the day. It's a beautiful spot and there was no one around that early. First couple miles are a little varied, steep decline along the falls to start, than some ups and downs, but the last 5 miles or so are wide, flat, and easy. We stayed on the bike trail rather than the hiker bypass because my partner was having some shoe troubles, and finished around noon. The day's total was 7 miles.

Would highly recommend this for entry-level backpacking, helps to have an experienced friend.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

nice day jog. started at Castle Rock around 10 a.m. finished the 25 miles shortly after night fall. Bring 2 gallons of water and snacks. 3 star only cause all I saw was red wood red wood red wood...would be nice to see more variety and more wildlife. it is pretty busy which may have a role in critter activity.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I've done this hike about 7 times and it never gets old. Such beautiful scenery and amazing trail. Going from the mountains to the ocean so mostly downhill but always more uphill than I remember. For a long hike, so far to me this is as good as it gets. Only done it as a day hike, although there are two potential campgrounds along the way. If you run the flats and downhills you can finish in less than 6 hours. Or you can take your time. Refill water at Big Basin HQ.

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