Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail: Saratoga Gap Route

HARD 202 reviews

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail: Saratoga Gap Route 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

camping

hiking

nature trips

trail running

bird watching

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.

hiking
6 days ago

My friend and I did the full 30 miles in one day back in September. We started at 8 am and I believe we finished around 3:30/4 pm. The trail is beautiful and we had a great time but doing 30 miles in a day takes a major toll on your body! At around 25 miles our feet were blistered and we were exhausted but we made it!

hiking
blowdown
muddy
20 days ago

I hiked this trail from 3/26-28. I started late, so I parked my car at 2:30 at the Castle Rock parking, headed down Skyline Blvd, to the service road, went to the trail camp which currently has no water, the off to Travertine Springs Trail (the best part IMHO) over downed trees and slick clay through the vague trail signs all the way to Waterman Gap where I showed up just before sunset to sling my hammock and pretty much die after a 10 mile hike in four hours. The next day was pretty nice except for the rain, the trail has several trees down, and is very we this time of year. Then it started pouring on me and I would HIGHLY recommend trekking poles because so much of it is slippery and steep in the rain. Once you cross over China Grade road into Bug Basin it gets really downhill and if it’s wet, you have to slow down a lot. Going along The trail towards headquarters takes you over some sandstone formations the are practically a slide in the rain with a big drop on the other side. So please be careful! In dry weather, I think this will be a pretty decent hike, wear your wide toed shoes for the toe smashing downhills, and go enjoy a nice hike through the mountains with some demolition derby attractions on the side.

hiking
29 days ago

My son and I backpacked this trail the last weekend of Feb 2019. We caught a slot as the weather was spectacular, daytime temps were comfortable but still on the cool side, evenings were cold.

We started at Saratoga Gap (not Castlerock) and spent the first night in Waterman Gap Trail Camp, there is a bathroom, it was clean, there was also a water faucet (not in the bathroom). There is an awesome vista at Sempervirens lookout.

2nd day we hiked to Big Basin HQ, the trail was mostly downhill but there was a moderate climb out of Waterman Gap, we descended thru old growth redwood groves and sections that had been cleared out. Crossing China Grade Road is there is another vista where you can see the Pacific if it’s clear. Descending from there is some huge boulders which the trail traverses. We stayed at Jay Camp, there are toilets w running water and showers. Big Basin HQ had a small general store BUT no hot food really except some. 7-11 looking hot dogs. A dude could make a killing there selling burgers and beer! All I wanted that night was burger!

3rd day was another moderate climb out of Big Basin to Berry Falls which was awesomely awesome! From there we started descending to Waddell Beach we crossed the Creek 3x but the at the third crossing the “bridge” was washed out and we had find a place to rock hop across the river.
The last few miles we began to catch a sea breeze and we knew we were close, finally we came to the park entrance and opted to walk the long road to Hwy 1 then crossed it to the beach! Yay! We were done! Then we went out for burgers and beers finally! We had a great time and I would definitely recommend this trail.

The trail was in good shape most of the way, there were sections that were muddy and we had take a detour out of Big Basin due to trees falling from recent storms, we did have to scramble over several fallen trees during our hike.

backpacking
muddy
over grown
1 month ago

hiking
2 months ago

long easy hike with great views.

treacherous and muddy in the rain.

there are a few bits where you may accidentally end up on the wrong trail, so pay attention.

hiking
3 months ago

This review is for starting at Big Basin Headquarters -> Waddel Beach

It's a moderate hike if you're doing this route, It's very very scenic and amazing. The route totals about 12 miles and is perfect for a 1 nighter if you're backpacking

If you're starting at Big Basin then you will need a permit which is easy to get and you have to park at JAY CAMP not the headquarters.

I would HIGHLY recommend to plan the logistics on who will pick you up and drop you off if you do not plan on hiking back up. There are no UBERS or LYFT there once you reach the beach. I was lucky and was able to hitch hike off a "van lifer" that just so happened to have slept at the beach the night before.

3 months ago

My friend and I hiked this trail in 8 hours and 31 minutes. It was fun. The trail is 30 miles. Keep in mind my friend and I took a wrong turn which cost us valuable time. We could have hiked this trail in 8 hours if we had not wasted half an hour looking for the right path. We were racing the sun since we did it in January. The park ranger in Big Basin said we might be hiking in the dark and the risk factor was very high. We proved him wrong and finished 40 minutes before sunset.

backpacking
3 months ago

My wife and I did the thru hike in late December over three days/ 2 nights.

We got a late start the first day and hiked the last 2 miles in the dark to waterman gap from castle rock. This part of the hike is poorly labeled at some points, so make sure to talk with the ranger at castle rock if you have not done this hike before!

Second day we hiked to Jay camp at big basin hq. There is a store and rangers readily available in case you need anything. This night got pretty cold, but we were ok with 15 deg bags.

Last day we hiked to Waddell creek via the ridge trail, which is a few miles shorter but does about 1800 ft of elevation. This trail is very challenging and is mostly downhill. If you have any weather or are tired I would stick to the skyline to sea trail. But the views from the ridge trail are amazing!

All in all this is a great trip and well worth the effort!

backpacking
5 months 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
5 months 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
6 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
6 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
6 months ago

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

7 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
8 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.

9 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.

9 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
9 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
9 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
9 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
10 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
11 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
11 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.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

It was okay, not my favorite.

backpacking
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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
Monday, February 26, 2018

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
Monday, February 19, 2018

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!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

....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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

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.

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