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

HARD 232 reviews

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail: Saratoga Gap Route is a 25.2 mile heavily 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.

backpacking
bugs
1 month ago

Amazing trip. Lots of bugs so bring bug spray.

backpacking
bugs
1 month ago

I completed this trail during the July 4th weekend. It was confusing to find the trail head at Saratoga Gap, and I almost took the wrong way. You have to cross the street after you park your car in the parking lot, and go straight, the trail head will be on your right side. The trail is relatively easy. The 1st day was the easiest, it took me 4.5 hrs to walk 6.1 miles from Saratoga Gap to Waterman Gap. The 2nd day, I think, was the most difficult one, from Waterman Gap to Jay Camp with some uphills. The last 5.2 miles on the 3rd day was mostly flat and downhill. Even though it was long (~13 miles), it was pretty easy. There were not much sceneries on the trail from Saratoga Gap to Jay Camp. I prefer the tall redwood trees in Big Basin.

hiking
bugs
1 month ago

Just finished this 3 day backpacking trip. I give it very mixed review. The first day out of Castle Rock state park was pretty. Enjoyed the horizon view to sea and hill tops. Lots of tall coastal red woods. As you approach Waterman gap camp ground the hiking is very close to a road which ruined the outdoor experience for me. The sounds of motorcycles racing up and down made me feel as though I was next to the freeway. This may of been particularly bad because it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Second day we hiked to Big Basin headquarters (Jay camp). We practically followed the road the entire way. Passing next to homes and backyards. Once we made it to headquarters we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and pushed on to Sunset campsite. This is were it was really pretty. We passed 3 waterfalls and enjoyed a very private camping experience. Saw a bunch of banana slugs. Last day headed out to Waddel beach. It was a beautiful hike and slightly downhill for a very easy hike. My recommendation would be to start at Jay camp (Headquarters) hike to sunset and out the next day only making this a one night trip and about 12 mile trip.

backpacking
1 month ago

Did this as an overnight starting at Saratoga Gap. Scenery is beautiful, we had minimal vehicle noise and encountered few other hikers until we were in Big Basin. Stopped at park HQ to refill water, grab some lunch and rest before wrapping up the day with Berry Creek, Silver & Cascade falls on our way up (and up, and up) to Sunset Camp. Second day was gorgeous. Went back down to the falls and enjoyed them in the morning light then linked back up to S2S trail, following the creek most of the way. A quick 6ish miles from our campsite to Waddell Beach. Great hike and I’d do it again for sure, though it’d probably be better broken up staying at Jay Camp and doing the falls and finishing up on the second day (couldn’t grab a reservation for Jay though) That last push up the falls on stairs with cables to Sunset Camp was pretty rough after a 22+ mile day!

hiking
2 months ago

This isn't the most scenic trail for the most part but definitely iconic and was part of my bucket list. 1. The first part of the trail until waterman gap trail was quite meh. Runs too close to the road and wasn't very pretty. 2. About a mile after waterman gap, it got quite foggy and the trees were dripping so it was a very pleasant and interesting experience throughout the major incline. 3. After the intersection with China grade road, it gets a bit exposed with some sweeping mountain views. I got lost at the bridge crossing and took the wrong trail across the bridge and had to come back when I realized after about a mile. You're supposed to go straight and cross the highway and not go across the bridge. 4. Soon after the views when you go down the steepest part, is about 3 miles flat in big basin which has a few redwood groves and overall pleasant along the creek until the part hq. 5. After the park hq, it is a bumpy tide down to berry creek falls (the falls are the best part of the hike. I'd go until silver falls if you have energy because that's the best part of the forest). This is also the toughest part of the hike which is Rocky and narrow but has the most traffic. 6. From there on to Waddell creek it's straightforward and uneventful for the most part except the last incline to the beach which was quite overgrown and had lots of poison oak. I'd wear full pants. The beach is just gorgeous. Probably one of the most beautiful along highway 1 with lots of surfers. I did this as a day hike and it took me about 10 hours including a big break at the hq. I hitchhiked from the highway to Santa Cruz and took an uber back to the Saratoga Gap. Don't expect data to be working at the beach to call an uber and the phone booth at the beach was broken too.

backpacking
2 months ago

Like other people said, bring bug spray!!

trail running
closed
muddy
over grown
rocky
2 months ago

I did this as a marathon. It was a beautiful. A few dangerous spots because of roots or rocks. However, it was mostly soft pack redwood. I would love to do it again and plan to! I couldn’t recommend it enough :)

Decent trail but somewhat repetitive. The section going into/out of Big Basin is best and the final 5km or so was also nice. Probably won’t rush to do this again.

trail running
2 months ago

Ran the Skyline to sea 50K from Saratoga gap to Horse Camp. The trial was extremely technical and I nearly twisted my ankle 15 times (ankle brace would have been a good idea). Trail footing makes it difficult to run downhills fast. Trail is 70% mostly covered and shaded. Cell phone coverage at Horse Camp was limited to Verizon and Sprint (no T-Mobile/AT&T coverage). I originally planned to call an Uber at the finish line, but Uber indicated "No cars available" and a $76 price tag for ride back to Cupertino.

2 months ago

I did this from 5/25-27. If this trail is done I. 3 days with recommended camp grounds Waterman and Jay I would say it's an easy hike on day 1, easy to moderate on day 2 and 3. I had booked lane trail camp so my first day was around 15 miles. second day I did a couple of hikes from big basin headquarters and third day I took sunset trail to Cascade falls and then joined skyline to sea trail via berry Creek trail thus increasing the miles for each day significantly. big basin is very muddy. wear good fitting shoes and carry trekking poles if possible. lane trail camp has no water so carry a filter if u plan to stay there.

hiking
2 months ago

Easy short hike in from Waddell. Bypass more scenic.

hiking
3 months ago

Beautiful hike for the area! Our group started at Saratoga Gap and the first few miles into Waterman gap were pretty beautiful! Open sections overlooking the redwoods. Once we started descending more towards the gap we just followed the freeway and it was a bit annoying/unusual. The camp isn't all that much either. I am used to more Sierra backcountry where the only way in is by hiking, it was just a strange feeling to know that we could have just drove there. The second day of our trip was to Sunset Camp so that we could be closer to the falls. Once again we hugged the freeway for about half of the time and restocked on beers and muffins at Big Basin HQ and made our way up to Sunset Camp, which we liked more considering it was much more secluded. Day 3 was easily the biggest highlight back to our car at Waddell State Beach. We covered multiple gorgeous waterfalls and had witnessed tons of ferns and plants just thriving. Overall good backpacking trip for those wanting to get into it and be close to home if you're from the Bay Area or Central California. If you want to witness the most scenic parts, just day hike from Waddell State Beach into just before Sunset campground.

Beautiful trail, walking through a tunnel of trees, not a lot of views (unless you start from castle Rock). Hiked with with a abnormally healed fracture and I do say the downhill destroyed my feet. Been two weeks and I can't walk right still, getting it checked but make sure you take care of your feet, unfortunately I have permanent damage. Take ecare of your feet!

hiking
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months 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.

hiking
7 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.

7 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
7 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
9 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
9 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
10 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
10 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
10 months ago

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

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