Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds

HARD 133 reviews

Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds is a 18.7 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Palm Springs, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October.

18.7 miles
10889 feet
Point to Point



nature trips

trail running




wild flowers




no dogs

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.

2 days ago

5 days ago

10 days ago

I really appreciated everyone's reviews before I took on this hike. They are accurate when saying this is tough and you have to start early. I know a few people that have done the complete trail in 6-9hrs, but if you're like me, and you like to stop for pictures, and food, expect to take anywhere from 10-12hrs. The first 4000ft. are tough, but the last 3000+ ft before you get to long valley are sooo much more tough. This is not for the faint of heart, or people that are not willing to climb a few boulders haha. I stopped at the tram station because it was cold and rainy, and I left my rain poncho at home that day, but I still feel victorious. I've done the hike to the summit a few times from the tram so I can say this... The last 2000ft to the summit are bearable and most enjoyable, especially if you take a little pause at Wellman's Divide for pictures and a little snack.
There's nothing like that feeling of accomplishment when you've reached your destination, no matter how hard the journey is.

Can't wait to do this again!

15 days ago

I have read many reviews that describe this as a hike to do for the challenge, but not for the beauty. Many call it ugly with a lack a scenery. I completely disagree. This was the most beautiful hike I have taken yet because it goes through every aspect of southern California. It was an absolutely amazing day for me from the first step in Palm Springs where nothing can grow, to a few small cacti about a mile in, to larger cacti, to small shrubs, to large shrubs. Then around 5000 feet, a few 10ft desert trees, then a couple of tunnels through the trees. At about 7000 feet, I crossed the first pine, then surrounded by pines, then into that glorious meadow of grass and pines, up the mountain to the boulders and chilly air at the peak. It was incredible to walk through it all in one day. Here is the standard warning - DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS YOU ARE EXPERIENCED!!

For preparation, I hiked all minor peaks in San Diego (Woodson, Iron Mtn, El Cajon, Cowles man - plus the other 4 in the park, etc...), then I hit the LA and San Bernardino mountains (Gorgonio, Baldy, Cucamonga, Ontario, San Jacinto from Idyllwild). The best prep for this was Mt Baldy on the Bear Creek Trail. If you don't know what it's like to hike 6000ft in 6 miles, then don't try this. After that, I did a 20 mile hike in temps ranging from 100 down to 80, back up to 100 on the decent. If you don't know what it's like to hike in heat, don't try this!!

Supplies - I brought 6.3 liters of water (including 1 small bottle of gatorade to celebrate at Longs Valley) and drank all of it in the first 10 miles. I then refilled 4 liters of h20 at the ranger station and drank 3. I consumed 2 bananas, 3 cliff bars, 2 pb&js, 1 bag trail mix, 1 bag beef jerky. I had zero cramps and zero altitude issues which I credit to advil and salt tabs. I eat 1 salt capsule every hour during the strenuous times, then 2 advil every hour over 5000 feet to combat the swelling brain. ?Doesn't salt dehydrate you? - You sweat out salt and need to replace it to keep your body in balance (electrolytes).

Highlights - Saw a herd a bighorn sheep about 2 miles up. They were only 100 feet from me and scared the hell out of me originally. It was still dark and I saw only their green glowing eyes. I first thought it was a couple mountain lions and pulled my spray out (and released the safety for the first time). Then I saw many more eyes and heard hooves. It was really amazing. Sunrise was breathtaking. Miles 8-10 are torture. standard hiking uphill is 600ft/mile gain. Very difficult is 1000ft/mile. The last 2 miles before the valley are 1250ft/mile. Reaching Long Valley is the real accomplishment here. Oddly, I was greeted by 4 elderly women who appeared to be dressed for a polo match. When I cleared the top, I saw a hundred non-exhausted casual strollers wandering around the valley and felt like I was in the twilight zone. After a short celebration, I realized 11 miles still awaited me.

From the valley to the top is a cakewalk though, compared to the original beast played. It's like an 11 mile victory lap. Plenty of deer around, so keep your eyes open and camera ready. Beware of the killer attack squirrels. One guy actually did have to kick a squirrel off of him. Views from the top are amazing.

Timeline - 4:15am start. 83 degrees. 6:45 sunrise. I was at 3000 feet. 80 degrees 9:45 - I was at 6000 feet preparing for the brutal 2 miles ahead. 12:15 - at the valley 4:15 - summit. 60 degrees 7:00 - tram for beers/burger.

Note - I brought 2 shirts and kept changing them out every 2 hours. Soaked through them very quickly. Also brought 2 socks to swap out along the way. Keep your feet dry!!

another note - Alltrails seems to be about 20% off on their distance calculations. I have used multiple apps on various hikes/rides as well as gauged this against know distances. It's just off. This is a 21 mile hike, not 16.7.

24 days ago

It's a great hike with great views! What a workout! This is good training for Whitney or The Mt. Whitney climb will prepare you for this!

28 days ago

Who's done Whitney in a day and how does this compare?

30 days ago

I want to put this on here so that you can plan your trip accordingly. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will be closed for annual maintenance Sept. 11 - Sept. 30, 2017 with a tentative reopening date of Oct. 1, 2017. During this time, you will not have a tram car to take you to the valley floor, so you will have to hike back down on your own. I recommend that you do not do this hike during this time period.

1 month ago

This trail is amazing, but do be careful. I did the trek Thursday 8/17/17. I brought 4 proteins bars, 3 bananas, 70 ounces of water in camel back and 60 ounces of Gatorade in bottle (Colleague of my wife did the hike a few years ago and encountered solo hiker at mile 7 whose camel back had leaked out and group had to spare water) so I was spooked. I left, despite everyone's warning, at 6am. Several people said that I needed to get to 3,000ft as quick as possible to avoid the desert heat, so ran/hike the first two miles.

The trail markings after mile 1 at times were nonexistent. I got lost at mile 2.3 about 20 minutes but luckily the ALLTRAILS app saved my butt. MapMyRun couldn't triangulate my gps coordinates and I was going to have to turn around, but low and behold AllTrails app maps was able to load and showed me right where I was; I had made a left instead of a right!!! Once back on course I began to jog/ brisk walk the next mile. At that point I had climbed enough elevation and the weather from there on out was very pleasant.

After mile 7 the nature of the hike begins to change. It's steep and the air is thinner.

I thought the trail was 10 miles, so I saved up a ton of energy and was going to jog the last mile. At mile 9 I began to jog and at 9.22 both legs cramped on the inner thigh from knee to groin.
That stopped me dead in my tracks, but it was weirdest thing because I had saved all this energy and then had to awkwardly limp hike the rest of the way. My dreams of a sub five hour trek were over. The last two miles were magical, but challenging. They ended up taking 2.5 hours, but it was so much fun. 7.5 hour finish.

*** I did this trek solo under perfect weather conditions and it was challenging. I'm a pretty avid trail runner and had been seriously training for this for two months. I spoke with rangers after I finished and they were quite vocal about how dangerous that trail was, especially solo. This trail is majestic and pretty, but it's no joke. If your planning to do this take the warnings to heart! ***

Cramps stink, I still have them a day and half later, but it was so WORTH IT!

1 month ago

1 month ago

Did this on Aug 5 2017. Started at 1:30 am. Did it as a C2C2C that is from museum to San Jacinto peak and back to museum. It was hot when I started (90F) and hot when I returned (105F). Note that at the start once you are up 3 miles or about 3000 ft the temperatures are nice. I consumed about 6L water (electrolyte enhanced with Mg/Ca/K/Na + lime juice) the whole R/T. While coming down the last 5 miles are hot but bearable as there was some breeze and the mountain offers some shade. I did buy a perfume bottle for a dollar from the dollar store, filled it with water and used it as a mister - worked great for the last 5 miles on the way back.

Amazing , tough but worth it. Prepare for it

1 month ago

1 month ago

Absolutely incredible feat. Hardest thing I've ever done, and maybe my proudest accomplishment.

I'm a desert local and would warn you, though -- take the heat seriously! The high in Palm Springs was 95 the day we hiked, plus we started at 4am, and I was still near the upper limit of how hot I'd want to be. Pack more water and than you think you need. But if you're in shape and prepared, give it a shot. You'll be glad you did.

3 months ago

very nice run out of water by the bench. I'll conquered the summit by November.

3 months ago

DO NOT TRY THIS HIKE UNLESS YOU ARE IN BALLER SHAPE! If you can't comfortably run a marathon or jog all of mt baldy, this is dangerous and is not with the helicopter rescue. Also, do not do this hike during the day. The heat will melt you and make it miserable.

My experience: got to the museum around 5pm, left immediately. It was 111 degrees when we started. Had about 40 lbs on me, about 6 liters of water, snacks, some other random stuff. Around 8 pm it cooled down and became awesome. The moonlight guided us the entire way. Managed to slam the first 8,000 ft of elevation gain by about 1am. The trail is easy to follow. It was 33 degrees up there, and windy. Took a little nap at the ranger station, and at 3am cruised up to the peak. Watched sunrise from the summit, words can't explain! There is a reason John Muir calls the 'the most spectacular view god gave to man', and he calls everyone out from the grave by saying 'you aren't a mountaineer if you haven't done the cactus to clouds trail...'. You really can't appreciate this hike unless you start from the bottom. It was incredible watching the lights of Palm Springs slowly fade into the distance while grinding through the night. My feet got some gnarly blisters but beyond that our legs were pretty happy so we did the entire hike back down. Total distance, over 35 miles, total net elevation gain, nearly 25,000 ft according to my watch. Took about 17 hours of hiking, plus a nap and a nap at the peak. I didn't take any breaks going up or down and I suggest you don't either, keep your momentum going.

Result: a special accomplishment and sense of pride knowing you did the 'hardest/most elevation gain day hike in America'. And some gnarly blisters. Body feels great though. Being 21 kicks ass sometimes.

Advice: DO NOT try to do cactus to clouds to cactus if you aren't into suffering a little. Take the tram down and enjoy. Also if you do take the tram down, arrange some ride from the tram to the museum. Also, don't be a Judas and raid the emergency boxes... don't even try this if you're gonna rely upon those boxes. Carry your own water and suck it up if you get thirsty. Thirsty is not an emergency. Also, again, DO THIS OVERNIGHT. It's amazing! And protect your skin. 6 liters of water should be enough just hydrate before. And no matter what, you're gonna blister, so suck up the pain and smile, and enjoy a badass hike. And leave your phone at home, pictures won't do it justice and you can't enjoy the summit without doing the hike so just be free and off the grid and enjoy.

Good luck!

3 months ago

3 months ago

3 months ago

Cactus to Clouds will undoubtedly be the most difficult trail that most day hikers will ever undertake. The relentless vertical gain cannot be fully appreciated until it's attempted. The crux of this hike will be from around Rescue 2 to the tram, where you've already climbed about the equivalent of a vertical mile, but are still around 3,000 feet below the tram. Rest and food can be had at the tram, but if you don't succumb to the temptation of riding it down and calling it a day, you're still nearly 2,000 ft short of your goal, and you're feeling the altitude now. Descending that same vertical back down to the tram after summiting will reiterate how challenging descents can really be when you're tired.

There is no way to prepare for C2C beyond doing hikes of equal vertical, which are few and far between. It easily rivals Whitney in a Day, and many will debate which reigns supreme. Anyone who doesn't do serious daily vertical as a matter of routine will struggle heavily with this hike, that's a promise. Nothing from the bottom to the tram is particularly pretty, other than the city lights, and climbing San Jacinto from Idyllwild or from the top of the tram after riding it are far more sensible and enjoyable experiences. Nonetheless, of you want to claim that you've undertaken the most difficult day hike in America, you'll need to complete this and Whitney in a Day to have a leg to stand on. Although standing up after either will not be guaranteed.

4 months ago

This Is The Best Hike Ever...45 Minutes At The Peak "Definitely Worth It" I Love This Trail...( make sure to have a compass, map, flash light, protein bars and plenty of water) one more thing LISTEN TO THE RANGER

4 months ago

Difficult, and not just because the vert, but also because the training dayhikes, like, Telescope, Iron, Grand Canyon, Villager and others, were far, FAR, more beautiful and rewarding. Just goes to show you that the path to a goal is more valuable than the goal itself. I can't recommend. Yes, there were some flowering Yucca and a few other flowers, but in general, it was just a relentless, beige, hot, exposed death slog. Started around midnight. consumed 4 liters of H2O. If you must, get a nice poolside resort after, and have breakfast at L'Atelier Cafe.