Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds

HARD 191 reviews

Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds is a 28 mile lightly trafficked out and back 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.

DISTANCE
28.0 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
10091 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

snow

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.

hiking
5 days ago

Hardest day hike I have ever done! I was not in the best of shape so it took 14.5 hours for me to summit. I was cramping out towards the end of the first 8000 ft. I stretched out at the ranger station and gutted the rest of the hike out. I want to improve my time and do it again in October which is when we went in 2017. I do not recommend doing it in the summer months. No water until the tram and I used every drop of the 4 liters I carried with me by the time I got there.

hiking
9 days ago

Awesome hike for the serious, well prepared only. Super steep, long, and treacherous at upper elevations with snow. Very challenging, very rewarding. Cold beers at the tram station are on me! Enjoy

hiking
22 days ago

This hike is brutally tough. The worst of it is all prior to Long Valley, but it doesn't get easy after that since your legs will feel like sludge from the Skyline Trail section. By starting early in the morning, like 2 or 3 AM early, you'll have the opportunity to view an incredible sun rise. Bring a head lamp and follow the white dots painted on the rocks, especially at the beginning of the hike. This is one hike I highly suggest using a GPS for. Download someone's confirmed gpx file for this and use that for a guide. There are several cutoff "trails" off the main drag of the Skyline Trail that will cause some confusion as to which trail to follow; stick to the white dots and follow the footprints while often checking your gps to confirm your path. Since most people start in pitch black, a map and compass doesn't offer much assistance.

hiking
28 days ago

hiking
1 month ago

This is by far the hike I am most proud of completing. I lost the Skyline Trail within a mile of Long Valley and spent an hour wandering around lost. I hiked overnight in August. Read as much as you can before the hike to prepare, and make sure you hike with others who are adequately prepared.

1 month ago

Started out @ 0600 got to the tram by 5.
This was a very intense trail, let it be known I carried over 30lbs when I started out.
Tip:
Go light bring at-least 4L of water. Start early to enjoy the sunrise and kick some a$$!

1 month ago

I wouldn't say it's best used from March to October. But I'd say in late fall (when it's no longer hot and just before snow falls) and early spring (when snow has mostly melted at the top and before the desert heat comes back).

hiking
2 months ago

Hiked this beast with 3 buddies on Veteran’s day this past weekend and wow what a humbling experience. This hike is as intense as it gets no joke. Went with an avid backpacker, an ex army paratrooper, my brother inlaw who hikes regularly and myself I exercise 3-5 x per week/hike regularly and we all agreed it was the toughest day challenge of our lives. We did half dome in June in a day and this was like hiking up to half dome twice and back down once. No training can prep you for this journey unless you spend all day training for iron man stuff. C2C is actually over 21 miles not 18 as stated here. It’s 10 miles from museum to Tram station (8000 feet elevation gain) and 5.5 more miles up to san Jacinto (2600 feet elevation gain) and 5.5 miles back to tram.

Once you are up a couple miles there is no turning back and you’ll be stuck in the desert until you climb to 8k feet elevation. The first couple miles are steep but you’re fresh and will put them down no problem. It doesn’t really get much easier going up through the desert and mile 8-10, after flat rock, you will be in for torture with the free for all steep grade scramble to the top. Once you hit the top of skyline trail you will feel like you just climbed through hell to heaven. The rest of the hike to San Jacinto was forgettable for me, pretty monotonous albeit with some solid views towards the top. Perhaps i was just over not sleeping for almost 40 hours and hiking for 15+.. Unbelievably hard to continue on that final stretch after the skyline trail battle and with the altitude but we made it.

Views are incredible starting at night watching the city lights and night club sounds slowly fade below you, watching the sun rise from 6k or so feet over the city and the Salton Sea was absolutely amazing i swear you could hear a pin drop it was fantastic, and the landscape changes as you go from desert to mountain were remarkable.

Advice: Go in a group, take 5L of water and refill at tram station, do not hike in summer unless you have a death wish or like stepping next to snakes at night or taking breaks on rocks that snakes hide under, take two meals/snacks/salt tablets/energy gels, bring clothes to accommodate the weather changes as it’s like 20-30 degrees cooler in long valley and up Mt san Jacinto (having sweat drenched shirts when hiking in the cold is no bueno). Hiking poles are an ABSOLUTE must too. This is an insane journey and a bucket list item for the insane like myself. Truly a day i will never forget the rest of my life. Be prepared and go kick some ass!

It's amazing but you better be prepared for a loooong hike. When you see and hear the tram it's NOT over , it goes another 2 hours so just know mentally to keep treating till it evens out. Worth it but very hard because of the elevation which makes breathing hard and it never stops going up! Bring enough water and food. Not good if you have bad knees or if you are in bad shape. Again, prepare!

hiking
2 months ago

There’s a reason why this is the 5th hardest day hike in the US. The first 8 miles are difficult, but definitely the last 2 miles before reaching the tram station take the life out of you, it has a very pronounced inclination and wears you out. After the tram station is really easy to go up since you only gain roughly 2000 ft elevation over 5.5 miles.
We started hiking at midnight and we enjoyed the cool night temperatures of palm springs and had breakfast while enjoying the sunrise from ~6000ft elevation. In general it has beautiful views and you can see how the vegetation changes with the altitude gain.
Bring a minimum of 6 lt of waters, plenty of snacks, protein bars, and 2 meals; also wear layers because the change in temperature between the base and the peak is pretty dramatic.

hiking
2 months ago

Great hike! And yes it's hard. The mileage from the museum parking to the tram is 15+ miles, not 11 as most sites say so be advised.

hiking
2 months ago

This trail will provide a memory that will last a life time. Completed in 1969 no GPS no rescue boxes, little water. only the will to complete. Thank God for a patch of snow to provide energy to make it. Be prepared and stay strong.

hiking
2 months ago

Starting at 330 to try and clear most of the low desert before sunrise was key to a successful C2C for my group. Trail is easy to follow for the first ~2m, but after that we relied heavily on our GPS to guide us back to the trail until the sun came up. The final push at Grubb’s Notch on the Skyline Trail is as tough as it is exhilarating. The trip from the tram to the peak is not very difficult, but after Skyline, it felt like it was never going to end! Drank 3L on Skyline and 2L during the the hike up from the Ranger Station. We hiked for just over 15h and enjoyed most of it. :)

hiking
2 months ago

An amazing trail! Come prepared fitness wise as it is very challenging. Come prepared with enough fluids and food. Be patient as it’s a long day of hiking. One of my favorite hikes I have ever done.

2 months ago

Loved this hike. beautiful time of year to hike it. We left at 4:15 AM and I'm glad I had the GPX tracker as we lost the trail several times. Made it to San Jacinto peak at 1 pm and down to the tram by 4. It was hard but not as bad as the reviews make it out to be. Great experience.

hiking
3 months ago

Almost a week later and I still cannot believe I completed the infamous "Cactus to Clouds" hike in Palm Springs. Rated the "Fifth Most Difficult Day Hike in the United States" by Backpacker Magazine, the hike starts on the desert floor of Palm Springs (near the cactus) and gains thousands of feet of elevation leading to San Jacinto Peak (up in the clouds).

I woke up at 1:00am Sunday morning (10/15) to meet at my carpool spot by 2:00am. Kiyomi, Jessy, and I headed to Palm Springs and arrived in time for our 4:15am start. Sure it may have been pitch dark but with the desert sun, it heats up quickly and we had to climb as much as possible before the sun would start scorching us. One of my fellow WTC students, Charles, arranged the hike and although I had been incredibly hesitant I decided to give it a go. After all, I thought I was going to stop once we arrived at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

So at 4:15am we started the ascent and there was no turning back. Literally, no turning back... Once you start on the Skyline Trail portion of C2C, you are committed to climbing 8,000+ feet in ~9 miles. Turning around is simply not an option as you would descend into an inferno otherwise known as the desert heat.

The Skyline portion was not terrible until the sun started heating up the exposed trail. I was carrying three liters of water and a 32 ounce Gatorade and reached the tram with about half a liter of water to spare. Water is not available until you complete the Skyline Trail (arrive at the tram). I was thankful for all the snacks I brought - especially the bananas which I am certain helped avoid cramping.

Our group of seven reached the tram around noon (we took a lot of breaks) and enjoyed a break while eating lunch. I felt like I could make the push for the peak - another 5 miles and ~2,500 feet of gain + 5 miles back - so myself and five others departed the tram and headed for the peak. My body started feeling it about two miles from the peak. But, with great determination I continued on. After all, I hadn't hiked ~12/13 miles just to turn around two miles from the destination. Four of us reached the peak. I was overcome with joy as I scrambled up the rocks and caught sight of the "Mt. San Jacinto Peak" sign at about 4:30pm.

"Set your goals high and don't stop till you get there." Well, I followed this quote and reached the summit. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. The trek back to the tram was exhausting - both mentally and physically. My feet were aching, my muscles were sore, and the sun was setting faster than we were descending. It was time to put the headlamp back on; we started the hike with it and we finished with it as well. Reaching the tram around 7:00pm, I had never been so happy to end a hike (and that's saying something!!) We waited for the rest of the group, took the tram down, hopped in an Uber, and returned to the Palm Springs Art Museum where we had left the car 14+ hours before.

My Fitbit said I walked/hiked more than 68,900 steps/28.4 miles on Sunday - more than most people walk in an entire week. It was exhausting and I seriously contemplated calling in sick to work yesterday as my body felt like it was ran over by a semi truck but I did it. I completed the "Fifth Most Difficult Hike" in the entire United States. I had hiked from the Cactus to the Clouds. I completed the trek to San Jacinto's boulder-strewn crown in such a way that is only 800 vertical feet shorter than the climb from Everest basecamp to the summit and comparable to doing more than a thousand flights of stairs. This hike was no joke and everyone even thinking about attempting it should do their homework and check it twice.

3 months ago

Amazing hike. Started at 0300 and we were at the summit and back to the tram in 13.5 hours.

hiking
3 months ago

Be Prepared!!! We started the hike at 1.30 am and finished at 3pm... we did take a long break at the tram station after completing the Skyline trail before going up to the summit. But its a long day.

Skyline trail (from the desert floor to the tram station) is practically straight up for about 6 hours the last mile or 2 is the worst as you are already tired and it just gets steeper. It is also quite easy to lose the trail so you really have to pay attention to the white dots painted on the rocks and notice the stones on the ground trying to block off a certain path.

I would have been happy to stop at the tram station but we ended up summiting so we could complete the Cactus to Cloud trail. The last 2 miles back down to the tram were never ending. I'm glad I did it but don't think I would want to again (not for a long while anyways)

If you are planning on doing this hike make sure you can handle hours of steep elevation and know it will be a very long day - then you should be good. Happy Hiking!

3 months ago

An adventure for a lifetime. It was a very difficult and long hike. Hikers should be mentally and physically prepared. I’ll do it again someday!!!!!

hiking
3 months ago

Got lost at the very start was not a good sign even with headlamps. At sunrise it was spectacular views of Palm Springs. Drunk lots of water.

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