Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds

HARD 281 reviews

Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds is a 17.5 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.

DISTANCE
17.5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
10,577 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

backpacking

camping

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

bird watching

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 8,000 feet from the desert to Long Valley, then joins with the main trail to gain another 2,600 feet to the summit. The good news is that you can take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway down the mountain! 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. This is a very difficult hike and people have died or been injured while hiking here. Use caution and you will have a challenging but rewarding hike. TRAMWAY INFO: Regular Hours (September 2, 2018 – May 23, 2019) Monday – Friday – First Tram up 10:00am Saturday, Sunday and Holidays – First Tram up 8:00am Daily – Last Tram up at 8:00pm. Last Tram down at 9:45pm Summer Hours (May 24 – August 31, 2019) Monday – Thursday – First Tram up 10:00am Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Holidays – First Tram up 8:00am Sunday – Thursday – Last Tram up at 8:00pm, Last Tram down 9:45pm Friday & Saturday – Last Tram up 9:00pm and last Tram down at 10:30pm Cars depart at least every half hour. Sorry, pets are not allowed. Children under 16 years must be accompanied by an adult of 21 years or older. The first Tram up is at 8am on the following holidays: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day Weekend President’s Day Weekend Memorial Day Weekend Independence Day Labor Day Weekend Thanksgiving Day Weekend Christmas Week New Year’s Day

hiking
14 days ago

Great trail, did the lower portion and would love to come back and finish

hiking
1 month ago

I did last week although it was awesome I wish I was more prepared. Make sure you have spikes as some parts of the trail are covered with ice. As for the peak make sure you take walking poles and gators so your feet won’t get wet.

Did this hike on December 28th. Started off at about 4:30 and finished around 6 PM. The beginning was perfectly cool and the sunrise was gorgeous on the way up. We made it to the tram station at about 12:30 and pretty quickly began the haul up to the summit. Above the tram there was some pretty decent snow but really not enough to be a pain. Microspikes and poles were really useful to have but crampons would definitely be overkill. The snow conditions were perfect and we really had pretty much trouble. What I will say is, when you hit the tram on the way up, you feel like you’re well over most of the way there because you’ve already gained 8000 feet and only have 2k left but honestly, the tram to the summit felt just as bad. It’s a lot of just medium uphill but the snow slows you down a decent amount. You’re also pretty tired by then and chances are, you only got 5 or so hours of sleep the night before. Because we were only a week after the shortest day of the year, both the first and last two hours were pretty dark so I definitely recommend head torches even if you think you’ll have plenty of time. The peak is also really really cold but it’s easy to warm up a little in the Bothy that’s only 50 or so yards from the top. Overall, a really decent trail but it is quite a haul. The celebratory beer at the tram station when you finish is a must but make sure you refill your water!!

trail running
2 months ago

Trained like mad at 20% incline on treadmill - did a couple of 11,000 vertical feet weeks and one 22,000 foot week. And then ran this with my 22 year old son. Took off at 7:11 AM, got to ranger station at 10:30 refilled water and filled out registration left the station at 10:50 and got to top at 12:20. Ouch. It was so funny, my son's hip flexers stopped working and he ran like Charlie Chaplin the last five miles. It was my I T bands that were killing. Weather was perfect. Cool and dry. Salt encrusted completely by the end. What I would do differently - take moister snacks. The cliff bars were gag dry and hard to eat while running, and test your hydration pack. Mine was leaking air by the mouth piece and so I was drinking mostly air. Had not used this in a few years and it had lost its seal. November - but far the best time to do this if it has not snowed yet.

hiking
2 months ago

...pretty much what everyone else said. Yes, the first mile can be a little much but really only because you’re just getting started. Yes, the last two miles (the traverse) to Long Valley are the most difficult. Yes, the blazes (white dots) that mark the trail can be missed real easily, so definitely get the Pro version if only for this hike. Once you pass 4300’, keep going. If you turn around you’ll walk into a furnace and chances are you’ll hurt yourself more than if you just keep going up.
Take the chance to enjoy the sunrise on the way up. The views are really what make this hike so epic — enjoy them while you’re up there. When you hit the summit, take a look at the cabin but don’t be a douche and trash it. If you have extra food consider leaving it here for other hikers in emergency situations. When you’re done, have a beer. Chances are you’ve never deserved it more.

The rest is all just my technical notes, so don’t read on if you’re not interested.
Do not read the following and think that you can do what I did. It was somewhat stupid, and I’m extremely lucky NOTHING happened on my hike. I am an experienced hiker, but definitely not at such high altitudes. Maybe train a little before this one, it’s a doozy.

Unfortunately, I have a problem stopping once I start. Fortunately, I don’t know how to quit once I start. I started this hike at midnight, but had no intention of going as quickly as I did. I went through 2L of water on the way up. I hit Long Valley Ranger Station at 7:45am. Once I got there I had 3 kid-sized oatmeal bars, and a handful of jerky. I refilled my reservoir to 3L, and stretched a little.
Started towards the peak around 8, but went much slower on the second half. I hit the summit exactly at noon. I took a break in the Peak Shelter where I changed out of some of my layers, and ate some more jerky. I left a few oatmeal bars in the emergency locker...
...started down to the tram around 12:30, and went slowly, again. I ran out of water one mile from the tram, but it was shaded and just knowing I was about to finish kept me going. Hit the tram at 3:30, and then I hit the bar for a beer.

I started the hike in two wool shirts, longjohns, heavy wool socks, zip-off pants, a hoodie, gloves, and a beanie. A headlamp (the brighter the better) is an absolute if you’re hiking at night. I had my rain gear as well as a tarp in case a storm blew in suddenly. Hiking poles are a lifesaver, and maybe invest in some athletic knee braces. A wide hat and sunscreen will be used the second half of the hike and you’ll be glad for them.
I took 12 kid-sizes oatmeal bars, two big bags of jerky, a small bag of jerky, two pro-bars, and a bag of pistachios. I had 3L of half water/half Gatorade and carried two extra bottles of each with me. I seriously only had four of the oatmeal bars and didn’t even finish the small bag of jerky, but I’m glad I had more than enough in case it was needed. I killed the drinks, and wish I had taken just one extra water bottle.

If you read this far, nice. Again, don’t do what I did. Take it slow-ish. Stop every once in a while to rest your legs, and eat a little. Take goo with you if you’re like me and have a hard time eating solids while hiking. Refill at the ranger station, and use your common sense. If you get to Long Valley and you’re tired, or hurting, take the tram. It’s an awesome hike, but it’s not awesome enough to hurt yourself or risk others safety saving you.

2 months ago

Not an avid hiker but in good shape. This hike is no joke. Started at 2am and it was such a blessing finally seeing the ranger station after the continuous vertical slope. Did this without poles and that’s the one thing I regret not using. Bring lots or water and gel packs. Started cramping on the last vertical stretch before the ranger station. I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike unless you have trained for it. I won’t be doing this hike again for a long time!

3 months ago

Goes without saying, this hike is beyond intense and belongs on any serious hiker's bucket list. We did C2C in November which is a little late but there was no snow yet so we actually had a 40 - 60 degree range the whole time. Just to state the obvious - headlamps, layers, gloves and at least 6L of water/Gatorade, calories (plus emergency supplies). Super awesome hike though, beautiful scenery throughout and a huge sense of accomplishment once you finally hit that tram. Be safe!

P.S. this fortunately did not end up being the case for us, but if you end up missing the last tram at night, the ranger recommended sleeping in the bathroom of the ranger station which is heated and protected from the elements. Just throwing that out there!

3 months ago

Awsome hike. After the second time I did it.

hiking
3 months ago

Amazing hike experienced with my five experienced hikers. Started 2:30am at the bottom in palm spring and reach to the summit by 1pm then heading down to the tram exactly 6pm to catch up our ride down. We finished 23.3 miles total. Most challenging hike so far. Stick pole is a must and good headlights. When you reach to the rangers station dont forget to refuel yourself and rest. heading to the summit is strenuous due to some thin air because of the high elevation. hydrate enough and eat energy bars will help. Recommended for advance and serious hikers.

3 months ago

Bring treking poles, it is all up hill.

3 months ago

Blows your mind. Tough cookie. Train Hard. Carry lots of Water. Start as early as 1 am.

3 months ago

Went cactus to tram and left at 2am. Got to tram about 10:40. Got lost once. Thank goodness for all trails gps to get us back on track. Read the hiking guys directions and have his landmark pictures ready. Easy to get lost in the dark. Had 6L of water and used all of them. Absolutely hardest hike I’ve done. You are climbing for 8 hours straight and the first mile and last 2 are brutal. Make sure you are properly fueled before you go. I crashed a bit in the first mile because I had nothing before we left. The valley is a beautiful sight when you get there!! Good luck!

3 months ago

Incredible hike! Extremely challenging and not for the faint of heart. October is the perfect time of year weather wise - cool at the bottom and no snow on the top. I recommend starting long before the sun rises to allow ample time to gain altitude before the desert floor begins getting hot.

Packing list

Hiking boots or trail runners (trail is in great condition and has excellent surface)

All Trails Premium Version with GPS map tracker (it is challenging to navigate the first 4-5 miles at night and the turn by turn nav makes all the difference)

Headlamp with extra batteries just in case

1G of water (Minimum amount. I drank 1.5G before the ranger station where there is a refill tap. This water is heavily chlorinated but potable) Camelbak will make your life much easier along with extra bottled water to refill it.

Food (This hike is extremely challenging and requires you to keep your caloric intake up to make sure you don’t bonk before the top)

Wind jacket or shell (The peak can be quite cool and windy. If starting later in the year Dec/Jan I’d recommend a light down jacket as well)

Activity tracker to monitor distance

Hiking poles (I did not use these nor did I bring them during the hike. I felt they weren’t required for the ascent and there is minimal descending to the tram station and therefore not really required.

Pack as light as possible. It is 17 miles to the peak from Palm Springs Art Museum the majority of which is straight up! Any extra weight is a huge disadvantage.

hiking
3 months ago

Amazing hike. We got a late start and camped halfway up the mountain in some random spot. Went to the top on day 2 and took the tram down. This hike is an aggressive workout, especially if you're carrying gear. No water on trail in February. Not for the faint of heart. I would recommend.

hiking
3 months ago

Completed Cactus to Clouds.. Beautiful views and sunrise, also super intense elevation gain and temperature change. Bring layers for the top, there was already snow on the ground. First 8,000 feet climb on Skyline was unbelievably difficult. Next 6 to the top peak was all about keeping going. I would recommend eating every few thousand feet at least, we did every 4,000, with water hydration backpacks for water throughout, and trekking poles are a must. Took us 11.5 hours from the bottom to the top back down to the tram. Brought 1 gallon of water, 1 liter of Gatorade, 2 cookies, trail mix and 2 sandwiches, for each of us, was perfect amount. Have fun! Enjoy the views and the success of summiting!

3 months ago

killer hike. GPS map of trail and trekking poles were a game changer.

hiking
3 months ago

Great hike! Did it to the ranger station as a training hike for GC r2r2r. The first couple and last couple miles are tough and easy to lose the trail....especially the last couple. Started at 4:47 am....finished 10:39 am. Would come to do the full Cactus to Cloud. Wouldn't hike back down. Much easier too lose the trail and risk injury going down!

4 months ago

I did this trail on October 12th which seemed like the ideal time of year to tackle this hike. The average high in Palm Springs is 91 in October, but it doesn’t get that hot until around noon, and since you’ll be climbing, you never really have to worry about the heat.

I got off to a later start than I had originally planned and left the trailhead at 6:45am, right at sunrise. No headlamp hiking for me. And honestly, it was a lot better than hiking in the dark. Even with the white dots lining the trail to the picnic tables, I still made a couple of wrong turns and had to use my Garmin GPS to get back on track. And then, after the picnic tables, the white dots pretty much disappear. There are a lot of tangents and spur trails that can easily take you off course if you aren’t paying attention to a GPS unit. I can’t imagine how much longer the hike would take in the dark. Also, the best thing about hiking in daylight are the views. When the sun is rising over the Coachella Valley, it’s a gorgeous sight to behold.

It took me 6 hours to get to Long Valley, and like everybody says, the last 2 miles up are brutal. When you combine the steepness of the trail with the fact that you’re now at elevations of 6,000 to 8,000 feet, the exhaustion really affects you. My legs felt heavy, and I felt like my entire body was moving in slow motion. When you finally reach Long Valley, it’s a huge relief, not only because the worst part of the hike is over, but also because you know you won’t die. The throngs of day hikers and school children on field trips are actually a welcome sight.

That said, you still have another 11 miles to hike. My biggest mistake was not refilling my water at the ranger station. By the time I had finished my lunch at Long Valley, I had 2 liters left and figured that would be enough to finish the hike. But even though the last 5.5 miles to the summit aren’t steep at all—at least compared to the 9 miles you’ve already done—the elevation and the exhaustion really take over. I was really dragging on those last few miles to the top—I could tell because the day hikers who saw me were like, “Almost there, dude. Keep going.” By the time I reached the summit, my 2 liters of water were almost gone. I feel like another liter or two would have helped out enormously.

But the euphoria of reaching the summit gave me the shot of adrenaline I needed to finish the hike. It’s an amazing 360 degree view. And because it was late in the day, I had it all to myself. The views on the entire trail are great, but the summit really is the cherry on top, and it makes the entire 10,500 foot climb worth it.

The remaining 5.5 miles back to the tram will take a couple of hours, but it’s on a very nice downhill grade—you won’t be killing your feet or your knees. Because it’s an official park trail that is heavily trafficked and well-defined, it is very easy to follow. Honestly, I would save the night hiking for the evening hours when you’re coming down the mountain because the San Jacinto Park trails are much easier to follow than the Skyline Trail—just be mindful that the final tram ride down the mountain is at 9:45pm (non-summer hours). Upon your arrival at the tram station, treat yourself to a beer... or two... or three... or four at the bar on the third floor. You’ve earned it.

hiking
5 months ago

Great hike! Very long and tiring

hiking
7 months ago

They weren't kidding. This is a serious trail. I couldn't get there at 0100 because I had to work Friday and I'm in 29 Palms. I hit the trailhead at 0300, temperature was 91 in Palm Springs. This trail is tough to follow in the dark, and there are some very dangerous drop-offs and narrow ledges. I highly recommend downloading the trail through the Pro version and following the GPS. I could have saved myself some wasted time and energy.

The first couple of miles and the last 3 before you reach the tramway are very steep. there are some portions before the tram that were legit 40% inclines. I was down on all fours many times.

I didn't manage to finish. Reaching the tramway was all I had. I took 4 liters of water and a liter of Body Armor and it barely lasted me to the Ranger Station. I wish I could have started at 0100, it might have let me get to SJ Mountain. As it was, I was proud of the effort.

I only saw 2 other people on the trail. You have to be a bit nuts to try this one in July, I guess.

7 months ago

Amazing and brutal. I recommend starting at 1:00am.

I almost died.
don't do this hike on 3 hours sleep.
I think most people can do this. there is no real steep part, it just zigzags a lot. it's really long though so make sure you can handle walking for 12 hours.

hiking
7 months ago

Done on November 5th, 2017. Started sharp at 1am with full moon. We made to the top around 1pm. Last 2-3 miles where way less steep, but tiredness and elevation made us slow down a lot (big lunch break at ranger station). There was frost on top. With full moon and cool weather, I think is any serious hiker can do it. Easier than Iron Mountain!
Once you get at the Tram (bottom one) go to the cafeteria/coffee area (even if is close) to the back on the left side of the room there some multi-charging phone cables to charge phone (in case need to call a ride to go back to the museum)

8 months ago

Second time I’ve done this hike, I’m ten years older now and felt every bit of it. This hike is relentless. It’s not too difficult or technical, but it does take planning and tenacity. All in all,I went through 5 liters of water, 4 Cliff Bars, 1 protein bar, 2 goos, and a pack of rehydration salts. Started shortly after midnight and summitted around 1 pm with a large group moving at a slow pace. Started with 3 liters of water and still had about half a liter when I refilled at the ranger station. The key to this hike is timing, you have to get out of the valley long before the sun comes up.

8 months ago

We did the hike on May 27, 2018. We started from the trailhead near the museum at 4 am, reached Long Valley just past 10. After long break and lunch at Long Valley, we arrived the peak at 2 pm. We were back to Long Valley about 4 pm. The changing views along the way and the view at the summit is impressive. But the challenge is not as great as we feared before the hike. I think it is slightly difficult than the Rim to Rim Hike in Grand Canyon. But it is well easy than the R3, which we did last year.

hiking
8 months ago

Amazingly beautiful with a ridiculous view at the top. Hard hike but definitely not as hard as the mythology behind it would have you believe. Mostly requires the right prep. Both me and my buddy were in ok shape and trained for a few months. Did Iron Mt. one week out to test ourselves and parts of that we're actually tougher than C2C. Lucked out with amazing 85f weather on memorial day. Started at 2am, hit long valley by 10a, the peak by 2:30 (I was dragging from elevation nausea), back the tram at 6. 16 hours total but we took LOTS of breaks. Brought 5.5 L of water (didn't need it all on the skyline but best to be safe), 1 gatorade with extra salt in it (my buddy did salt pills), ate 9 GU gels, 3 clif bars and a banana. The biggest thing is just to keep fueling/hydrating yourself and taking the GUs almost hourly was a huge help I think. I got a Charley Horse in my quad pretty early on but was able to work through it. Used a GPX on our phone and had a Sat beacon for emergencies. GPS is huge help for the first 3rd of the skyline which you will prob do in the dark and has a lot of splitting. After that the trail is impressively well maintained and clear, and the notch at the top of the skyline trail is all switchbacks so it's hard but not awful. The push to the summit was the worst part for me. It's not steep but it just takes forever (lots of traversing) and by that point you are exhausted. Def need warm clothes for the summit. Hooded windbreaker and gloves were lifesavers.

BTW, as we were cresting the notch at 10am 2 trail runners ran past us the opposite direction having already summited mid-C2C2C. We had seen lights ahead of us early so they prob started just before 2a and looked fresh as hell 22 miles in at 10. So yeah... goals.

hiking
8 months ago

We started C2C on Saturday morning at 3am. We hadn’t done any similar hikes before. It is the hardest hike we’ve done so far. It was consistently steep from the start until you reached Long Valley. The view at the peak was worth it. For us, there were three essentials for completing this hike (aside from food and water): hiking shoes, offline map, and a phone charger if you are using your phone for the offline map. It is easy to get lost so a gps is a must. Per person, we brought 1 gallon of water, 32 oz of Gatorade, 3 GU gels, 5 granola bars, and 2 sandwiches. We didn’t have to refill our water at the ranger station since we had plenty of supply left when we got there. It was so cold and windy at the peak so I’m glad I brought a sweater. Overall, this is an awesome hike for experienced hikers. Plan ahead and check the weather.

8 months ago

Started at 3 am made it to the tram at noon and after grabbing lunch at Peaks restaurant and wandering around made the peak at 4 pm.. Alllllll day hike, the majority of your pack weight should be water. In case you get hung up in lower elevation. You’ll need salts too. Great hike all in all.I had to turn off GPS though because I didn’t want to drain my battery life for pictures and such.

hiking
8 months ago

This was all worth it! I loved the transition from desert to forest! It feels like two different hikes! We started at around 4:00 am made it to the top in 11 hours and got back to the tram at 5:00 pm.

hiking
8 months ago

Whoa. 11,000 ft of climbing! Started solo at 4:30 am with a headlamp, climbed and climbed for a little less than seven hours to hit the summit. (+ an extra two hours / 3000 ft of descent back to the tram and some french fries.) Despite a ton of experience on similar terrain -- especially at the lower elevations, the trails aren't that different than those I run in Scottsdale - I did have a little trouble finding the optimal route at times. Nothing serious, just added a bit to the growing paranoia one sometimes get when hiking unknown trails alone. Gear-wise, I brought a 70oz Nathan pack for water and like 20 Gu-type packets. I tucked a somewhat heavy technical hoodie into my pack and tied a light long sleeve shirt around my waist, but I ended up only using my long sleeve shirt for a few mins while I was chillin' (literally) at the summit.

Difficulty-wise, I'd put it in the same class as a Mt Whitney or a Pike's Peak or a Grand Canyon R2R. BTW - current record according to Strava? 3:35!

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