Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds

HARD 257 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
10577 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

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 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.

13 days 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.

14 days 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
22 days 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
22 days 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.

23 days 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
30 days 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
1 month 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!

hiking
1 month ago

Amazing transitions from valley floor to high desert and into a true alpine ecosystem. Stout hike

1 month ago

First trail I’ve done on the West coast. Very challenging of course for being an east coast mountain guy. Started at 2345 and reached the tram station around noon. Reached the peak around 1600, and tram station around 1900. The toughest trail I’ve done and felt like it would never end. We didn’t get a chance to see the Mt. at day light before we hiked so taking the tram down made us realize how monstrous of a mountain/ hike this was. All in all I loved the challenge and learned the true meaning of “hike your own hike! Bring 4-6 L of water and a first aid kit, it become very useful. Tracked a total of 22 miles

hiking
1 month ago

April 28, 2018 - No snow, a bit windy on top but a wind breaker was enough

Great hike, and very strenuous. I did the C2C2C, so I didn't take the tram down - according to my GPS going to the top is more like 16 miles so alltrails seem a bit off (2x=32 and about 11500 total elevation change). It's the hardest trail I've done so far. It's possible but quite a challenge 4AM to 7PM, without much stop other than refill water. And I'm a decently fast uphill hiker. The view is nice, and it is special to start in the desert with flowering cacti, get to tree level, and having this wonderful view up top. Also by starting at night, you don't get to see much of the desert at first (if you start early enough) but you get to see it if you go down.

So if you are looking for a butt kick, go for it, either up to the ranger station, up to the peak, or even C2C2C. The good thing is that thanks to the tram and ranger station, you have a way out if you tackle more than you should have. And you have refills of water (at least it was possible when I did it).

Regardless of what you do, you should know that starting at night is THE way to do this - I started at 4 AM and I think most people start at 3. The trail is decently marked, and it was full moon so I didn't use my headlamp (except after being flared by other hikers). Having a GPS is nice anyway to not lose any time wondering, but not an absolute must-have. By starting early, you get to be already up 3-4k up already, so it won't get as hot once you are in the trees. The other thing to know is bring a lot of water, but when I did it, you could refill water at the ranger station. I brought about 4 L, and drank all day about 13-14 L to give you an idea.

If you want to try to go the whole way, here are the time to give you some idea if you are late and should bail. As I said before, I'm a decently fast uphiller, so it's good to keep in mind when planning your day.

4:15 AM start
9:15 Ranger station (+water)
12:00 Peak
2:45 Start decent from ranger station (+water)
7:00 Back to palm spring

hiking
1 month ago

Awesome! Great variety. Go from desert to pine forest to cold summit. Very physically demanding. I started at 5:30am, reached the ranger station at noon, and the summit by 3pm. It is a super tough hike to get to the state park. It is much easier from there on. I packed about 3 liters of water and a bottle of Pedialite, plus plenty of snacks. Seemed to work out pretty well. I had about a liter of water left and a little Pedialite by the time I got to the ranger station but I am good about not drinking that much so you may need more. I stopped every hour and a half to two hours for a drink and snack. You can refill water at the ranger station and also you need to fill out a permit there to keep going. I took the tram back down the mountain. Seriously though, if you are not in pretty good hiking shape, this may not be for you, but if you are, definitely go for it. It is a fantastic hike, and I personally felt super accomplished when I reached the summit of San Jacinto. Not to mention the view at the top was amazing. I would def do it again, only if I did I would hike it all the way back down.

1 month ago

Love

hiking
1 month ago

Preparation and patience is key for this hike. I suggest starting around 3am because it does get quite hot even before sunrise below the 4300 feet landmark. Bring 4-6L of water for the ascent on the Skyline trail section and take ample breaks if you feel fatigued. While I strongly advise sticking to a routine of cardiovascular exercise in the weeks leading up to C2C, reaching the summit is a very attainable goal. Be smart, but don't be too intimidated by what you might read on this site or others. The San Gabriel Mountains provide many great hikes at moderate-to-high elevations to help train for this endeavor.

hiking
1 month ago

Toughest trail Ive done yet. Good training tool to get in shape, crazy shape.

hiking
1 month ago

Hard and Rewarding hike.

hiking
1 month ago

TLDR: This is a very challenging day hike worthy of its reputation. With proper training and planning you too can check this one off your day hike bucket list.

So long as you can COMFORTABLY complete the prerequisite hikes like Baldy via Bear Canyon, Big Iron (San Gabriels) and San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek, then you'll be fine tackling the 10k feet of gain and somewhat long distance of C2C. If you are not comfortable with those hikes, then don't attempt this or you may be in trouble...

The real challenge of C2C is the heat. The climb starts in the desert so plan accordingly. That means monitor the weather forecast closely. Carry more water than you ever think you'll need. Keep your diet in check IE don't eat garbage or drink alcohol beforehand.

I've read that you need to run marathons or ultras to complete this trail. That's all BS. Sure ultra runners train on Skyline, but you don't need to be that hardcore to complete it. All you need to do is train with similar day hikes and BE SMART. Doing something stupid like not respecting the heat of the desert can literally get you killed.

backpacking
1 month ago

4/21/2018 Trail is in good condition. No problems as long as you are well conditioned, well prepared.
Trial is well marked with white blazes. Wild flowers in bloom. Saw a few deer.
Summit with scant snow in sections. No special equipment needed today. Water refill at ranger station. Easy 2nd peak bag Miller Peak 10400’ right off the trail near the summit. Look at your maps if you want some more peaks to play on. Great day, great trail, just be prepared.

hiking
2 months ago

Want to start off by stating we were unable to hike to the peak, as the winds were blowing so hard it made it difficult to stand let alone hike, with that being said the skyline trail is all that it is advertised as, tough, strenuous, tiring and demanding.
We started around 3ish with our headlamps blazing the path. We kept a sharp eye out for the painted circles on the rocks to help guid our path, even still we made a couple wrong turns, and we were watching for any snakes which have been reported in the past couple weeks. We stopped a couple times to takes in the views of Palm Springs at full darkness, pretty cool. We made it to the series of pick nick tables with out any problems, hacking was moderately difficult.
Reached the rocks with the spray painted written mileage and no water for the remainder of the hick, continued up switchbacking up the side of a hill finding a great spot to watch the sunrise, awesome views, came across the first of two emergency boxes, then two our surprise, stumbled upon 3 dear, they kept their distance, but they did not run and hide also. Once you reach the picnic benches no more painted dots to guid your path.
The next few mils was going up and over ridge lines, not bad hiking, saw our first view of the tram, the desert landscape is amazing, with bushes blooming flowers of all different colors, cactus blooming, lots of Cholla cactus close to trail head, be aware, lots of manzanita bushes and lots of yucca plants. Trail is moderate.
Then the trail changes drastically, the major up hill accents starts, winding back and forth, definitely leg burner accents. We were in a manzanita Grove which felt like it would never end. The trail became more rocky for sure, pasted the second emergency box and what was called flat rock, not to impressed. The clouds started to come in and the wind began to pickup. By 7000ft, small snow flakes began to fall with the sun shining. I knew it was going to be a cold hike so, took a lot of warm clothing, and I used every bit of it, but I stayed warm.
The trail was becoming more rocky, and the snow falling made the rocks a bit slipper at times. The incline seemed to have increased, my legs were feeling tired and I was having to stopped periodically to catch my breath, the higher we rose wind seemed to be hitting stronger and the snow flakes were increasing at times. We stopped for a quick and her comes the 64 yr old lady, just the happiest person, I asked when she started, 2 hrs after us and she looked she could run up the trail, haha. I asked her how much further, she said about 20 min, yeah for it was, me it was more like 35 min.
By this point my legs felt like jelly, with the wind blowing and snowing I could not wait for the end, The trail at times became hard to read, lots of down limbs, scrambling over rocks, lots of switch backs and fairly steep at times. We finally crested the top, the snow had stopped but the wind was howling, put on the rest big my cold gear and headed to the tram, the worst part is climbing the concrete path to the tram. Went straight to the bar ordered a beer to celebrate our first cactus to clouds hike. After nearly 8 hrs I was tired, my legs acked, my feet were tired, but I would do it again in heart beat.
Gear I took, 4.5 liters of fluid, one of those liters was Gatorade, a variety of snacks, emergency kit- matches, lighter, compus, knief, whistle, backup maps, first aid kit, small rope, clothing- gloves, Beanie, hat, Balaclava, windbreaker, plus the layers I had on, extra head lamp, hiking poles, charger for my phone. If you have any questions feel free to ask, thanks for reading, happy trails.

hiking
2 months ago

Intense! But worth it all the way.

2 months ago

Just finished. Started at 3 am. Hit the tram at 8 and the round trip back to the tram by 1pm. Some brief rest breaks included. It was adrenaline inducing to walk through the desert at night alone, quietly climbing. Around 3 miles in, I noticed a pair of big red eyes staring at me when I was scanning near the trail with my head lamp. It was a bear.about 15 feet off the trail just sitting and staring. I kept moving and it did not follow. No need for micro spikes or crampons. I did the entire push wearing only shorts but I carried full winter clothing just in case. Full moon. Great adventure best shared with a like minded acquaintance

hiking
2 months ago

I appreciate all of the information from the members on this site.
Any advice on traveling down the trail from the tram to the museum? Any dangerously steep areas?

trail running
2 months ago

Great climb. Get up early and watch the sunrise over Palm Springs. Met a rattler 90 seconds.

hiking
2 months ago

Two friends and I decided to give the Cactus to Clouds a go during our time in Palm Springs. Before we made the trip down we did a lot of research on the hike as we really wanted to be sure we knew what we were getting into and that we were prepared for the trail conditions (reviewing blogs www.sanjocjan.com, trail reviews, weather forecasts / conditions, local outdoor stores, correspondence with the ranger station). We downloaded "The Hiking Guys" GPX file as reference and the route / map were fairly consistent (with a few minor discrepancies).

We started at 4:00 on the Saturday morning and made our way up to the Tram by around 9:45. Highlights for this section are definitely the views, rock formations and passing through 3 distinct climate zones. We were rather surprised once we got to around mile 8.5-9 as we had expected the climb around Coffman's Crag to be this vertical wall (based on some reviews) but in general the pitch was a lot easier than we were anticipating.

Once we reached the tram we made sure to touch base with the Rangers with regards to trail conditions as well as any groups we had come across (some better prepared than others). After filling our the park permit we proceeded on to the summit. The trail from approx. 1 mile away from the Tram to the summit is a combination of ice (in the lower elevation) and soft snow at the summit. Navigating the trail proved a little hard than earlier but the GPX file kept us pretty true to the general trail location. The upper 2500' in elevation is a good challenge (both mentally and physically) as the elevation effects everyone different. For me at around 9500' I was feeling the effects (little nauseous and light headed) but we continued on and reached the summit around 1-1:30pm (what a spectacular view from the top...you truly feel like you are on top of the world).

After hanging out on the summit for a few minutes (grabbing a few needed photos) we started the journey back to the tram (which is where the micro spikes and poles really came in handy). We reached the ranger station / tram at around 3:40pm and handed out permits back in to the rangers...and then made our way to the bar to grab a well deserved pint (and Pepsi as I was LOW on sugar).

The views, different climate zones, local flora, fauna and everything else along the way was spectacular but what truly makes this hike so amazing is the journey with the friends.

Sidebar comment (and a very frustrating observation) is how many people we saw on the trail between the Tram and the Summit with no water, no protection for the elements (sweatshirt and tights), improper foot ware (gym shoes). The weather was nice but up there it can change in an instant. I would say probably 70% of the people we saw on the trail were under prepared which puts the Rangers at risk everyday (on our way down we saw 3 Rangers heading up for a rescue as people couldn't descend in their shoes).

The number one reason for rescues (as quoted by one of the Rangers) is "People with their heads up their Ass". If you are going to try this hike (or any other hike) please respect the Mountain and the conditions. We were lucky enough to have solid weather but were prepared for much worse.

Cactus to Clouds is a great trail and worth the adventure (but definitely not as physically challenging as we thought).

3 months ago

Skyline park was open did not attempt to summit

hiking
3 months ago

First weekend on November with clear skies. Christine and I started sharp at 1 am from the museum. Took us 16.5 hrs to reach the summit and back down to take Tram. Took a lunch break and refill water at ranger station. The trees and sign at summit had frost, but prefer that that hike up in 3-digit temperature. Long hikes like this one, I always try to do it on full moon (less stress on my vision to find path and avoiding rocks). Like many people mentioned, last part will test you mentally and physically. Moved some rocks and branches to mark trail were trail was not very clear. If possible, do the same to avoid getting people lost and the sake of local rescue personnel.

4 months ago

Very tough but very rewarding. The last quarter is quite steep and challenges your mental toughness. Aside from needing 2-3 litres of water, it is only worth the weight of bringing energy dense foods to minimize what you're lugging up the 8,000 plus vertical feet. For example: Carrots. Are. A. Bad. Idea.

hiking
4 months ago

I did this hike with Seth and John in November and while it was a wonderful day spent hiking in the sunshine I realized at about 5500 feet that I had completely underestimated the physical and mental requirements that this trek required. Let me advise potential hikers to do a few things before doing this trail: 1. do get more than 3 hours of sleep 2. instead of drinking beer until bedtime the night prior, drink water 3. do eat a hearty breakfast; do not only drink a large mug of black coffee with an excessive amount of coconut oil. 4.do bring snacks that are appetizing and delicious; do not bring a whole summer sausage and a block of sharp cheddar cheese that will inevitably become as warm as the desert you are hiking in. That being said, we started our quest in the early morning (2:30). If I remember correctly we started off at around 400 feet, only 10,000+ more to go guys! The early morning part of it was really cool and as we got higher in elevation we noticed to the lights of Palm springs dotting the desert floor and the grandeur of the mountain revealed itself as the sun slowly rose. San Jacinto is huge so appreciate its beauty but don't let it intimidate you. I remember at about 5500 feet the trail goes from very strenuous to "what the f***" as the grade takes a sharp turn upwards and it does not let up until you reach the ranger station. Hydration is key to this hike. Kudos to those who have done this hike in the summer. I brought 3 liters of water and was sucking air from my pack by the time we made it to the ranger station. Once we made it there we used about 30 minutes to refill water, and eat some grub. The families with young children, the elderly tourists, the teenagers in jeans and tennis shoes that may have taken the tram up to the ranger station did not seem to understand the pure exhaustion that was painted all over my face and in such a beautiful environment, I understood but I didn't let their bright, smiling faces get me down so we pressed onward toward the summit which at that point is still 5 or so miles away. The ranger station is really the only easy part of this hike and the remaining five miles are still very strenuous but the views along the entire route are awesome and a well-earned reward each step you make towards the top. Eventually we did it make it to the top, where Seth valiantly fought off some altitude sickness to have our picture taken by one of the many visitors that shared the peak with us that day. We spent about 30 minutes at the top before we began the 5 mile journey back to the visitor center where we reveled in our accomplishment over some cold grog that we found at the bar in the restaurant that is located inside of the visitor center. I don't remember exactly how long the entire hike took us but we estimated that we hiked from 2:30/3 a.m. to about 5 p.m. I highly recommend this hike but just prepare for it better than I did and you will be fine!

hiking
4 months ago

Did this in November. 3 am start time, lost the trail once or twice in the beginning but it gets more defined as you go up. The trail is not challenging, if there were snow on the route that would change things dramatically. That being said, the forecast called for clear sky’s but light flurry’s of snow did come in around 8:30 and went off and on throughout the day. From trail head to the top and back to the tram took us 13 hours.

hiking
5 months 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
5 months 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

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