Skyline Trail: Cactus to Clouds

HARD 156 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.

DISTANCE
18.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
10889 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

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
1 day ago

3:15 am start. Carrying 6 liters of water, no food. Have been training without consuming any calories during my hikes on the Bear Canyon Trail of Mt Baldy, and I wanted to see if I could do it for C2C.

I should have ditched 3 liters of water to make the ascent to Grubbs Notch easier. That last 2 miles is grueling and the extra weight only makes it worse. Took 6.5 hours to reach Grubbs Notch and begin the 2nd phase to Mt. San Jacinto.

There is a water-refill at the Ranger Station. Make sure you register because a ranger was coming down the trail and checking people to ensure they carried their receipts on their person.

The trek through Long Valley up to the summit is no picnic, but it feels like a leisurely stroll compared to the Skyline Trail. 9.5 hours over 16 miles, 10,250 ft. climb to the summit. 12.5 hours to complete the 21 mile total for return trip to the tram. Next time I'll carry less weight and improve the time. Be prepared to wait up to an hour in line before you could board the tram down for the descent. I was not able to get reception on my iPhone 7, nor was I able to connect to their WiFi so coordinate with others knowing that you might not be able to communicate. Plan ahead.

I highly recommend using Iron Mountain and the Bear Canyon Trail of Mt Baldy as your training hikes to prepare for this beast. And minimize the weight you carry!

I consumed 3.25 liters of water, only. No food or energy drinks. I highly recommend experimenting with using fasting to induce ketosis as your source of energy. Less weight to carry, lower water consumption, no stops for chow. For comparison, I am 6 ft. tall and 165 lbs., 58 years old.

hiking
1 day 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.

hiking
1 day ago

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1 day ago

1 day 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
2 days 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.

hiking
2 days ago

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2 days ago

hiking
3 days ago

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

hiking
6 days ago

hiking
7 days ago

hiking
7 days 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!

8 days 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
9 days 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.

hiking
9 days ago

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9 days ago

hiking
10 days ago

The Mountain Beckons:
Cactus-to-Clouds hike is considered one of the hardest day-hikes in America. The route to the top covers 16 miles one-way, with over 10,000 ft. of elevation gain, rising from the desert floor of Palm Springs and reaching San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 ft. The route is a combination of certain trails, starting with the short Museum trail for about 1 mile, continuing up the unmaintained Skyline trail for nearly 10 miles, followed by a 6 miles well-maintained trail to the peak. The extreme climate change, from the blistering heat of the desert where temperatures can top 120 degrees, to the frigid reaches of the peak, poses its own unique challenges. The hike can be attempted only during certain time of the year where one must factor the heat and the snow at both ends.
An aerial tramway takes visitors from Valley Station at 2643 ft. to Mountain Station at 8516 ft. This provided an easy way down on the way back from the peak. The last tram leaves Mountain Station at 9:45 PM so that is the hard deadline to finish the hike. We later found out that the tramway closes for annual maintenance during September and can have a delayed opening in October. Non-expert hikers start their hikes from Mountain Station instead of the Museum trailhead, as there is no water to be found on the Skyline trail and turning back would mean descending into the hot desert.
I had done the hike to Mt. Whitney with my brother a few years ago, so we were eager for new challenges. We contemplated doing the Cactus-to-Clouds hike in the first weekend in October which was close to a full-moon night. Our plan was to start our hike in the night, which would give us some respite from the heat as we climb up and reach the snow-free peak by the afternoon. Then we would take the tram on our way back, ending the 22 miles long hike.
So, we flew into Palm Springs on Friday, Oct 6th by late morning, when the temperature was already hovering at 90 degrees! After picking up our rental car and stopping for lunch, we headed to Palm Springs Art Museum trailhead to scope out the place. Then we went to Palm Springs Visitors Center to get some information about the route and the tram. We talked to some helpful agents who shared their experience of hiking on that stretch. Then we proceeded to Valley Station which was a steep 3.8-mile drive. After looking at the lay of the surroundings, we headed to our hotel where we checked-in around 3 PM.
We decided to catch a few hours of sleep before we would start the hike at 9:45 PM. That would give us a 24 hrs. window to complete the hike. We only managed a couple of hours of sleep before we got up and headed to a neighborhood Walmart to purchase food and water for the hike. Back at the hotel, we took another short nap after which we drove to the trailhead. We parked our car in a free garage opposite the Art Museum, and precisely at 9:45 PM started our hike by turning on our headlamps. The temperature at that time was 80 degrees.
The trail from Museum trailhead starts climbing immediately and it seemed to climb for ever and ever. We looked for the white dots on rocks to follow the trail that we had read about. It was confusing at times as there were multiple trails going up but we followed the most widely used trail. Once, we reached a cliff-side and realized we were on the wrong trail and backtracked only to find ourselves heading downhill. Fortunately, that was the correct trail as we found some signs marking the trail. Some of the side trails had been cordoned off with small rocks and twigs by other helpful hikers since there is no official trail here.
After hiking for nearly a mile we reached some picnic tables where we stopped for a short break to catch our breaths. The city lights down below were shimmering in the heat of the desert and we could hear all sorts of sounds of the city. This stretch of the hike should have given us a good idea of what to expect ahead. This would be a good turnaround point. But we pressed on, knowing we had the cover of the night to escape the desert heat. Initially, there was no breeze but as we continued climbing up we felt some light breeze which was refreshing.
Drinking water from our Camelbaks, we kept on going, and soon crossed a trail junction which put us on the Skyline trail. The next milestone for us was the 1st Rescue box where food and water is stored for hikers in distress. The light breeze had turned into a steady wind but it still felt good. With heavy eyelids, we kept on climbing up, making sure we stayed on the trail while avoiding brushing against cactus and other thorny plants. At one point, I ended up going in the wrong direction and took a tumble while backtracking. That woke me up and I stayed alert for any wrong turns. Many times, we checked our progress on Alltrails to make sure we didn’t drift away from the main trail.
We had not come across any other hikers so far but around 2:30 AM we were overtaken by a solo hiker with small backpack a

hiking
10 days ago

hiking
11 days ago