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

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.

1 day ago

Awsome hike. After the second time I did it.

hiking
7 days 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.

9 days ago

Bring treking poles, it is all up hill.

14 days ago

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

16 days 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!

16 days 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
18 days 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
23 days 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!

24 days ago

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

hiking
26 days 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!

1 month 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 so much 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 used 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
2 months ago

Great hike! Very long and tiring

hiking
3 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.

4 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
4 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)

5 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.

5 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
5 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
5 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.

5 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
5 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
5 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!

hiking
5 months ago

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

6 months 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
6 months 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
6 months 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.

6 months ago

Love

hiking
6 months 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
6 months ago

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

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