Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail - Backpacking/Camping

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Summary

Old-growth redwood forests, waterfalls, and some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes of the Bay Area: It’s hard to top an overnight trek along the famed Skyline-to-Sea Trail in Santa Cruz.

Written by

Blane Bachelor

Distance

31.0 miles

The entire trail is 31 miles one way.

Destination Distance From Downtown

39.4 miles

Difficulty

4 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

3 days

Seasonality

All Seasons

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

Yes

You don’t need a permit to hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, but reservations at the trailside campsites are a must. There’s a $10 camp fee per night, plus a $5 reservation fee for up to six people and one car that’s payable with reservation.

Review

Intro

Old-growth redwood forests, waterfalls, and some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes of the Bay Area: It’s hard to top an overnight trek along the famed Skyline-to-Sea Trail in Santa Cruz. Created thanks to the efforts of nonprofit organization Sempervirens Fund, the 30-mile route is one of the most popular backpacking excursions around, and most adventurers opt to knock it out it in three days, starting off at the “skyline” crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains to Castle Rock and Big Basin state parks and ending up at the Pacific Ocean, at Waddell Beach. The cherry-on-top bonus? The scenery gets even more spectacular every day.

What Makes It Great

While the first stretch of the trail runs along either side of Highway 9, the noise of traffic eventually gives way to the sounds of nature. The trail starts off along Saratoga Toll Road, which dates back to the 1900s, with about five miles of easy up-and-down and great views of the headwaters of Pescadero Creek and the San Lorenzo River. Waterman Gap is the first backcountry camp on the route, with serene redwood groves and water available.

The next stretch is nearly 10 miles to Big Basin State Park, running along the highway for the first section. But the route also passes by a remarkable limestone formation called The Chalks before digging deeper into the old-growth redwood forest of Big Basin. Jay Camp is the overnight spot for the second night, located just behind the park’s headquarters, complete with a market and coin-operated showers.

It all builds up to the final epic day, with a gorgeous descent through old-growth wilderness, passing by Berry Creek Falls, and ending at Waddell Beach.

Who is Going to Love It

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is ideal for adventurers looking for a rejuvenating retreat into nature. Though it’s an overall descent, keep in mind that there are some steep-ish sections, so those who tackle the trek need to be able to carry a 30-pound pack over the course of 30-plus miles, more if you decide to tack on side-trail hikes.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

You don’t need a permit to hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, but reservations at the trailside campsites are a must. There’s a $10 camp fee per night, plus a $5 reservation fee for up to six people and one car that’s payable with reservation.

Because it’s a point-to-point hike, you’ll also need to have a car at the end point.

Location

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail - Backpacking/Camping

37.258655, -122.121977

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