Skyline to the Sea Trail

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Begin in the Santa Cruz Mountains, hike through a redwood forest, and then end your journey at the Pacific Ocean.

Written by

Blane Bachelor


31.0 miles

The official distances on the trail's website is stated at 31 miles, although according to some GPS navigation systems, it's closer to 25 miles.

Destination Distance From Downtown

41.2 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

Though it's an overall descent to reach the Pacific Ocean, backpackers will still have to contend with a total of 1,710 feet of elevation gain, with a heavy pack if they're camping every night. Bottom line: This isn't a recommended route for beginners or families with young children.

Time To Complete

3 days

While you'll need about three days to finish the whole route, you can opt for a day trips or a shorter, out-and-back excursion to the campsites during the first part of the hike. Keep in mind, however, that the return trip on those will be mostly uphill.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Dog Friendly




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-the-Sea Trail in Santa Cruz. Created in 1976 thanks to the efforts of nonprofit organization Sempervirens Fund, the nearly 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. You'll start from 2,600 feet and work your way down to sea level, but the 1,710 feet of climbing along the way keeps things interesting. The cherry-on-top bonus? The scenery gets even more spectacular every day.

What Makes It Great

Starting at Castle Rock State Park at Saratoga Gap, the first stretch of the trail runs along either side of Highway 9, with the noise of traffic a somewhat off-putting beginning for a back-to-nature escape. But eventually the traffic fades away, replaced by 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 off a short side spur, and ending at Waddell Beach.

Who is Going to Love It

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is ideal for seasoned adventurers looking for a rejuvenating retreat into nature. Though the route is 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-ish miles, more if you decide to tack on side-trail hikes. All of which means it's best for those with some backpacking experience and not recommended for families with young children.

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. It's about a one-hour drive from Waddell Beach to Castle Point.

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Skyline to the Sea Trail

Santa Cruz, CA,
37.2317, -122.1158

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