The Skyline to the Sea Trail is one of the most popular backpacking routes in the Bay Area. The hike is usually done in three days, each with better scenery than the last.
The first day’s hike starts in Castle Rock State Park at Saratoga Gap and descends alongside busy Highway 9 to Waterman Gap. On the second day, the trail leaves Highway 9 behind and enters Big Basin Redwoods State Park, descending into an outstanding old-growth redwood grove and ending at park headquarters.
The final day of hiking is by far the best, descending through wilderness old growth, passing by Berry Creek Falls, and ending at Waddell Beach.
Reservations are required to use the campgrounds; call 831-338-8861 up to two months in advance. The total fee for two nights and up to 6 people is $38.00, including parking for one car in the main Castle Rock lot. Due to budget cutbacks the campgrounds are closed from November 1st through April 30th of each year.
This is a one-way hike and there’s no public transportation to the top of the trail, so the best way to get back to the starting point is to get someone to drive you; if there’s no traffic it’s about a one-hour drive from Waddell Beach to Castle Rock.
A popular option is to park a car at each end of the trail. In this case you won’t be able to start from Saratoga Gap, since there’s no overnight parking in the area. Instead, you’ll need to take the alternate route described below and pay $8 to park in the main Castle Rock parking lot. To park at Waddell Beach you’ll need to reserve a thru-hiking permit by calling park headquarters at 831-338-8861 in advance of the hike. The permit lets you park next to the ranger station, which is a half-mile up the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail from the beach.
On Saturdays and Sundays between mid-March and mid-December you can use public transportation to hike the last 10 miles of the trail, from Big Basin park headquarters to Waddell Beach. This would make a really nice day hike, or perhaps a 2-day backpacking trip with an overnight at Sunset Camp. Check with Santa Cruz Metro for the latest schedules.
This route is very difficult to navigate. You must have a printed map and read all sign posts carefully, referring back to your map to make sure you have not veered off track. I wasted several miles and hours not taking this advice.
- Near: Los Gatos, CA
- Distance: 34 miles one way
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 2400 ft
- Hike Time: 3 days
- Difficulty: 8/10
- Trail Condition: well maintained trail
- Permits: Waddell Beach Ranger Station 831-338-8861
- Best Season: All Year
- GPX Download: >>CLICK HERE<<
- Printed Map: Big Basin/Castle Rock by Green Trail Maps
- Dog Friendly: No
- Kid Friendly: Yes
Getting to Trail head:
From Los Gatos – Hwy 17 (south) to Black Rd. (right) to Hwy 35/Skyline Rd. (straight) to trail head.
Castle Rock Camp (piped water and bathrooms), Waterman Gap Camp (piped water and bathrooms), Jay Camp (piped water and bathrooms)
Trail Camp Mileage