The Trail Companion
Theme: Long Hikes for Long Summer Days
Skyline to Sea
"Let no one be alarmed or angry because his ideas of
walking are different. There is no orthodoxy in walking. It
is a land of many paths and no paths where everyone goes
his own way and is right."
The Skyline-To-The-Sea Trail is one of the finest long
walks in the Bay Area, one that we try to schedule at least
once a year. We usually get sore feet for our efforts and
maybe a blister or two, but we are always renewed by this
beautiful hike. With trail camps in convenient locations,
you can also turn this walk into a leisurely trip of three
or four days. The only real complication in completing this
full-day hike is the need to arrange for
Parking is available at
Saratoga Gap, but it is posted for twilight curfew. Public
bus service is available from Waddell Beach to Santa Cruz,
but check at park headquarters for the current schedule.
The safest procedure is to have someone drop you off at one
end and pick you up at the other.
The first part of the trail
from Saratoga Gap to Waterman Gap parallels Highways 9 and
236 for about six miles. This is a pleasant walk on a
gradual descent from 2,500 to 1,240 feet through laurel,
oak, and madrone. Views of the San Lorenzo watershed below
on the south side of the highway and your goal--the Pacific
Ocean--in the distance are frequently visible from the
trail. The trail crosses the highway several times, and the
sound of vehicles is common. Toilet facilities and water
are available at the Waterman Gap Trail Camp.
The segment from Waterman
Gap to Big Basin State Park Headquarters is
about nine and a half miles with a hiking time of about
four hours. The trail parallels Highway 236 for four and a
half miles, and it crosses the highway several times. There
is a fair amount of gentle uphill walking to China Grade (a
600-foot elevation gain), but from there you begin a
descent to park headquarters, and the trail moves away from
A couple miles from
headquarters, the path descends into a redwood forest with
a beautiful creek, large moss-covered boulders and redwood
stumps, the last remaining evidence of logging activity in
the late 1800s. Water is available at the headquarters, and
a general store is open during heavy use months. Call the
park headquarters at (408) 338-6132 for details.
From headquarters you have
a 12-mile trek to the coast, along the Berry Creek and
Waddell Creek trails. The few miles from headquarters to
Berry Falls is spectacular--a dark redwood canyon with huge
trees, ferns, and a branch of Waddell Creek.
Take the short side trip to
Berry Creek Falls--a series of four waterfalls scouring
through the yellow sandstone hills above. During the winter
and spring, torrents of water make them a dramatic and
unexpected sight reminiscent of the Sierras.
From here the trail is an
old logging road that parallels Waddell Creek. Herbert,
Twin Redwood, and Alder camps are available for
backpackers. Our favorite is Herbert, only a few miles from
After a long but
spectacular hike, you're sure to enjoy twilight over the
salt marsh bird sanctuary adjacent to Highway 1 at the
Directions: Drop off at Saratoga
Gap, Skyline Blvd. and Highway 9. Pick up at Waddell Beach,
29 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1.
Grade: Strenuous. The distance
is long, but the elevation drops from 2,500 feet to sea
Distance: 27 miles.
Time: 10 to 12 hours of steady
Maps: Big Basin State Park; Trail Map of the Santa Cruz
Mountains (Maps 1-2); Castle Rock SP;
USGS 7.5'quads Año Nuevo, Big
Basin, Franklin Point, Mindego
This hike originally
appeared in Tom Davids' "Weekly Walker" column, which is
carried by seven SF Peninsula newspapers published by the
Independent Newspaper Group. Reprinted by permission. Many
of Tom's hikes can be found on hisWeekly Walker website.
Trail Center. All rights reserved.
Please contact the Web Manager
for corrections or comments.