Weekend Backpacker San Francisco

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail
  |  Gorp.com

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (STS) runs from the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains down 35 winding miles of trail to Waddell Beach on the Pacific. It passes through high chaparral, dense stands of tall redwood and coastal scrub. Two species of hawks, three species of owls, and four species of woodpeckers call this area home. It crosses two state parks (including California's oldest, Big Basin) and on top of all this, it's all downhill.

Recommended Trip

From the southwest corner of the intersection of Skyline Blvd. (California 35) and California 9, the trail begins with a series of short connecting routes. Take Saratoga Gap Trail to Travertine Spring Trail. Turn left. Take Travertine to Saratoga Toll Road. Turn left again. Continue to Beekuis Road Trail. Follow Beekhuis to Skyline-to-the Sea Trail proper. Continue down Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.

After close to 10 miles from the Castle Rock State Park trailhead, camp at Waterman Gap, the first campsite on the 35-mile journey. The next day is another hike of close to 10 miles ending at Jay Camp. Jay Camp is located near Big Basin's headquarters. Bring quarters for the coin-operated showers.

From Jay Camp begin the last 12.5 miles down to the ocean, passing through the coastal redwood stands of Big Basin, a stretch of second-growth alder, and coastal scrub.

Getting There

Two vehicles are recommended. Park one vehicle at trail's end at Waddell Beach (15-20 miles north of Santa Cruz on California 1). Overnight parking at the trailhead in Castle Rock (at the scenic viewpoint at Skyline Blvd. and CA 9) is not permitted. Ideally, arrange to get dropped off. If not, park 2.5 miles south down Skyline Blvd. at Castle Rock State Park and hike up to the trailhead on Skyline.

Public Transit

Santa Cruz's Metro bus line has a bus that leaves Waddell Beach twice a day, seven days a week. Call Metro at (831) 425-8600 for details. From Santa Cruz, Greyhound (800-231-2222), Amtrak (800-USA-Rail), and Highway 17 bus line (contact Metro, above) all offer bus service to the Bay Area.

Permits and Fees

Camping in designated sites (Waterman Gap, Jay Camp, etc.) is required, for a nominal fee. Reservations (additional fee) are not required but strongly recommended, especially for Saturdays. Call (831) 338-8861 up to 60 days in advance for reservations. Camping fee includes parking of one vehicle at Waddell Beach Trailhead. No fires; camping stoves only.

For More Information


Castle Rock State Park
California Dept. of Parks and Recreation
15000 Skyline Blvd.
Los Gatos, CA 95030
(408) 867-2952

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California Dept. of Parks and Recreation
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
(831) 338-8861

Thanks to Rangers Dave Jones and Miles Stanish.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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