Hike Date: August 3-5, 2009
Distance: ~ 30 miles
Trail(s): Skyline to the Sea Trail
Where’s it at? Santa Cruz Mountains starting at Castle Rock SP
Skyline to the Sea Trail was one of my first non-sierra backpacking trips. Wasn’t sure how it would compare. While it may be true it’s missing the rugged mountain panoramas, it makes up for it with beautiful plant life everywhere and a diversity of terrains.
This was so far my longest backpacking trip as well. You’d think my pack might be lighter in preparation for that, but alas, it was just as heavy as always.
Rich and I headed out for the journey early in the morning after staying at a local Santa Cruz buddy’s house overnight. (Thanks Joe!) Getting an early start we parked at the lot up in Castle Rock State Park. I suppose one could argue that we didn’t start at the proper trailhead for the full Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, but we took in 90% of the "proper" trail and in fact lengthened the journey with less ‘right next to the road’ action as the proper trail has. We also parked legally this way!
The trip we took required two cars, although supposedly there is a shuttle that will take you back up to at least Big Basin HQ if you only had one car and wanted to take in some of this awesome hike. Rich parked at the bottom in the Waddel Beach area the evening prior, hopped into my car, we went to Joe’s and then parked my car up in Castle Rock for the 3 night/4 day trip.
The trail is clearly broken into 3 ‘legs’ although you could do 2 or even all 3 legs if you’re not carrying a pack and are feeling extremely psycho about hiking far. I think you’d be hiking from dawn to dusk that way though.
Interestingly each of the 3 legs of the journey take you through a slightly different terrain for the most part, and in fact an entirely separate state park.
Definitely make reservations and get your permits ahead of time. We did so by calling and I’d received the permits in the mail. I believe each parking lot required that you pay and leave a tag in the dashboard as well…sorry but I’m writing this over a year after we took the trip as I hadn’t started the blog at the time.
Leg 1 – Castle Rock state park to Waterman Gap Campground
This was the leg that had the most scenery for sure, of the 3, in terms of any kind of panorama. Clearly because it was the highest altitude. I would also argue that it was the most hilly of the 3 legs though nothing too major. I really didn’t get too tired on this leg, however if you go on a hot day, you’ll be sweating. It’s amazing how the tree canopy locks in the moisture. Not too many redwoods here on this leg.
Rich and I split up for a while on this trip…I tend to like to hike fast in spurts and he has more of a steady pace. When we’d finally reached Waterman Gap Campground most of the sites were already taken (including a fairly large and noisy boy scout group). When I arrived first I decided to head all the way to the furthest site which was fairly far out of view. I began to setup the tent and my hammock and just relaxed, enjoying not having my pack on as I waited for Rich. Seemed like he was taking a long time! I started wondering if separating was such a great idea…you never really feel like heading backwards looking for your friend who may be in trouble.
Eventually I needed to fill my water bottle so I head up to the spigot which was closer to where the trail leads into the campground and there I saw Rich in a separate site almost completely setup! He’d thought I got lost or passed the site up I guess… I was able to convince him that I’d found a more prime location to camp so we grabbed his gear and brought it over to the far back site.
Leg 2 – Waterman Gap to Jay Camp in the Big Basin HQ area
We did a fairly good job of getting up early the next day and had a quick breakfast before hitting the trail again. I think this leg was my favorite. Very beautiful creek along most of the trail, I really enjoyed all the bridges, big and small along the way. I think this was the longest of the legs and both Rich and I were pretty happy to get to the Big Basin area. He was so happy to get there, in fact, that after picking up a 12 pack of Ice cold Heinekens at the store there, he was ready to relax for a couple days. If I recall he was having some pretty nasty blister problems.
I have mixed feelings about a store halfway through the trip. It was fine and dandy for this journey and I can’t say I didn’t REALLY enjoy the beers, but there’s something about having people all around you on these trips that is not so great. We had a good dinner and got a very good night’s sleep here. We didn’t get up until about 10 or 10:30 this time, when Rich immediately began preparation on the backpacking stove of a delicious 4 course breakfast. After finishing up and packing we were back on the trail again.
Leg 3 – Jay Camp to Rancho Del Oso trail camp
The Third leg was tiring for sure. It had probably the widest variety of flora as it also contained the greatest descent in elevation. (it’s still really all pretty flat though). We were lucky to pass by a still-well-flowing waterfall and relaxed there for lunch along the way. That was Berry Creek Falls. The campground for night 3 seemed to take FOREVER to get to. We were both pretty beat after about 30 miles of hiking with a heavy backpack on 3 days in a row. Definitely didn’t fall in love with the campsite or campground here but at least it had running water we could filter. We just pretty much setup camp, ate a quick dehydrated meal and went to bed. It was really wet at this one and beginning to drizzle and we were in a site that was sort of "on stage" to all the other sites that surrounded us.
The final morning we got up at a decent time and walked the rest of the way out, maybe another 3-4 miles. What a great feeling when we first glimpsed the sea after rounding a corner on the trail. Sitting down in the truck was a welcomed feeling made all the better by the fact that the truck started!
All in all this was a great trip and I hope to do it again someday.