Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike

Mount San Jacinto State Park

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Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
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  • The Cactus to Clouds Trailhead at 2:30 a.m. - Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • The Skyline Ridge Trail marks the beginning of the route.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • After an early start, you'll catch the sunrise at around 3,500 feet.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Looking toward Coachella Valley.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Looking into the San Bernadino Wilderness.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • A well marked 4,300-foot elevation waypoint.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • A quick ascent is key to beat the heat!- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Potential bouldering and climbing along the route.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • The view from approximately 7,000 feet on the Cactus to Clouds Trail.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Welcome shade.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Traces of a fire along the Cactus to Clouds Trail.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • San Jacinto Peak (10,834') is in view. - Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • Wayfinding can be challenging, so be careful to not lose the trail on the way down.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
  • The well earned tram ride down.- Cactus to Clouds Skyline Trail Hike
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Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Expansive views. Multiple climate zones. Pride in accomplishment.
Cons: 
Sporadic weather. No trail markings. Almost no water.
Region:
Western Sonoran + Colorado Desert, CA
Congestion: 
Low
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Fall
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
Not Required
Total Distance: 
23.80 mi (38.30 km)
Trailhead Elev.: 
450 ft (137 m)
Net Elev. Gain: 
10,384 ft (3,165 m)
Trail Uses:
Hiking
Trail type: 
One-way/Shuttle
Dogs allowed: 
No

Current Local Weather

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Rain throughout the day.
56°F
46°

Tue

Clear throughout the day.
58°F
37°

Wed

Clear throughout the day.
62°F
39°

Thu

Clear throughout the day.
70°F
41°

Fri

Partly cloudy overnight.
73°F
48°

Sat

Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
73°F
50°

Sun

Mostly cloudy until afternoon.
70°F
51°
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

Starting at a mere 450 feet above sea level and gaining more than 10,000 feet by its end, no single trail in the country gains more elevation than Cactus to Clouds. Many use this hike to train for high altitude climbs in the High Sierras and Alaska. Most hikers start between 2:00 a.m and 4:00 a.m. because beginning any later than that means exposing yourself to the extreme desert heat. Be sure to bring 3 to 5 liters of water, food, warm clothes for the higher elevations, and equipment to help with higher-elevation snow and ice if necessary.

Ideally you will reach 4,000 feet for what is usually an amazing sunrise. From that point on it’s a race to the trees, which begin around 6,000 feet; here you can escape the sun's heat and take solace in the shade of the pines. Be sure to keep your eyes on the trail, however, as the route from the treeline to the ranger station is quite a rock scramble. Once you make it to the ranger station, congratulate yourself for gaining over 8,000 feet from the trailhead, and take comfort in knowing that you are more than halfway finished! Many teams will have a meal and take a nap before continuing on. 

After getting your free hiking permit from the ranger station, continue to the summit that is only 5.5 miles away. This section of the hike varies greatly with the seasons. It can be completely covered with snow or it can be over 80 degrees, so be sure to plan accordingly. Enjoy the mellow climb through the forest as the trial moves along several creeks and waterfalls before making the final scramble to the 10,834-foot summit. 

From the top, the return trip is quite easy. Most hikers who complete Cactus to Clouds choose to hike back down the 5.5 miles to the ranger station and take the tram to the valley floor. If this is your choice, be sure to arrange for a pick-up at the bottom tram station; alternately, you can always try talking to people in the tram terminal who would most likely be happy to give you a ride back to your car at the museum after hearing your story. If that fails, you can hire a taxi for around $20.

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Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(9 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(21 within a 30 mile radius)

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