Edge to Edge part 6: Saratoga Toll Road and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to Waterman Gap

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This hike was a continuation of a multi-segment hike from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean with a group of ice skating friends. We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.  This hike started at the junction of Achistaca Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (here and here are two great descriptions) and continued to Waterman Gap, at the intersection of CA-9 and CA-236. We passed through part of Castle Rock State Park and some private property. This hike and the remaining two segments are in Santa Cruz County. And this hike is one alternative for Day 1 of a 3-day through hike from the Saratoga Gap area to the Pacific Ocean.

GPS track Edge to Edge part 6

On our previous hike segment, which was mostly along the western edge of the ridge along Skyline Blvd and just starting downhill toward the ocean, we decided that we were officially over the hill. For this hike our route was more consistently downhill than on any other segment of the entire journey, with an elevation gain of just 500 feet and a loss of 1700 feet.

elevation profile Edge to Edge part 6

The Saratoga Toll Road Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail pass through forested areas nearly continuously. I don’t expect that we’ll experience significant sections of exposed trail until perhaps near the end of our final segment. Ferns along the side of the trail are an indication of the usual moist conditions. This year has been unusual, and some of the ferns seemed especially dry. The trail is built, in many places, along steep hillsides: in this picture you can see the steep uphill side, and the downhill side is equally steep.

image of Saratoga Toll Road Trail passing through lovely forested areas

Saratoga Toll Road Trail passes through lovely forested areas

Barely ½ mile into the hike we were startled to notice a car that had somehow come down the steep ravine from the road (Big Basin Way, CA-9). It’s not clear whether this car was dumped or whether there was a terrible accident, but it was quite a long time ago. Obviously the car had been used for target practice. There was a second car a bit farther down the ravine. And about 5 miles later we found a third one. All of them had been there for a long time. It seemed eerie that they were red, white, and blue.

picture of surprise find: a car down the ravine from the trail

Surprise find: a car down the ravine from the trail

By the time we had hiked 2 miles or so, we started to see redwood trees. I have hiked among redwoods before, but am always in awe of these stately trees.

photo of tall redwood tree

Tall redwood tree

There are a few places along the Saratoga Toll Road Trail where there are brief breaks in the vegetation for more distant views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is one example. It seemed (and is!) impossible that we could avoid a good climb or two on our way to the Pacific Ocean.

image of view of Santa Cruz Mountains from Saratoga Toll Road Trail

View of Santa Cruz Mountains from Saratoga Toll Road Trail

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead there is a junction with Travertine Springs Trail, which connects to the Castle Rock Trail Camp. About 0.4 mile after the junction, the trail crosses a stream on a small bridge. Here we found numerous horsetail, or equisetum, near the stream bank.

picture of horsetail near a stream crossing

Horsetail near a stream crossing

At 3.5 miles from the trailhead we came to a junction with Beekhuis Road Trail, which we took as a connector trail to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. It was our only significant climb of the day. Part way up the climb we decided to stop for a break: finding two logs right next to the trail, with enough space for everyone to sit down, made it a good place to stop! Near the logs we noticed numerous smaller branches with very interesting texture to the bark. If we hadn’t stopped for a break we might not have noticed these interesting branches.

photo of branches with interesting texture

Branches with interesting texture

After the break we continued up to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail and resumed the gradual descent. Along the way we passed a giant mushroom right next to the trail. It was about 4 inches across.

image of unusual mushroom along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

Unusual mushroom along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

As we proceeded we passed more redwood trees, with numerous clusters next to the trail – obviously the trail had been routed near the trees. This picture gives a sense of the size of the trees. I was glad I had hiking poles with me, because I could use the poles to help balance (and ensure that I didn’t wander off the trail into the ravine) while gawking upward at the trees and continuing to hike.

picture of walking past redwood trees

Walking past redwood trees

In some ways, it would not have seemed like a proper hike through moist redwood forest without encountering banana slugs. As it turned out, we only saw one during our 7-mile hike.

phto of banana slug

Banana slug

There are a couple of places where the trail joins a fire road and then diverges again 0.1 mile or so later. These junctions were well-signed.

We came upon a couple of examples of massive redwood trees that had apparently been struck by lightning or experienced a forest fire. Some of these trees were still evidently alive and others were not. Here is a striking example of a burned-out stump next to the trail. Without a person in the picture it would be difficult to comprehend the size of the tree.

image of burned-out redwood stump

Burned-out redwood stump

As previously mentioned, some of the ferns seemed dry, an unfortunate consequence of the ongoing regional drought. Here was a pretty fern that happened to be sunlit when we hiked past. We saw numerous different types of fern during the hike. There were also several different types of moss on the trees, and the moss seemed very dry.

picture of fern enjoying some sunshine

Fern enjoying some sunshine

We also saw a few examples of trees with an unusual spiral-like appearance to the trunk. I think this is a madrone.

photo of madrone with a spiral trunk

Madrone with a spiral trunk

Sometimes trees grow in unusual directions, generally because that’s the way to get enough sunlight. And occasionally a tree falls over and is captured by nearby standing trees.   This group of trees made an interesting geometric pattern.

image of trees in a geometric pattern

Trees in a geometric pattern

We also found a few examples of trees with masses of lichens hanging from the branches. Here is a pretty one.

picture of lichen hanging from tree branches

Lichen hanging from tree branches

We passed numerous examples of old-growth redwoods that had evidently been logged, with the original stump surrounded by second-growth trees. These clusters were quite striking.

photo of ring of second-growth redwoods surrounding an old-growth stump

Ring of second-growth redwoods surrounding an old-growth stump

About 6.9 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the Waterman Gap Trail Camp, which is used by through hikers. The camp apparently closes for the winter season, and in fact had not yet opened. It was interesting to note that the latrine is signed as wheelchair accessible. We could not figure out how anyone would actually get to the camp via wheelchair, though.

We ended the hike at the junction of CA-9 and CA-236, the continuation of Big Basin Way. This is Waterman Gap, and there is a small parking area for day use (no overnight parking). Our next segment will take us to Big Basin Redwoods State Park via a climb up to the ridge at China Grade. It is said that, along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, the trees and views get better and better as you go along. We can hardly wait to see what comes next!

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6 Responses to Edge to Edge part 6: Saratoga Toll Road and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to Waterman Gap

  1. FYI, That car is an Austin Healey
    Crash -1

  2. Pingback: Edge to Edge part 7: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail from Waterman Gap to Big Basin Park HQ | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: Ridge Trail Cruz 27-mile hike | trailhiker

  4. CL says:

    Hi, and thanks for an amazing site. We will be hiking the Saratoga Gap Toll Rd Trail in the next few weeks with friends who are new to hiking. I have read in your blog how steep the drop off is on this trail and that can be said of many trails in the area. I have personally never hiked this particular trail before and was wondering if the trail is in good conditions or precarious? Would you suggest it to people who are new to hiking like my guests? Thank you so much for your answer. I really enjoy your blog.

    • trailhiker says:

      The trail was in fine condition for our hike and I believe it is maintained that way. The hillside is not especially steep compared to many other trails in the Bay Area, and the trail itself is adequately wide. For your newcomers, you may want to point out that walking single file is recommended — this makes it harder to walk-and-talk but gives you a great excuse to stop frequently to enjoy the beautiful forest. The elevation profile shows that the trail is mostly downhill (and has a nice, comfortable grade). It should be a great introduction to hiking. Enjoy!

  5. Pingback: Edge to Edge part 5: Grizzly Flat to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail | trailhiker

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