By popular demand, the California State Parks has added a second guided backpacking adventure along the Skyline to the Sea Trail this summer. The four-day, 33-mile trip takes hikers through scenic backcountry from Castle Rock State Park to Waddell State Beach from Aug. 15 to 18.
“This is our signature trip,” said Elizabeth Hammack, manager of interpretation and education for the Santa Cruz District of the California State Parks. “It is epic and life-changing.”
What makes this program so special, she says, is the skill and depth of knowledge of the guides. The excursion is led by State Parks naturalists who work year-round in the parks. They know the trails, they know the natural and cultural history of the area, and they know how to share this information in a fun and engaging way.
Lead naturalist Jeremy Lin has been guiding the backpacking adventure for the last four years. He says State Parks started these excursions because it wanted to provide a full, immersive experience in the backcountry.
“We saw the value of being surrounded by nature for several days,” he said. “People want to take a step back from their everyday lives. They want to experience the peace and excitement and vivid energy of nature.”
Lin has found many ways to connect participants with the nature all around them. He shows them how to identify edible plants and prepare native teas. He often finds reptiles and amphibians along the trail — including California king snakes, rough-skinned newts, even the Pacific giant salamander — and allows hikers to closely observe these fascinating creatures while he tells about their natural history.
The guides are also attuned to the area’s cultural history. State Parks works closely with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, whose ancestors inhabited this part of the Santa Cruz Mountains long before Europeans arrived. A representative from the tribe attends the training for these programs to make sure tribal stories are accurately portrayed.
Natural beauty abounds on the trail, which winds its way through old- growth redwoods, across stunning vistas, and down to the scenic coast. One highlight is Berry Falls, which plummets 70 feet down a steep cliff covered in lush ferns, coastal redwoods and other native plants.
There is plenty of time for fun and camaraderie as well. Many people form tight bonds in the group, says Hammack. She’s heard of private trail group Facebook pages and reunions in which participants keep in touch for years.
The trek is strenuous, up to 10 miles a day over steep terrain carrying a loaded pack. Participants need to be physically fit and should train in advance. They also need their own equipment, including tent, sleeping bag, pack and well-broken-in hiking boots. But Hammack says you don’t have to be an experienced backpacker to sign up.
“Some people want to get into backpacking, but they don’t know where to start,” she said. “We bring the camp stove and the water filtration device, so you don’t need to worry about that. We will show you how to set up your equipment, walk you through meal planning. All you need to participate is a sense of adventure.”
For more information and to register, visit www.parks.ca.gov/backpacking.