Castle Crags State Park

Crags Trail

5.5 miles round trip with 2,200-foot elevation gain

Soaring above the upper Sacramento River Valley are the sky-scraping spires of granite called the Castle Crags. From the lofty ramparts, the hiker can look down on forested slopes and up at magnificent snow-covered Mt. Shasta.

The Castle Crags were formed in much the same manner as nearby Mt. Shasta and the other peaks of the Cascade Range—by volcanic activity some 200 million years ago. For the last million years, the Crags have been subjected to the forces of wind, rain, ice and even some small glaciers, which have shaped the granite into its distinctive shapes. Rising beside the spikey peaks is a round one, Castle Dome, which many mountaineers liken to Yosemite’s Half Dome.

In 1855, the territory below the Crags was the site of a struggle between local native people and settlers. The locals, armed only with bows and arrows, were driven from their land in a one-sided battle that was chronicled by Joaquin Miller, “poet of the High Sierra.”

Mining—first gold, later mercury and chromite—and logging, were the chief industries around the Crags for a hundred years. During the 1920s and 1930s, conservationists worked to protect the Castle Crags; they circulated photographs of the scenic spot and promoted the idea of a comprehensive California state park system.

Crags Trail, with its steep elevation gain, is a real workout. Rewarding your effort are postcard-views of the Crags and of Mt. Shasta. The trail crosses Kettlebelly Ridge, part of the old California-Oregon Toll Road used by settlers on their way west.

Directions to trailhead: Castle Crags State Park is located some 25 miles north of Lake Shasta (6 miles south of Dunsmuir) off Interstate 5. Take the Castella exit and follow signs to the park. Follow the entrance road to the Vista Point parking area. The signed trail begins just down the road from the Point.

The hike: From the signed trailhead, the trail climbs west through a mixed forest of pine, fir and cedar. After a short time, you’ll pass a junction with Root Creek Trail, a mile-long path leading through the forest to its namesake creek. A little more climbing brings you to a four-way intersection. Here you meet the famous Pacific Crest Trail, seven miles of which leads through the state park. Your quiet contemplation of the notion of walking 2,000 miles from Mexico to Washington will undoubtedly be interrupted by the sizzle of electricity passing through the high-voltage lines strung above the trail junction.

You continue on Crags Trail on an ever-more-earnest ascent for another half mile to a short connector trail known as Bob’s Hat Trail which drops a quarter mile back to PCT. (Keep this trail in mind as a return trip option.)

Crags Trail turns north, and in another 0.5 mile splits again. The left fork goes to Indian Springs, where cold water bubbles from the depths of the Crags. Your path climbs even more steeply, winding among boulders and over flat rocks. Trees become more sparse with the gain in elevation, opening up ever-grander views over the manzanita and hardy heather of the Crags. Trail’s end is at the base of roundish Castle Dome.

You can climb rocks to your heart’s content around here, but use caution and don’t exceed your abilities.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.