Things to Do
Castle Rock is a small park with big possibilities. The 33-mile-long Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail connects Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks. The 5.6-mile Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop leads to Goat Rock, Castle Rock Falls, Russell Point Overlook and the Castle Rock Trail Camp. Goat Rock Overlook provides panoramic views of the San Lorenzo Valley and the Pacific Ocean. The moderately difficult Ridge Trail could give you a glimpse of one of the park’s peregrine falcons. The Saratoga Toll Road, a historic logging road and stagecoach line from 1871, is now a well-shaded and graded hike offering some scenic viewpoints.
The park brochure includes a map. More detailed maps are also available: Castle Rock Trail Map and Guide to Rocks & Climbing. To purchase a map, send $2 (check payable to Portola & Castle Rock Foundation) and a self-addressed, #10 envelope (9-1/2" x 4-1/8") stamped with 2 stamps for each map — or you may purchase them at the entrance station when staffed.
If you have an hour, hike through a lush forest to the grand vistas of 75-foot Castle Rock Falls. 1.3 miles roundtrip.
If you have half a day, head out farther on the Saratoga Gap Trail, past the falls, along a steep open hillside to the junction with the Interconnector and Ridge trails. You’ll enjoy birds-eye views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay. You’ll also pass the intricately sculpted sandstone of Goat Rock. 3 miles roundtrip.
If you have a full day, continue on the Saratoga Gap Trail to Castle Rock Trail Camp. On the way back, check out the Interpretive Shelter exhibits on the Ridge Trail. Near the end of the loop, zip up to the base of Castle Rock. A 7+ mile round trip is full of ups and downs amid local oddities such as black oaks, high-elevation redwoods, knobcone pines, and bizarrely shaped boulders.
The 0.08-mile accessible path from Castle Rock parking lot leads to an ADA-compliant picnic table with woodland views. Parking and pit toilet at the end of the trail may require assistance.
Accessibility in state parks is continually improving. For updates, visit the website at http://access.parks.ca.gov.
Bicycles are allowed only on the Skyline (Bay Area Ridge) and Service Road trails. Cyclists can ride to Castle Rock Trail Camp via the Service Road, which is off Highway 35 north of the main park entrance. Bicycles are not allowed on any trails beyond this camp.
The park has two trail camps—Castle Rock and Waterman Gap. Castle Rock is open (first come, first served) year round. Waterman is closed during the winter. Dogs and smoking are not permitted in either campsite. The park does not have a drive-in campground.
Castle Rock Trail Camp lies on a ridge 2.6 miles from the main parking lot via the Saratoga Gap Trail. Each of the 20 first-come, first-served sites has a table, fire ring, nearby piped drinking water, and vault toilets. A camp shelter is available for use during inclement weather. Fires are allowed only in designated fire rings, except during fire-danger season. Wood gathering is prohibited, but campers may purchase firewood at the camp. The only access for bicyclists is via the Campground Service Road Trail off Highway 35 north of the main entrance. Bicycles are not allowed on any trails beyond this camp.
Waterman Gap Trail Camp is 6.3 miles from the north end of Skyline-to-the- Sea Trail at Saratoga Gap. Because there is no overnight parking there, many backpackers trek in 9.3 miles from the park’s main entrance off Highway 35. The camp has six primitive sites and a vault toilet. Reservations are required; call the trail camp reservation line at Big Basin Redwoods State Park (831-338-8861). No fires, but gas camp stoves are allowed. There’s water in camp, but little beyond, so fill up before you leave.
More information about both camps (and a map) is available in the park’s trail camp brochure. More information about these camps and the larger network of trail camps in the region is found on the “Big Basin, Castle Rock, Portola, and Butano Trail Camps Information Page.”
Some of the most popular hikes on Castle Rock’s 34 miles of trails are described below. For more detail, go to the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation website.
Castle Rock Loop
Trailhead: main parking lot; 1 mile loop; elevation gain 300 feet
Ascend through Douglas-fir, madrone, and tanoak to see the park’s imposing namesake peak—a good spot for bouldering and roped climbs. The surrounding smaller rocks are a great playground for children.
Castle Rock Falls
Trailhead: main parking lot; 1.3 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 320 feet.
Meander downhill to 75-foot Castle Rock Falls, which gushes after rains, but may be a trickle during drought. Either way, the views to the west are spectacular.
Ridge/Trail Camp Loop
Trailhead: main parking lot, 5.15 miles, elevation gain 1,190 feet
Hike through the forest and past Castle Rock Falls and Goat Rock. Enjoy views of the San Lorenzo River Valley and glimpses of Monterey Bay. Learn about history, wildlife, and habitats at the Interpretive Shelter. Castle Rock Trail Camp has picnic tables, pit toilets, water and a rain shelter.
Skyline/Loghry Woods/Saratoga Gap Loop
Trailhead: main parking lot; 6.1 miles roundtrip; elevation gain 750 feet
Head through the forest past Castle Rock Falls and Goat Rock. Enjoy views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the San Lorenzo River with glimpses across to Monterey Bay if there’s no fog. Castle Rock Trail Camp has picnic tables, pit toilets, water, and a rain shelter.
Middle of the Park from the Gap Loop
Trailhead: Saratoga Gap; 9 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 1,530 feet.
This challenging hike or run through the forest takes you past mountain and valley views with some glimpses of Monterey Bay on a clear day. Castle Rock Trail Camp has picnic tables, pit toilets, water and a rain shelter. Begin at Saratoga Gap and either go down Saratoga Toll Road Trail or across Skyline Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail). Close the loop on the Loghry Woods and Travertine Springs trails.
Gap to Gap Loop
Trailhead: Saratoga Gap or Waterman Gap; 16.4 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 1,860 feet
A good workout for strong trail runners and hikers. You can also backpack and stay overnight at the Waterman Gap Trail Camp (reservations required). Trails are mostly wooded, with occasional views of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Skyline to the Sea Trailhead: dropoff at Saratoga Gap or park at main parking lot, pickup at Waddell Beach, 25.2–28.2 miles; elevation from 1,660–2,130 feet.
One of the region’s most rewarding backpack options. Start on the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains and descend to the ocean in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Camp at trail camps along the way. Two to four days of backpacking or four to eight hours of trail running.
Horses are allowed on designated equestrian and multi-use trails, including Saratoga Toll Road Trail and the Skyline (Bay Area Ridge) and Service Road trails. The equestrian staging area sits at the northern end of the Saratoga Toll Road Trail. For details, check the map in the park brochure.
Check at the entrance station or park web home page for information about occasional nature hikes and other child-friendly group activities at Castle Rock State Park.
If you prefer activities centered around your own family or if you come in the off-season, you and your kids can work your way through the Adventure Guide together. Download the guide, or call 916-654-2249 to order a copy in English or Spanish.
Before heading to the park, explore the online Redwoods Learning Center, set up by Save the Redwoods League. It offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwood protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
An old apple orchard at the Partridge Farm site has picnic tables and an interpretive shelter with information about park history, climate, and nature. From the main parking lot, take the Saratoga Gap Trail to Goat Rock. From there, a short spur trail leads to the shelter.
Climbers have scaled the park’s outcrops of vaqueros sandstone at Castle Rock and Goat Rock for nearly a century. The rock’s hard exterior—pocked with caves, crevices, bumps and depressions called “tafoni patterns”—is ideal for bouldering and rock climbing.
• Practice low-impact climbing and leave no trace of your visit. Properly dispose of all trash and protect park natural resources.
• Play by the rules. Climbing and other off-trail activities are not permitted in the San Lorenzo Headwaters Natural Preserve. Check park bulletin boards before climbing for notice of possible restrictions to protect nesting birds, other wildlife, and areas recovering from overuse.
• Use a natural-colored chalk ball.
• Help prevent erosion. Use only existing access trails. Please carry (rather than drag) crash pads. The park’s topsoil is fragile and easily displaced from the steep slopes in much of the park.
• Protect park vegetation. The plants and trees provide food and shelter for wildlife. Please avoid damaging mosses, lichens, and branches.
• Respect the integrity of the rock and the climb. Please do not chip, glue, remove, or otherwise alter the rock. Please allow two or three days after a heavy rain before climbing. Sandstone becomes much more fragile when damp.
• Get permits for groups. Ropes classes and similar activities (whether held by private, educational, nonprofit, or commercial groups) require advance permits and insurance. For permit applications, call (831) 335-6324.