by Paul Hagey
On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just uphill from Saratoga and about 25 miles due north of Santa Cruz, lies the 5,200-acre Castle Rock State Park, a Santa Cruz Mountains climbing and hiking destination with 35 miles of trails over diverse terrain that will make the naturalist’s heart sing.
It features Pacific Ocean mountaintop views from Goat Rock Overlook and hiking along the San Lorenzo River, but crawling up and over rock is what you’ll see and want to do here. Moms, dads, children, friends—babies, even!—congregate around the park’s various accessible climbing outcrops of stone that quicken the hearts of climbers from all over the Bay Area.
And since many of the prime climbing locales border the park’s most popular and easily-accessible trails, you’ll be participating in body-over-stone one way or another when you visit—as a viewer sharing in the vicarious thrill or as a body clinging to, and contorting in, on and over, rock. Read more.
A GREAT PLACE FOR dropping a crash pad and hooking up a topline, heart-swelling redwood forest strolls, cliff-face rappelling, stealing an inland view of the Pacific Ocean, bouldering and families.
YOU MIGHT LEAVE your pup and bike at home – park rules forbid dogs and limit bikes to one service road trail – but not your tent. Two backpacking sites exist in the park: Castle Rock Trail Camp, 2.6 miles from the park’s main entrance, has piped water, vaulted toilets and 20 first-come, first-served sites with tables and fire rings at each. Waterman Gap Trail Camp, 9.3 miles from home base, has 6 sites, one vault toilet and limited drinking water.
DEFINITELY BRING a hat for the sunny western-exposed trails, climbing shoes and maybe a crash pad for climbing, plus binoculars to track the turkey vultures soaring along the ridge trail.
MAKE SURE you get there early on the weekends. Given its mini-Mecca status for climbers and its accessible location, its parking lots fill up quickly on the weekends, often by 9:30am. The next nearest place to settle your steel carriage is a mile and a half away. Ranger Rule says he tells visitors just to forget coming on Sundays because of the parking situation, but why would you do that? Just get there early.
CLIMBERS, avoid climbing in the park when the stone’s wet, as sandstone weakens with moisture and may crack. And limit bolting. Notify the park of an interest to add more bolts. For coordinating climbing classes in the park, contact the park to apply for a permit.
Castle Rock Trail
.9 miles; 30 min; easy
This friendly trail, which leads to and around Castle Rock and its outcrop cousins, is just a third of a mile from the park’s main entrance and its most accessible trail, offering an easy, 0.9-mile loop graced with redwood, fir, oak and madrone forest and glimpses of a wild-blue-yonder sky that makes you feel that you’ve been farther out.
Ridge-Saratoga Gap Trail Loop
5 miles; 2.5 hours; moderate
A near-perfect day hike to Castle Rock Trail Camp takes in Castle Rock Falls and Goat Rock and offers sweeping views of the mountains leading to the Pacific Ocean.
The park’s main entrance is located off of Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) just 2.5 miles south of its intersection with Highway 9.
The official Castle Rock State Park website
Skyline Blvd, Los Gatos, CA, 95033. 408.867.2952. Learn more at the official Castle Rock State Park website.