An Easy Hike in Castle Rock Park
Neil Wiley

You can drive the eight miles from Black Road and Highway 17 to the Castle Rock State Park parking lot in less than twenty minutes. If you donít hurry, itís an easy drive. And the last few miles along Skyline Boulevard offer some of our best mountain scenery.

Once out of your car, a short walk, only 8/10 of a mile, takes you to Castle Rock Falls. Simply follow the well-marked Saratoga Gap Trail along fern-lined Kings Creek through a forest of firs, oaks and madrones. In about 15 minutes, youíll be on a viewing deck, looking down a fifty-foot waterfall, complete with views of deep tree-covered canyons and Monterey Bay. 
If time is short, you can walk back up the easy sloped trail to your car. If, however, you want to see more, continue on along Saratoga Gap Trail. Within a few hundred feet, you are rewarded with even wider 180-degree views of valleys, mountains and Monterey Bay. Here, too, you may see hawks riding the thermals along the ridge, some above you, some below. It makes you want to fly.

As you continue along Saratoga Gap Trail, it gets a little rockier, but it is still an easy walk. You can take this trail on to the campground (2.8 miles from the parking lot) or take a connector trail to the right that takes you to the Ridge Trail. Along these trails I found mountain iris, bottlebrush and fields of little blue and yellow flowers. Surprisingly, as you climb up higher on the ridge, the canyon walls give way to grassy meadows dotted by oak and madrone trees. 

When you reach Ridge Trail, going left takes you deeper into the park; going right takes you to a nice climbing rock, Goat Rock. If you want a break or a good place for lunch, take the 1/10 of a mile trail from Goat Rock to the interpretive shelteróa large open-walled pavilion constructed using 16 large posts over a concrete floor. Benches running around the exterior offer a great place to nap or just stretch out, without fear of sleeping on an anthill. Panels in the center of the shelter depict animals, plants, geology and other aspects of the park.

After walking back to Goat Rock, you can take Ridge Trail back to where it connects with Saratoga Gap Trail, then continue on back to the parking lot. 
As you walk back, you might enjoy a short side trip. Watch for a trail going off to the right. It takes you to the Castle Rock. Although itís a nice, big climbing rock, the trail does not offer any spectacular views. The big rocks, however, are interesting. The sandstone is filled with stonelace, honeycombs and little caves. This tafoni, caused by chemical weathering, occurs only in a few places in the world.

On the way back to the main trail look for some beautiful old oak trees. There is one that has more than twenty big branches.

Although hiking deeper into the park would give you a heightened wilderness experience, this short day hike is a great antidote to civilization. On my weekday hike, I walked all morning before seeing another person. On the higher ridges, you hear gunfire from a rifle range on Skyline, but it usually sounds like distant thunder. You may hear the buzz of a bee, the shriek of a distant hawk or the chirps of small birds, but mostly, you hear quiet, which can be the best sound of all.

Bring $2 for parking and a water bottle. If you are like me, bring a little food, too. Water is available at the campground. Overnight camping (25 sites) is available for $5 a night. For more information, call Castle Rock State Park, 408-867-2952.


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