The Santa Cruz Mountains in California are home to Castle Rock State Park. This park has been allowed to keep most of its wild, natural roots and is made up of 3,600 acres. Its lush, mossy forest consists of redwoods, Douglas fir, and madrone trees. The park also offers the beauty of steep canyons and interesting rock formations.
The biggest draw to Castle Rock State Park may be its 32 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. The parks trails are only the beginning of a much more far-reaching system of trails. From the trails here you can get to the Santa Clara and Lorenzo valleys, not to mention being able to hike into Big Basin Redwoods State Park and on to the Pacific coast. The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail starts at Castle Rock, taking you 30 miles to a beach north of Santa Cruz.
Castle Rock State Park rock formations are a big draw for rock climbers. Castle Rock itself is at the highest point in the park, at 3,214 feet above sea level. This sandstone rock formation also attracts photographers and geologists. Another sandstone formation called Goat Rock offers views of the Pacific Ocean.
Saratoga Gap Trail offers a moderate a hike and a beautiful view of the park, taking you past Castle Rock Falls and on to higher elevations with panoramic views. The main trail starts as a descent and follows a creek that eventually takes you to Castle Rock Falls, about ¾ of a mile from the trailhead. The falls themselves drop only 100 feet, but the view of the San Lorenzo River and the Pacific more than make up for that.
From the Falls, the trail climbs up about ½ mile and offers a view of Monterey Bay. The trail ultimately takes you to Castle Rock Trail Camp and a lovely pine forest, an ideal place for a picnic. From here, follow the trail back down to another observation point plus an exhibit of the geology and history of the area. Continuing from there, you will find the trail to Goat Rock.
Campsites are available for small parties and for larger groups. A family campsite is ideal for eight people. These campsites are fairly developed and include tables, fire pits, showers and a water supply, plus a clear area on which to set up a tent. Every campsite has a maximum number of nights that you can stay and only two vehicles are allowed at each site. There are a select few environmental campsites in natural undisturbed areas.
Castle Rock State Park is located on Highway 35, about 2-1/2 miles southeast of the Highway 9 junction. The physical address of the park is 15000 Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos, CA. Park hours change by the season. Call the park at 408-867-2952 to find the current opening and closing hours for the park. Some campsites are first-come-first-served and you should plan to arrive early on Friday for a weekend spot. Camping reservations can be made by calling 1-800-444-7275. The only camping available for backpackers and hikers along the trails at the park are primitive campsites.