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It's Saturday morning, you want to go backpacking, but you've only got a night to spare. The time…

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It’s Saturday morning, you want to go backpacking, but you’ve only got a night to spare. The time is right for Castle Rock State Park’s hike-in campground, where 20 first-come, first-served secluded campsites make for a quick overnight escape. This is a good beginners backpacking trip because the hike in is just under 3 miles and has spectacular scenery. From the parking lot you’ll follow the Saratoga Gap Trail for 2.8 miles to Castle Rock Trail Camp. The path is narrow and there are a few rocky parts to climb over, but your diligent footwork is worth it for the beautiful views: there’s hardly a man-made structure in sight as the wild and rolling Santa Cruz Mountains surround you on all sides and the Pacific Ocean unfolds in the background. Redwoods, Douglas firs, and madrones provide a beautiful green backdrop, and the park’s honeycomb rock formations, some quite cavernous, make fun platforms for pictures. Castle Rock Trail Camp has two designations: Sites 1 through 5 make up an area called Frog Flat Camp and are best bets for stargazing as they’re more exposed to the sky with fewer trees. It’s usually quieter here, too. The rest of the sites are in the Main Camp, nestled privately in the woods (sites 17 and 25 give campers plenty of space). Sites have picnic tables and nearby drinking water and bathrooms. Who’s King of the Castle?

Campsites are $15 per night. Park in the main lot on Hwy. 35, 2.5 miles south of Hwy. 9. Here you can look at a map, and follow the Saratoga Gap Trail for 2.8 miles to get to the Castle Rock Trail Camp. Camping is first come, first served. Trails close at sunset so hike in before. No dogs.

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