Castle Black may be for the banished, but the stunning sandstone rock formations at Castle Rock State Park
in the Santa Cruz Mountains provide a more optimistic outpost. The stunning Castle Rock caves, a highlight of the 5,200-acre wildlands with 35 miles of hiking trails, can be reached on a short and sweet 1-mile loop. The natural outcrops, once deposits on the continental shelf about 40 million years ago, surfaced after repeated tectonic shifts from the nearby San Andreas Fault. Moss-covered trees, madrone, Douglas fir, and coast redwood are also part of the scenery. You can opt to add adventure and length to this trek by extending it toward Castle Rock Falls, featuring a breathtaking plank jutting out over the cavernous, slender falls, and the vast, vulture-laden, cliff-hugging Saratoga Gap Trail, passing even more stunning rock formations and a landscape to rival Westeros and Essos. As George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones
series, says: “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”
BONUS: Stop in downtown Saratoga for a goblet, er, glass, of red wine. The patio at Cinnabar Winery’s tasting room serves up live music on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Their patio is dog-friendly, including Yappy Hour events.
For directions to Castle Rock State Park, visit the website. From the parking lot take the Castle Rock Trail to Castle Rock, passing one rock formation inlet on your left before reaching Castle Rock. From Castle Rock find the sign toward Saratoga Gap Trail, following the trail 0.6 mile, until you reach the Saratoga Gap Trail. A right will lead you back to the parking lot where you began. Or turn left on the Saratoga Gap Trail to lengthen the trek toward Castle Rock Falls, returning on the Ridge Trail past Goat Rock. Parking in the lot is $8. No dogs.