Views Fit for a King
Castle Rock State Park's Classic Loop Hike on Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trails
This 6-miler has it all: interesting sandstone formations, wide blue views of the Pacific, and, when it rains, a glistening waterfall. Castle Rock State Park is a popular treasure of the Santa Cruz Mountains that stretches over three counties. And those views? Well, you get both the Monterey Bay and Big Basin from the park’s 3,000 foot elevation.
Start from the Robert C. Kirkwood entrance and visitor center. It’s exactly what you might demand from a Silicon Valley favorite outdoor space: free Wi-Fi, downloadable trail map app, plenty of parking, picnic areas, and trail connections. (Note that there are one-way trails in the park as of June 2020; please follow the signs.) Then head out on a loop showcasing some of this park’s best stuff. Start on the Waterfall Connector Trail, which immediately descends into a valley filled with moss-covered fir and oak trees.
Follow the path to the right after the first footbridge, onto the Saratoga Gap Trail. Soon you reach Castle Rock Falls. When it’s flowing (and when the viewing platform is open) you get a 50-foot gusher. Currently, the viewing platform is closed.
Keep going, and in a few minutes the tree canopy gives way to a surf and turf panorama; from 2,700 feet 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.
Return via the higher Ridge Trail as you pass through a mix of madrone, Douglas fir, and coast redwood forests. Occasionally you will burst out of the forest to amazing views of the surrounding hills and nearby parks.
After a couple of miles, you’ll reach the massive Goat Rock Overlook. Repeated tectonic shifts of the San Andreas Fault created this outcropping with great views from the top. Continue on Ridge Trail.
Want even more views? Near the main entrance is the trail up to Castle Rock. Near the top, multiple offshoots lead you to your final highlight: the sculpted, cavernous sandstone of Castle Rock.
Thank the Sempervirens Fund, California State Parks, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, and other partners for making this happen.
The new Robert C. Kirkwood entrance is located a quarter mile north of the old entrance (map). Restrooms are available at the entrance and at Castle Rock. Water is only available at the entrance. Parking fee is $10 and can be paid in cash at the desk when an attendant is on duty or via credit card at the pay station. No dogs.
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