This 5-miler has it all: interesting sandstone formations, wide blue views of the Pacific, and a glistening waterfall. Castle Rock State Park is a popular treasure of the Santa Cruz Mountains that stretches over three counties. Start by hiking through a fern canyon carved out by Kings Creek, admiring the honeycomb rock formations that are popular with climbers. Within a mile you’ll reach Castle Rock Falls: a 50-foot gusher with a viewing platform that lets you lean out over the top of the falls. 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 with its equally impressive views (especially at Goat Rock). It’s a royal experience.
For directions to Castle Rock State Park visit the Web site. From the parking lot take the Saratoga Gap Trail. Continue on this trail until it reaches Ridge Trail in 2.5 miles (there is a cutoff in 1.5 miles if you want to shorten the hike). Return on the Ridge Trail, passing Emily Smith Observation Point and Goat Rock. No dogs.