Castle of Wonders

Hiking at Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains

A demure waterfall best after fresh rains, sandstone formations pockmarked by time, epic ridge vistas, and currently flowing seasonal streams … it all comes together at Castle Rock State Park on a rugged 5-mile loop hike. Get an early start on Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trails loop. Begin on the Saratoga Gap Trail and immediately descend into a forest thick with madrones, bays, and redwoods. Little streams in the vicinity indicate more water to come, and in just under a mile you’ll reach the observation deck for Castle Rock Falls. This isn’t a spectacular oasis, but it’s definitely a “now you see me, now you don’t” waterfall, so post-rain is the time to go if you want to see optimal flow.

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, where you should go ahead and enjoy your king or queen of the Castle moment!

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The trailhead for the Saratoga Gap Trail is near the signage at the park’s main parking lot, off Hwy. 35, 2.5 miles southeast of the junction with Hwy. 9. Follow the sign to the right that reads “Saratoga Gap Trail.” No dogs.

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