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Trail Camp Loop (2015)

Castle Rock State Park

July 3rd, 2015

5.5 miles
1120 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:33

Starting elevation
3072 feet
Max elevation
3220 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Saratoga, take Highway 9 west up to Skyline Boulevard. Turn left onto Skyline. After passing Summit Rock (on the left) and the Los Altos Rod & Gun Club (on the right), you'll see the entrance to Castle Rock State park on the right. There's a large dirt lot, and overflow parking along Skyline Boulevard.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

I try to make it a point to never do the same hike twice, though I have made a few exceptions. Since I hadn't done this hike in nearly 20 years, I'd hardly taken any pictures at the time, and the rest of my family had never done it, I figured now would be a good time to do the Trail Camp Loop in Castle Rock State Park.

Little did I know, everyone else thought today would be a great day to visit Castle Rock State Park, as well. The parking lot was full and most of the overflow parking was full as we pulled in around 3pm on a hot July 3rd. Since July 4th fell on a Saturday, most people got the 3rd off, so it was more like a weekend crowd.

We saw lots of younger folks with crash pads for bouldering (the park is very popular with rock climbers). We prepped and got started off on our hike at 3:30pm. All the trail maps at the trailhead were gone, but thankfully I'd brought my old one and not much had changed.

We started at the trailhead right next to the parking lot entrance, heading toward the left uphill toward Castle Rock. After about 0.3 miles we reached Castle Rock. People milled about, some resting, some taking a break from bouldering, some bouldering on the side of the rock we couldn't see, some just walking through. We walked around for a bit before continuing on the trail.

Rocks near Castle Rock

Rocks near Castle Rock

Castle Rock

The trail now starts descending and, about 0.9 miles from the trailhead reaches an intersection. We turned left to continue descending on the Saratoga Gap Trail. The shade continues as the trail soon follows a creek. We came to another intersection, turning left to start the main loop portion of our hike. At 1.5 miles from the trailhead, we reached a platform overlooking Castle Rock Falls. Of course, in July the water was barely a trickle. There's still a nice view of the mountains to the west here, though.

View from the falls overlook

After a short break here, we continued along the trail, which provides increasing views of the mountains to the south and west. The trail also becomes exposed to the hot afternoon sun. I'm guessing it would be nicer to do this part of the hike in the morning.

View from Saratoga Gap Trail

View from Saratoga Gap Trail

Ridge to the west

Looking back southwest along the Saratoga Gap Trail

There's a connecting trail that leads to the Ridge Trail and back toward the parking area, but we continued straight on the Saratoga Gap Trail. About 3 miles into the hike the trail veers right, away from the views and back into the forest. Shortly after that we reached Trail Camp. We weren't actually camping here, so we turned right onto the Ridge Trail to start the journey back.

Along the way we saw lots of manzanita as we climbed uphill. Bugs were a bit of an issue, but not too bad. We passed the other end of the connecting trail and stayed on Ridge Trail. About 4.6 miles into the hike we reached Goat Rock. We took some time to play here, climbing up onto the rock and enjoying the expansive views.


Climbing Goat Rock

Shadow on Goat Rock

View from Goat Rock

Returning to the trail, we now descended until we reached the intersection with the Saratoga Gap Trail, the intersection we had reached just before reaching the falls viewing platform. We now turned left and headed uphill in the now very dark forest.

Rock formation next to Ridge Trail

Despite all the cars we had seen in the lot and all the people we'd seen up until about Castle Rock, we hardly saw anyone else on the trail after the falls viewing platform about 1.5 miles into the hike. When we reached the parking lot there were less than half the cars left, but still quite a few. I wonder where all the people were. Maybe some were camping at Trail Camp, maybe others were doing the Skyline to the Sea Trail, and some were probably bouldering or rock climbing elsewhere in the park.

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