The steep granite slopes of Castle Crags tower above this Pacific Crest Trail hike through Castle Crags State Park, Castle Crags Wilderness, and Shasta-Trinity National Forest. You gain a lot of beauty for a modest effort, and you’ll likely also have solitude.
This Pacific Crest Trail jaunt is usually done as a one-way day hike with a car shuttle, best done by beginning at the Dog Trail trailhead on Castle Creek Road (Forest Road 25) and ending at the Soda Creek Exit on Interstate 5 (Exit 726). If you want a shorter one-way version, just go a half-mile toward Castle Crags State Park from the intersection of the Dog Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail to gain a great view of Castle Crags and the forested slopes encompassing Castle Creek, including Grey Rocks to the south.
The Pacific Crest Trail (California Section P)
The Pacific Crest Trail is easy to follow: all trail intersections are usually signed, and you’ll recognize the triangular Pacific Crest Trail symbol posted at irregular intervals along the route. You’ll be traveling on the initial part of California Section P of the PCT, which runs from the I-5 Soda Creek exit to end at Carter Meadows Summit/Forest Road 93 after traveling through the northern portion of Trinity Alps Wilderness.
Alternate Trails to Reach the Pacific Crest Trail
Note also that this hike description begins outside Castle Crags State Park. Starting at the Dog Trail trailhead allows you to stay on the Pacific Crest Trail nearly the whole way (and, incidentally, avoid having to pay the park entrance fee, although I strongly advocate supporting our state parks). However, you can do a shorter hike with less elevation gain if you start or end at either Vista Point Trailhead in the park (trailhead for the Castle Dome Trail and the Root Creek Trail/Root Creek Falls Trail), or at the Bob’s Hat Trail near park headquarters, and use these trails to get to or from the Pacific Crest Trail. (The Castle Dome Trail is the best option = least elevation gain.) You can also choose to do the entire hike in the opposite direction by starting at the Soda Creek Exit on Interstate 5.
Backpacking and Camping
Those wanting a spring backpacking trip to train for higher elevations can backpack this segment of the Pacific Crest Trail, but the only obvious campsites border the east fork of Sulphur Creek. You cannot camp in Castle Crags State Park outside of the campground, but backpackers can camp in Castle Crags Wilderness west of the park, provided they find a level campsite away from the trail.
Castle Crags State Park Pacific Crest Trail Segment Key Data
Distance: 7.3 miles one-way, Dog Trailhead to Soda Creek Exit 726, Interstate 5
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Type: Day hike or overnight backpacking trip
Elevation gain: 1000 feet, one-way
High point: 2950 feet
Season: Year-round; occasional winter snow
Contact: Mount Shasta Ranger Station, Shasta-Trinity National Forest; 530-926-4511
Maps: USGS Dunsmuir, Castle Crags State Park brochure (recommended), US Forest Service Castle Crags Wilderness/Mount Shasta Wilderness
Water: Available through late summer from several creeks; best to bring plenty of your own
Permits: No wilderness permit needed; backpackers need a California campfire permit
Uses: Hiking, horseback riding; mountain bikes prohibited
Dogs: dogs are allowed on-leash on the Pacific Crest Trail in Castle Crags State Park; dogs are prohibited on all other park trails; dogs allowed on Pacific Crest Trail in Castle Crags Wilderness on-leash or under your voice command
Notes: Watch out for occasional poison oak
Pacific Crest Trail: Dog Trail Trailhead Directions
In Castella, take Exit 724 off Interstate 5. Drive west 3.2 miles on Castle Creek Road (Forest Road 25) and park in the large open area on the right — the Dog Trailhead. Dog Trailhead GPS: N 41 9.723 W 122 22.168
Pacific Crest Trail: Soda Creek Trailhead Directions
Take the Soda Creek exit off I-5 (Exit 726), which is 1.0 mile north of the Castella exit and a few miles south of Dunsmuir. The trail starts 100 feet west of the freeway, by a locked green gate. GPS coordinates: N 41 09.746 W 122 17.908
Reaching the Dog Trail/Pacific Crest Trail Intersection
The rocky tread of the Dog Trail quickly enters Castle Crags Wilderness and climbs briskly past a knobcone pine grove and through chaparral, slowly giving better and better views. Reach the Pacific Crest Trail at 0.6 mile. To the left it winds on and on, PCT section after PCT section in Northern California. But you go right and east, gaining spectacular views of Castle Crags, Castle Creek, and Grey Rocks on the far side of the Castle Creek valley to the south.
Sulphur Creek: West and East Forks
The Pacific Crest Trail rises and falls gently for 0.6 mile and then descends to the West Fork of Sulphur Creek, a beautiful spot to relax in the shade and enjoy the tumbling waters of the small stream. Continue another half mile to the East Fork of Sulphur Creek, which hosts a pair of campsites, the most obvious place for backpackers to camp on this hike. Unlike the west fork, the East Fork of Sulphur Creek definitely emanates the distinctive odor of sulfur.
Meeting the Flume Trail
Continue easterly on the Pacific Crest Trail 0.6 mile to walk through a large knobcone pine grove on a ridge. These trees are easily identified by the cones tightly bound to the trunks. Knobcone pines only release seeds after a fire, so as long as forest fires are controlled the knobcone will have great difficulty perpetuating itself. The PCT then meets the Flume Trail, crosses diminutive Dump Creek, and meets the Flume Trail yet again 2.5 miles from the trailhead; stay left/uphill at both junctions.
Winton Canyon Creek, Indian Creek, Indian Springs
The steep and imposing glacially sculpted granite of Castle Crags rises high above as you continue the mostly open route another 1.5 miles to Indian Creek, another year-round stream that sports pools deep enough to submerge your sweaty body if you’re hiking in summer. You soon encounter Winton Canyon Creek, and then the creek that begins at Indian Springs high above (and which also serves as the source of Castle Crags State Park’s drinking water).
From Castle Crags Wilderness Into Castle Crags State Park
You soon leave Castle Crags Wilderness and enter Castle Crags State Park. At 5.5 miles the Bob’s Hat Trail drops down to the right, headed for park headquarters. Stay left on the PCT. At 6.0 miles stay level and right on the Pacific Crest Trail as the Castle Dome Trail heads uphill to the left. You (and the Pacific Crest Trail) briefly go left and join the Root Creek Trail at 6.2 miles and then quickly go right to stay on the PCT. From here the Pacific Crest Trail descends the rest of the way, soon leaving the state park to enter Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Stay left on the PCT when the Kettlebelly Trail appears at 7.2 miles, and then reach Interstate 5 and the Soda Creek Exit at Interstate 5 at 7.6 miles.
More Castle Crags State Park Hiking Trails
My book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions includes six trails in and near Castle Crags State Park, including four that are intersected by the PCT hike described in this post:
- River Trail (Hike 30)
- Castle Dome Trail (Hike 31)
- Root Creek Falls Trail (Hike 32)
- Indian Creek and Flume Trails (Hike 33)
- Flume Trail to Sulphur Creek (Hike 34)
- Burstarse Falls (Hike 35)
Your Take: Pacific Crest Trail Through Castle Crags State Park
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