Love to hike? Castle Crags State Park hosts a range of hiking trails for every ability, plus an excellent campground. This post gives all you all your hiking options, plus camping details, and includes discussion of the geology, plant and animal life, and human history of Castle Crags State Park and its environs.
You’ve driven up Interstate 5 in far Northern California and you’ve been captivated by the steep beauty of Castle Crags. The jagged granite spires and slabs contrast sharply with both the surrounding forested mountains and the volcanic Cascade Range to the north and east. Take the time to explore the hiking trails and the other recreational options…
Castle Crags State Park Hiking Trails
My book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions provides detailed descriptions for the best of these trails. The list here gives the names, round-trip hike distance, degree of difficulty, and also the Hike number in my Day Hiking book. Note: The map in the Castle Crags State Park brochure shows all the hiking routes.
Castle Dome Trail (Hike 31)
5.4 miles round trip, difficult. This is the iconic hike in the region. The Castle Dome Trail rises steeply from the Vista Point through Castle Crags State Park and into Castle Crags Wilderness. This is the one hike that gets you into the high granite. Not to be missed — if you are in condition to do it!
Root Creek Falls Trail (Hike 32)
2.8 miles round trip, easy to moderate. The first mile from the Vista Point to Root Creek runs level. It’s a bit of a scramble on steep terrain and rough trail to continue upstream to view Root Creek Falls, but well worth it!
Indian Creek Nature Trail and Flume Trail (Hike 33)
2.6 miles round trip, easy. This hike combines the 1.0-mile loop of the Indian Creek Nature Trail with the Flume Trail, ending at environmental campsites beside Castle Creek Road.
Flume Trail to Sulphur Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail (Hike 34)
5.2 miles round trip, moderate. This begins on the Flume Trail at the environmental campsites on Castle Creek Road and then rises up to the PCT, where it continues to Sulphur Creek.
River Trail (Hike #30)
2.6 miles round trip, easy. The River Trail leaves the Lower Loop of Castle Crags State Park Campground and passes under Interstate 5 before crossing the Sacramento River on a footbridge. The footbridge can also be accessed from Frontage Road. The River Trail then runs upstream from the Riverside Campground and Picnic Area.
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail runs through a portion of the park before entering Castle Crags Wilderness. (Click the link to see my detailed description.)
0.5-mile loop, easy. The path is north of the park office. It is designed for use by local school groups.
Vista Point Trail
2.5 miles round trip; moderate. The Vista Point Trail leaves from the Campfire Center in the Lower Loop of the park campground and travels along the main road before climbing to the Vista Point. The Vista Point has beautiful views of Castle Dome, and it’s also near the trailhead for the Castle Dome and Root Creek Falls trails.
1.2 miles round trip, easy. Leaves from the Lower Loop to run level to the park office. Dogs are allowed on-leash on the Campground Trail.
Milt Kenney Trail
2.0 miles round trip, easy to moderate. Leaves from campsite 25 in the Little Loop of the campground and connects to a fire road and eventually to the PCT.
Castle Crags State Park Campground
Castle Crags State Park campground makes a great base for your hiking adventures. It has 76 developed campsites and six environmental campsites, with 12 campsites in the Riverside Campground beside the Sacramento River and the remaining 64 campsites in the Little Loop, Lower Loop, and Upper Loop of the main campground. Multiple buildings contain both toilets and hot showers.
Reserving Castle Crags State Park Campground Campsites
You can reserve a campsite in the Castle Crags State Park Campground up to six months in advance. It’s best to do it online. You can also call 1-800-444-7275.
Castle Crags State Park Campground Key Rules and Regulations
Campfires are allowed only in designated campfire rings. You must bring your own firewood: you are prohibited from gathering firewood in the campground and in the park. And you don’t need a California campfire permit in campgrounds, but it’s always a good idea to have one anyway.
Dogs must be on a leash at all times (no longer than six feet) and are not allowed on park hiking trails, except for the Campground Trail. Dogs and other pets must be in a vehicle or your tent at night.
Each campsite can have up to eight campers and one to two vehicles. Check-out time is noon, and quiet time is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Bears in Castle Crags State Park Campground
Black bears do come through the campground regularly looking for food. You are required to use the provided bear lockers to store your food, and you must put all trash and garbage in the provided receptacles. Don’t leave anything for the bears to eat.
Castle Crags State Park: Fishing and Rock Climbing
Besides hiking, the area offers other recreational opportunities. Anglers will want to try their luck on the nearby Sacramento River, and the steep spires of Castle Crags Wilderness will challenge even expert rock climbers. (Don’t attempt such climbs unless you are an experienced rock climber.)
Castle Crags Geology
Castle Crags are the remnants of molten rock forced towards the earth’s surface about 170 million years ago by the heat generated from the floor of the Pacific Ocean sliding under California. The magnificently shaped granite we see today is the result of a combination of millions of years of wind and water erosion, which carried soft rock and soil away, and glacial action, which carved and polished the granite. The Crags lie on the eastern edge of the Klamath Mountains.
Castle Crags Plants and Animals
A wide variety of plant life flourishes in and around the park. At lower elevations ponderosa pines and live and black oaks predominate, whereas up near the base of the Crags, red fir trees grow in abundance. Wildflowers, dispersed throughout the park, peak in late spring and early summer.
Overnight campers could gain firsthand knowledge regarding the presence of bears. An alert observer may also see deer, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, gray foxes, and, especially in the middle and upper reaches of the Crags, mountain lions. In addition, many species of birds live in the park.
Castle Crags: Native American History
Native Americans first inhabited this region, but inevitably came into conflict with “civilized” man’s insatiable desire for land and wealth. The whites’ unsuccessful search for gold in the region during the early 1850s silted up local streams and the Sacramento River, thereby destroying the fish that provided a mainstay of the natives’ diet. This led to clashes and, ultimately, deaths on both sides.
Castle Crags: Mining and Timber History
The coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad along the Sacramento River in the 1880s opened the way for extensive mining and timber operations, and evidence of these activities is found throughout the park. You’ll see old water pipes and flumes, and areas that look as if they were logged many years ago. The park headquarters sit on the site of an old chromium mine, and the Indian Creek Nature Trail briefly passes over some of the mine’s resultant tailings.
Castella/Castle Crags Historical Mineral Springs and Hotels
Hotels in the nearby town of Castella served travelers making their way through the mountains by train or wagon. Also, many area resorts thrived on the reputation of the purported healing powers of mineral water from local springs. Around the turn of the century this water was bottled and marketed as the famous “Castle Rock Natural Mineral Water.”
Castle Crags State Park Hiking Trails, Camping, History: Your Take
Questions/comments about hiking Castle Crags State Park trails, the campground, or about the human and natural history of the area? Leave a comment below…