Between a Rock and a Hard Place:
That’s Castle Rock State Park
By Kathy Chin Leong
WHOOSH! The violent whooshing waters of Castle Rock Falls is one of the hallmarks of this wooded state park sequestered in the lofty elevations of Los Gatos off Highway 35. Even more stately and surreal are its humongous lichen-covered boulders that resemble faces, walls of swiss cheese, giant bowling balls, and Flintstone dwellings. While Castle Rock is a climber’s paradise, ordinary mortals find the formations fascinating to admire and photograph. The snapshots seem truly like something out of a George Orwell sci-fi novel.
Hikes in this densely-layered forest range from the kid-friendly such as the .2 mile walk to Castle Rock to the experts-only Skyline-to-the-Sea trail which is 28.2 miles long. It starts at the park entrance and concludes at Waddell Beach, a part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
One of the most popular paths is the .8 trek to Castle Rock Falls and Overlook , lined with curvaceous switchbacks, one fairly steep, but manageable trail, and plank-covered bridges over a sputtering creek. The hike is of medium difficulty and rewards each participant with a platform lookout of the panoramic San Lorenzo Valley. At the same time, hikers not prone to vertigo can look down and witness the roaring falls careering over a sheer drop. An adventure through Castle Rock is calesthenics for the senses.
Listen for the sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet. Stop often to admire the sinewy arms of the madrones and the trendrils of moss-covered douglas firs that arch downwards at eye level. A grove of knuckled boulders over ten feet high seem to have erupted from ground and maintain an other-worldly feel. The scent of fir adds to the wonderment. Who needs aromatherapy when you can come here?
THE NITTY GRITTY
Staffed by California State park rangers, Castle Rock is free to pedestrians and motorists pay a $6 parking fee at the main lot. Free parking can be found outside the park kiosk along Hwy 35. Walk-in backpack camping costs $10 per night. Of the two campgrounds, the Castle Rock Trail Camp offers 20 sites on a first-come, first-served basis. The second, Waterman Gap Trail camp, features 6 sites which must be reserved in advance.
And, according to Calif. State park ranger Miles Standish, this is a popular venue for rock climbers and boulderers. As he explains it, "The boulderers are different from the rock climbers, for they stay typically within 9-10 feet above ground and do not use ropes. They bring crash pads and practice by jumping off the boulders and falling on the pads. Certain rocks are more useful for bouldering than others."
All sorts of rock climbing is hazardous, he warns. "Our job is to protect the park, and help people who hurt themselves. They climb at their own risk," he says. Nevertheless, commerical rock climbing classes come as do the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other non-profits for scaling the boulders.
Bathrooms at the park are relegated to pit toilets, and there are no fresh water facilities except at the camp grounds. Do bring your own water. During summer, the park kiosks sometimes sells bottled water.
Directions: From San Jose, get on Highway 9 towards Santa Cruz. Make a left on Highway 35. Castle Rock State Park is located on Highway 35, 2.5 miles on the southeast junction of Highway 9. Address: 15000 Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos. Phone: 408/867-2952.
Hours of operation: 6 a.m. until sunset, daily.
Trails : Skyline-to-the-Sea-Trail; Saratoga Gap Trail, Castle Rock Falls and Overlook
Level of difficulty: Easy to difficult; some steep grades.
Terrain : Trees, boulders, creeks, waterfall.
Shade rating : (1 to 5 being most shady) 4
Special features: Grove of boulders and interesting rock formations, views of Pacific Ocean, backpacking and camping, Castle Rock Falls.
OF NOTE: Free parking on roadside or else it's $6 at the main lot.
Contact: www.parks.ca.gov . for photos and more information on hikes.
Kathy Chin Leong loves to hike and visited Castle Rock State Park for the first time to write this article.
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