6.5 miles, Half day
With lush woods, gorgeous vistas, challenging trails and remarkable stone formations, Castle Rock State Park is a highlight reel for hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You'll find a fascinating mix to trees -- gnarled oaks, towering Douglas firs, bark-shedding madrones -- but the rocks steal the show. Large formations called "tafoni" (which look like the work of honeybees on steroids) formed over eons as weathering processes gradually reshaped the stone.
Castle Rock is the most notable tafoni formation, but there are many more in the park.
This hike starts from the park's main parking lot, heading first to Castle Rock, then picking up Saratoga Gap Trail, stopping at Trail Camp, and returning on the Ridge Trail. It's not a hike for beginners -- the trail is narrow and gnarly in a few places, and the ample ups and downs create a good workout.
Best time to go: Winter, when the crowds thin out (though this hike can be done all year). Note it can be quite cold here in winter -- snow may blanket the park when big minter storms blow through.
Hiking poles come in handy on this hike.
Trail Camp is popular with local Scout troops, most of whom are returning on Sunday mornings. The kids are generally well-behaved, but they can move in large packs.
A gun club about a mile up the road is most audible on the Ridge Trail -- it's best to hike this section of the trail last, so your hike does not open to the sound of gunfire.
Watch for poison oak on narrow sections of the trail.
What to bring:
Clothing in layers
Paper map (available in the parking lot kiosk if it's staffed).