Guest Post: A Visit to Castle Rock State Park


This is my first post on the CalParks blog.  As an East Coast native exploring many of the California state parks for the first time, I wanted to share a fantastic day trip to Castle Rock, which is now one of my favorite California parks.  While everyone visits state parks for different reasons, it’s our shared joy of what they offer that helps create a community and preserve them for the future.  Thanks to the CalParks team for letting me post this and for the work you do every day to help our parks!

Castle Rock trees covered in moss.

Castle Rock State Park jumped to the top of my list of hikes to explore a few weeks ago. I had learned from a friend that the park’s odd-shaped boulders and cliffs have been the stomping grounds for some of the world’s best rock climbers. Reading more about the park, I quickly discovered that Castle Rock is an equally special place for back-packers and day-trippers who love the park’s vistas, Douglas Firs, and wildlife.

This last Saturday I finally got to join the ranks of visitors as a few friends and I woke up early, bought oranges, and made the two-hour trip south from San Francisco to Castle Rock.

The park is now one of my favorites.

Dripping Wet, A Park Transformed

During a weirdly dry California winter, the Saturday we visited Castle Rock was one of the wettest days of the season. We arrived at the park to find it socked in by clouds and mist, leaving every nook and cranny cool and damp. Still, the parking lot was packed with excited hikers not minding the weather.  Before we took off we ran into a large Boy Scout troop hurriedly waterproofing their backpacks with plastic covers and getting ready for an overnight trip, all with big smiles on their face.

Castle Rock itself is covered in moss.  It hangs from overhead branches, and is attached to the trunks and limbs of nearly every tree you pass.  With the greenness of the park, you get the sense that so close to the Pacific, the park is in its most natural state with a bit of rain and fog.  For me, one of the best parts of the hike was getting to the top of the Saratoga Gap. We looked out over the famous vista and instead of an ocean view, were treated to a wall of fog, slowly marching up the cliff.  While not the traditional vista, after a tough hike, the lookout into the abyss of fog was incredible in its own way.

So Many Different People

One of the most shocking things to me about Castle Rock is the diversity of people who visit the park.  From hardcore rock climbers to day-tripping families, the park offers something for everyone.

On our trip we ran into a group of European trail runners, college students playing in the caves of Goat Rock, and photographers snapping close ups of the fauna.  At just over 5,000 acres of preserved wilderness, it really is amazing how much seclusion and adventure the park can provide to so many different people.

Hiking required ponchos on this soggy day.

A Bit of Urgency

Ultimately, our trip was marked with a sense of urgency given that Castle Rock is one of 70 California State Parks whose budget has been cut and whose fate lies in limbo.  The park now depends on community and non-profit support to carry on.  After visiting Castle Rock, I couldn’t imagine a future without it, and hope we can all pitch in to help it live on.  Otherwise I look forward to traveling down to Castle Rock again soon and seeing a new side of the park, on a clear day.  I would love to hear your stories or thoughts on the park. Feel free to share them below.


Nathan Parcells is a life-long backpacker and outdoorsman.  After interning for both the National Park Conservation Association and National Audubon Society, Nathan moved from his hometown of Bethesda to San Francisco to start, a company that helps students find internships with a focus on non-profits.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Visit to Castle Rock State Park

  1. Pingback: CALIFORNIA: Trip review – A visit to Castle Rock State Park | State parks |

  2. Nathan,
    beautiful post, thank you. We are in the midst of an active (and we believe in the end will be successful) campaign to keep this park open/

    Please visit us at or on facebook Save Portola Redwoods and Castle Rocks State Parks or email me at to discuss, however we hope you will honk your horn to support our efforts!
    Thank you again for a beautiful post.



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