Castle Rock State Park, CA – A Visitor’s Guide

We’ve visited dozens of state parks during our travels and many of them have been as rewarding as any national park. In 2021, we plan on hitting the road again in an RV. The general plan at this point is to spend at least 3 months exploring California in depth. We’ve already spent months sightseeing in the Golden State, covering most of its gorgeous national parks, as well as many cities, towns and other destinations. It’s time for us to get to know more of the state’s hidden gems, hence this series of posts that we’re working on, exploring California’s state parks.

Moss covered trees growing among rock boulders on a foggy day in California Castle Rock State Park

Starting today with Castle Rock State park, a great little hiking destination in the southern half of the state.

Where is Castle Rock State Park?

You’ll find Castle Rock State Park just off of Highway 9 near Los Gatos, California. Here, California’s warmer climes will make themselves known. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll be able to hike Castle Rock’s trails in relative comfort.

Castle Rock State Park

Getting to Castle Rock State Park

Once you’ve settled in California, you’ll need to make sure that you can easily navigate the state’s many attractions. The good news is that you only have to be 21 to rent a car in California. If you’d rather avoid the hassle, though, you can also take a bus or taxi from Castle Rock’s nearby cities.

The average trip by bus between San Jose and Castle Rock State Park costs between $52 and $70.

How Far is the Park From Santa Cruz?

California is an extensive state. If you want to see as much as possible, you’re going to want to choose one city to use as your home base. Santa Cruz is the perfect place to set up camp if you’re going to see all that Southern California has to offer. Getting from Santa Cruz to Castle Rock State Park takes just over an hour. Once you’re outside of Santa Cruz, you’ll be able to follow CA-17 N until you reach the park. On the way, you can stop at Boulder Creek and San Lorenzo Park, should you need to stretch your legs.

How Far is the Park From San Francisco?

If you’re in San Francisco, you can easily take a day to visit Castle Rock State Park. Take US-101 South out of San Francisco, and you should arrive at the park within an hour. Along the way, you can stop in San Mateo to grab lunch. If you’re in the mood, you can even duck over to San Jose before heading home from the park.

What Is There To Do in This Park?

Once you’ve arrived at Castle Rock State Park, what should you try to do?

Hiking in the Park

Narrow wooden bridge on a hiking trail, Castle Rock State Park

If you’re in a state park, you’re going to want to spend some time on the local trails. Castle Rock State Park specifically boasts a plethora of California flora and fauna that you’ll be free to explore while on the trails.

Some of the best routes to take around Castle Rock State Park include:

  • Castle Rock Trail to Saratoga Gap Trail
  • Ridge Trail Loop
  • Ridge Trail to Goat Rock Overlook and the Emily Smith Observation Point
  • Big Basin and Castle Rock Loop
  • Castle Rock Nature Trail
  • Saratoga Gap to Castle Rock Falls Overlook
  • Skyline to Skyline
  • Castle Rock’s Lower Loop
  • Micheal’s Summit Loop
  • Saratoga Toll Road Trail
  • Indian Rock Loop

Park Events to Attend

There’s more to Castle Rock State Park, though than its expansive trail system. If you want to take a break from the great outdoors, there are plenty of options available to you. Head over to the visitor’s center to explore the interpretive exhibits detailing the park’s history. You can have lunch in the picnic area and explore the native plant zone designed to help California’s local wildlife thrive.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, then you can alternatively spend a day in the park rock climbing: scale Goat Rock, Castle Rock, or Vaqueros Sandstone. Not only will you enjoy the burn, but the view from the top of these outcroppings is hard to beat. You’ll be able to spot the best bouldering and climbing routes courtesy of the park-installed signs. Be sure to bring your gear with you, though, and do note that Castle Rock State Park is not responsible for your safety, should you choose to spend your day climbing.

Additional Questions

What else should you know about Castle Rock State Park before visiting? Let’s dive into some of your burning questions. With a little more information under your belt, you’ll be able to confidently make your way out to the park for a day of fun.

When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit the Park?

If you’re looking to make the most of your California vacation, try to visit between May and September. The weather will be pleasantly warm (though be careful in July!), and the chance of rain will be low. When visiting Castle Rock State Park, you’ll be able to easily take to the trails and explore the natural beauty during these dryer months of the year.

What Time Does the Park Open?

Some national and state parks are open 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, unless you’re camping at Castle Rock State Park, you’re not going to have unlimited access to the park’s amenities. Castle Rock State Park opens at 8 AM every morning and closes at sunset. If you want to stay in the park overnight, you’re going to have to register with one of the park’s backpack trail camps.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Into the Park?

Wooden viewing deck in Castle Rock State Park

General visitors will be able to enter Castle Rock State Park for a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Senior drivers will be able to bring their vehicles into the park for $9 per day.

Are Dogs Allowed at Castle Rock State Park?

Who doesn’t love taking their dog on a hike? Dogs make excellent hiking companions and can make even the most demanding trails a walk in the park. Unfortunately, Castle Rock State Park does not allow you to bring your dogs onto the trails or into the park at all. An exception will be made for services animals, who, even then, will need to be kept on a leash at all times.

When visiting Castle Rock State Park, you’ll also need to leave behind your:

  • Glass containers
  • Cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes
  • Firearms (including BB guns, spears, bows, arrows, and slingshots)
  • Drones

That said, you are allowed to bring bikes and horses into the park. You’re allowed to ride bikes down the Skyline and Service Road trails. You can ride a horse down the designated equestrian trails. You won’t need to let the park know you’re bringing a horse in advance, but be sure to map out your route before hitting the trail.

Where to Stay When Visiting Castle Rock State Park

As mentioned, you’ll want to set up a base of operations when traveling through California. Where should you stay, though, if you want to visit Castle Rock State Park specifically?

You have several options available to you, including the following:

The Backcountry Trail Camp System

If you want to spend a night under the stars, you can always opt to camp in Castle Rock State Park. As of 2019, the campsite was integrated into the broader Backcountry Trail Camp System. Nowadays, it boasts between 15 and 20 campsites that you can reserve before visiting.

Do note, though, that you’ll be roughing it if you choose to camp in Castle Rock. The campsites at the Castle Rock Trail Camp currently don’t have water, meaning that you’ll need to hike to the parking area to fill up for the day. The camp does allow fires in the rainy season, and you can easily purchase wood for $10 at the visitor’s center.

Want to reserve your campsite? Visit the Santa Cruz Mountains Backcountry Trail Camps page to plan your California adventure. 

Wyndham Garden San Jose

For a more refined stay, you can always use San Jose as a base of operations. The city boasts more than its fair share of hotels, B&Bs, and affordable places to stay. One of the best spots for visitors is the Wyndham Garden, San Jose. Two miles away from the local airport, you’ll easily be able to kick your feet up at this visitors’ hotspot. Enjoy access to the business and fitness center, as well as the on-site hot tub. If you’re in the mood for something to eat, you’ll be able to get dinner at the nearby Island Grill.

Each room at the Wyndham Garden San Jose comes equipped with:

  • Air conditioning
  • A coffee machine
  • Television with cable
  • A refrigerator
  • A microwave
  • Free toiletries

Ready to book your room? You can make your Wyndham Garden San Jose reservation through Booking.com.

Hyatt Place San Jose, Downtown

For visitors who want to spend their days at Castle Rock State Park and their nights on the town, nowhere’s better to stay than Hyatt Place San Jose. This downtown hotel gives you immediate access to the hustle and bustle of San Jose while still perfectly positioning you to spend a day in the nearby state park.

Every room in the Hyatt Place San Jose comes equipped with:

  • A 42-inch HD cable television
  • An iPod docking station
  • A compact fridge
  • A coffee maker

Spend your mornings working up a sweat in the fitness center or catching breakfast at the Bakery Cafe. In the evening, you’ll be able to shower after your day at Castle Rock State Park before heading over to the Santana Row Shopping Center.

Ready to book your stay at the Hyatt? You can find rooms all-year-round through Booking.com.

California has a lot to offer. While you’re exploring the Golden State, be sure to visit the national parks that are a little out of the way. Castle Rock State Park is a diamond in the rough. Who knows? Your day visit may turn out to be the highlight of your trip.

More places to see nearby

If you’re in the area, there’s a lot to keep you busy for weeks on end. We’re wrapping up this post with a few links to awesome destinations that are within a coule of hours driving time from this state park –

Best Things To Do In Monterey, CA (A Complete Visitor’s Guide)

Awesome Things To Do In Pinnacles National Park, CA

10 Awesome Self-Drive Day Trips Around Monterey, CA

9 Best Things To Do In San Jose, CA

9 Best Things To Do In Palo Alto, CA

As always, please leave us comments to let us know what you think. We’re looking forward to hearing from locals or other visitors to this park, and learning more from your experiences!

Path leading to the overlook of Castle Rock State Park

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