Explore California: Celebrate the New Expansion of Castle Rock State Park! | Cal Parks
Published: August 24, 2023

Autumn is approaching, and with it comes a brilliant array of colors, crisp air, and the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities. Castle Rock State Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is renowned for its magnificent views of Monterey Bay and the San Lorenzo Valley, exquisite sandstone formations, challenging hiking trails, and rich biodiversity. It is now even more enticing with its new expansion of its parklands! 

Thanks to the Sempervirens Fund, California's first land trust dedicated to protecting the Santa Cruz Mountains redwood forests, California State Parks and the nonprofit organization have unveiled a significant acquisition of six properties to the park. Totaling over 222 acres, this marks the first park expansion by the state agency in the Santa Cruz Park District since 2011 and the first in the entire state since 2021. 

To celebrate this momentous occasion that will make the already exceptional park and redwood forest more easily visitable, we have compiled a list of must-do autumn activities in the park that everyone can enjoy!

Castle Rock State Park
Fall Views of Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop from Castle Rock State Park in California at Noon.

Activities to Enjoy at the Park  

1. Hike in the New Park Areas 

With the new expansion, there will be miles added to the park’s already extensive trail system! These new areas include the 33-acre Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance (Map) that not only opens miles of new trails to explore, but also provides state-of-the-art facilities, such as an amphitheater, parking, gender-neutral flush toilets, and accessible pathways and picnic areas. 

Are you hiking along the 30-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail? One of the most popular backpacking routes in the Bay Area, the trail connects Castle Rock State Park to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It will now be joined at the newly acquired Castle Rock West, an important stopover for backpackers just north of the Waterman Gap campground! 

Read about the new expansion of Castle Rock State Park here.

2. Explore the Fall Foliage and Wildlife  

In the fall, Castle Rock State Park transitions into a peaceful retreat, with fewer crowds and a softer palette of colors. Deciduous trees, such as the protected California black oak, trade their lush green for shades of gold and red, creating a picturesque, tranquil setting. Autumn is an excellent time to spot local wildlife, such as black-tailed deer and bobcats, preparing for winter.    

Suppose you head towards the redwood forest habitat in Castle Rock West. In that case, you may stumble on many plants and wildlife, including rare species such as the San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat, pileated woodpecker, and Santa Cruz black salamander. Mountain lions have even been spotted in the area, so be sure to be aware! This section of the park experiences cooler microclimates than other areas due to its north-facing slopes and riparian areas, making it a unique landscape that will likely experience lower climate change effects and possibly provide a future “climate change refuge” for many species. 

Check out what plants and wildlife you may spot while visiting Castle Rock State Park. 

 Castle Rock State Park
Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail Hike in Castle Rock State Park. Taken by Franki T via. Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0. https://flic.kr/p/XgUr7L


3. Tred Through the Park’s Accessible Trails 

Castle Rock State Park is committed to ensuring visitors enjoy its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, including ADA-accessible trails and park features!  

The Whole Access Trail is a 0.08 mile-long (each way) trail that will lead you to an outstanding vista from the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains. Don't forget to pack a picnic to enjoy the views from the tables at the trail's end!  

Want to learn more about the native plants of the park? Visit the northmost portion of Castle Rock Trail, a 0.08-mile-long trail starting from the Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance to the park. The northernmost portion of the Castle Rock Trail loops around a native plant garden tended by the Amah Mutsun Land Trust and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, illustrating how Native peoples use local plants for medicinal and other purposes. Picnic tables are accessible along the loop, as is the amphitheater at the entrance offering a higher perspective of the forest. 

Learn more about the park’s accessibility features here.

4. Challenge Your Rock Climbing Skills  

Castle Rock State Park is an incredible rock climbing destination. Climbers have been scaling the park's outcrops of Vaqueros sandstone — such as Castle Rock and Goat Rock — for nearly a century. Between 30 and 40 million years old, the Vaqueros sandstone displays erosional patterns known as tafoni to form honeycomb-like pockets in the coarse grains of cemented sand. The patterns paired with the stone’s relatively hard exterior make it excellent for beginners and seasoned climbers to test their skills.  

Remember to recreate responsibly when engaging in activities such as rock climbing. To preserve the character of these unique sandstone formations and minimize impact the park requires low impact climbing and supports “Leave No Trace” practices. Please properly dispose of all trash and protect the park’s natural resources.  

Memorize these important rules before rock climbing at a California state park.

Tafoni at Castle Rock State Park. Taken by Dawn Endico via. Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0. https://flic.kr/p/cffSz5

We are very excited about the new expansion of Castle Rock State Park. Acquiring these areas is not just about added acreage, but about preserving California's diverse habitats and offering more recreational opportunities to visitors. This is a step forward to ensure the protection of vital watersheds, wildlife corridors, and stunning vistas — and acts as a testament to the collaborative effort between the state of California and local nonprofits to protecting and preserving the park's diverse ecosystem and recreational significance for all. 

So, this autumn, immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of Castle Rock State Park and make the most of its new offerings. We hope to see you in the parks!