Castle Rock State Park – Short Backpack Outings for Scouts

What backpacking outings make a young Scout want to keep doing this? I’m posting some of my favorites from my area, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area. These work as anyone’s first backpacking trip, but emphasize group camping areas and short, fun trips.

Castle Rock State Park

  • 2.8 miles between the trailhead and camp
  • -1200 feet to campsite, +1200 feet back

Castle Rock trail camp has 20 sites in two separated areas. This is an ideal place for patrols to camp separately, with the adults in another campsite. The campsites have water. Firewood is available for $7 per bundle at the campsite (bring exact change). Check the fire hazard warnings before going, because campfires are only allowed in the rainy season.

Pay fees at the (unstaffed) parking lot. Bring exact change to put in the envelope. The flap goes on your windshield and the money goes in the “iron ranger” (a pipe with a slot). Fees are $15/site (up to six people), which includes parking for one vehicle. Extra vehicles are $10 each. Campsites are first-come, first served. I’ve never seen all the sites full, even on busy spring weekends. Campsites are numbered 1-5 (Frog Flat area) and 11-25 (main camp).

A ranger will come by in the evening to check on you, so don’t have a campfire during fire season.

Most campsite information is in the Castle Rock SP campground map. Additional info, including fees, is on the Skyline-to-the-Sea campsites info sheet, because the camp is part of that longer trail.

There are two trails to the trail camp, the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Ridge Trail. The Saratoga Gap Trail is dramatic, with most of it overlooking the San Lorenzo valley. On a very clear day, you can see to Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay. On a regular day there is a deep plunge at your feet and a view across ridges towards the sea. The Ridge Trail goes through a variety of forest areas, a large meadow, and has a short side trail to a lookout from the edge of the ridge.

You can hike a loop, going out on the Saratoga Gap Trail and coming back on the Ridge Trail. Go over this with your SPL beforehand. Our Scouts always seem to want to go back on exactly the same train they came in on.

Saratoga Gap Trail

Castle Rock SP has impressive stands of poison oak, on the trail and around some campsites. This is an excellent place for identifying poisonous plants. The two trails go through very different biological areas, giving a wide variety of plants, including wildflowers in the spring.

Castle Rock is also a great rock climbing area, so you may want to hire a climbing instructor and equipment for your trip. The climbing area is closer to the trailhead than to the camp, so you may want to break camp and meet your climbing crew at the rocks.

I have a soft spot for Castle Rock, because that was my son’s first backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts. Our troop goes there almost every year.

For more details, I recommend One Night Wilderness: San Francisco Bay Area by Matt Heid.

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