If you’ve ever taken Interstate 5 north toward Mount Shasta, you’ve probably cruised by an inconspicuous brown sign alerting you to the exit for Castle Crags State Park. While many people miss it on their way to the Oregon border, those who take the time to stop will find it worth their while.
The park is named after the row of granite spires that reach up from the surrounding mountain landscape, towering more than 6,000 feet in the air. The rock formations were created by volcanic activity more than 170 million years ago.
The best way to get there is the Crags Trail, also known as the Castle Dome Trail – a mostly uphill, out-and-back trek that’s somewhere between 4 and 6 miles total depending on how far you go. The first 1 1/2 miles of the trail is a series of switchbacks twisting through a dense forest, gradually increasing in gradient. Hikers who get to the top will experience an elevation change of about 2,000 feet.
As you near the tree line, you’ll see an option to turn off for Indian Springs, which can either be your final destination or a detour on your way to higher ground. The path to the springs emerges from the trees, offering a breathtaking view of the crags on your left as you scamper around the rocks at their base. Make your way around the formation and into another swath of forest, where you’ll soon find a storybook spring where water drips from the snow cap over green moss and glimmering rocks.
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Adventure seekers can return to the Crags Trail and continue the journey toward Castle Dome, one of the roundest, most identifiable members of the crag lineup. After another mile of walking and a steep, rocky scramble, hikers will be rewarded with a spectacular close-up view of the geological formation.
Where to park: Vista Point lot in Castle Crags State Park, 20022 Castle Creek Road, Castella.
What to bring: Lots of water and a walking stick, if you need it for steep gradients
Cost: $10 fee at park entrance