Castle Crags is a prominent rock formation in Northern California, United States, located 40 miles (64km) east of Interstate 5 and south of the Sacramento River. The crags are part of Castle Crags Provincial Park which lies within Shasta County and Glenn County. The crags consist primarily of quartzite with some granite intrusions. They rise to nearly 600 feet (180m) above the surrounding countryside, and stretch for approximately one mile along both banks of Slippery Rock Creek. The park contains about 1,500 acres (610ha), much of it forested.
The main feature of Castle Crags is Castle Crag itself, at its western end. This is a large monolith measuring 230 by 130 feet (70 by 50m). It rises to 550 feet (170m) above the level of the creek. At its base, Castle Crags measures 400 by 250 feet (120 by 80m). East of Castle Crags there are two smaller crags named North Peak and South Peak. These are both monoliths; North Peak measures 200 by 100 feet (61 by 31m) and has an elevation of 375 feet (114m); South Peak is 150 by 75 feet (46 by 23m) and reaches an elevation of 450 feet (140m). Between these three major features there are numerous subsidiary crags and boulders. In total there are 21 identified crags and boulders in Castle Crags alone, 19 of which can be seen from the Skyline Boulevard trail. A number of climbing routes exist on the crags, ranging from easy to difficult. One of the easier routes leads visitors up the face of Castle Crag through what appears to be solid stone, but is actually a thin layer of mortar holding together small stones.
Another popular route follows a crack system up the side of Castle Crag. Other less common routes include a direct line to the summit from the parking area, and a more difficult variation that involves scrambling across the top of Castle Crag via a narrow ridge. There are also many boulder problems present, including several good-sized boulders near the middle of the crags.
On sunny days, especially those toward the end of summer, there may be enough sunlight to allow visitors to see multiple colors in the quartzite formations around the crags. Visitors often use flashlights to help locate the various hues in the dark crevices and pockets. Castle Crags offers excellent views of the Sacramento Valley, the Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Over 700 different wild flowers have been recorded here. Because of their proximity to residential areas, most climbers are required to register with local authorities and leave word about where they plan to climb and when they plan to return. Many established routes are available throughout the year, though access is limited during winter due to snow and freezing temperatures. Summer months bring larger crowds than fall or spring. Castle Crags was one of 70 state parks slated to close in 2012 due to budget cuts, prompting hundreds of volunteers to step up to keep the parks open instead.
Those closures were ultimately avoided by cutting hours and maintenance system-wide. Castle Crags’ annual visitation numbers have increased significantly since the early 1990s, from roughly 20,000 people per year to nearly 90,000. While this increase has brought with it greater environmental impact, the overall effect has been positive, leading to improvements in land management practices and reduced waste generation. Despite these gains, significant challenges remain. For example, while the quantity of trash generated annually has decreased, the quality of the trash has worsened, resulting from careless disposal of plastic water bottles and food wrappers among other things. Additionally, public lands in general suffer from poor visitor amenities, including unkempt trails and outdated signage.
Castle Crags Provincial Park consists of four separate units totaling 788 acres (311ha), managed cooperatively by the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Land Management. Two of the parcels are adjacent to each other, with Skyline Blvd. running through the center of the north unit and Big Basin Road dividing the south unit. The two southernmost parcels are much larger than the others, containing almost all of the important features of the crags, including the tallest crag, Castle Crag.
The northern unit contains most of the minor features of the crags, including North Peak, South Peak, and Sheeprock Ridge. The units are connected by hiking trails and roadways, allowing visitors to move easily between them. Access is possible year round, 24/7, without weather restrictions. Camping is allowed in designated areas, subject to availability. Dogs are permitted if kept under control, and must be leashed at all times.
No horses or bicycles are allowed. Mountain bikes are permitted in certain parts of the park, away from roads and trails. Hunting is not allowed inside the park, only outside it. The primary hunting zone is west of Highway 299, south of Lake Tahoe, and east of U.S. Route 395. White tail deer, squirrels, pheasant, turkey, and rabbits may be hunted legally. To ensure adequate supplies of fur-bearing animals, non-hunted wildlife, and habitat, no dogs are allowed off-leash. Violators will be fined $250.00 and their pets will be impounded.
The park’s campground has 44 sites divided into:
- tent sites
- group campsites
Modern restrooms facilities with hot showers are provided. Drinking water and garbage bins are conveniently located nearby. Outhouses are provided in appropriate locations. Campsites should be reserved in advance. Group camping takes place in the large grassy yard area, and may take advantage of the ample space for tents, trailers, and RVs. Yurts provide a rustic alternative to traditional RV camping. Each yurt accommodates 4-6 people in 2 bunk beds and 2 single bunks.
All bedding and towels are furnished. Kitchenware and eating utensils are provided. Bathrooms facilities include shower, toilet, sink and heat. Laundry facilities are provided in a building next door to the yurt area. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through Reserve America. The park hosts many events, including weddings, company picnics, family reunions, birthday parties, holiday events, etc. As a result, advanced registration is highly recommended. Parking fees are in effect during weekends in July and August.
The entrance fee is waived for children 14 and younger and their accompanying adults. Pets are prohibited in the campgrounds and yurts. No fires are allowed in the backcountry. Backpackers are not permitted to camp overnight. Day use only is permitted in the backcountry.
Wildlife observed includes:
- black bear
- red foxes
- gray foxes
- kit foxes