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California Adventures

Castle Crags: The Classic California Experience

The Interstate 5 highway — through the California Adventure District — is a remarkable place. If you’ve ever driven this corridor, it’s apparent that beauty and discovery lurks around every curve.

Going north on I-5, towards the Tehama-Shasta County line, presents travelers with a dynamic scene: the Trinity Alps, Bolly Range, and Coastal Range rise to the left, Lassen National Park’s volcanic mass on the right, and front and center is the icon of the district, Mount Shasta. Motorists and explorers dive down into the region’s adventure capital, Redding, at the base of these mountains and wildernesses.

Continuing on towards Mount Shasta, and one of the first major features are the impressive granite spires of the Castle Crags. These 6,000 foot massifs, part of the broader Klamath Mountains, are quite obvious from the highway, and invite a sense of wonder and intrigue.

This dramatic enclave of peaks is largely inaccessible to hikers, but you’ll get a great taste of the Castle Crags on Castle Dome Trail.

Castle Dome — one of these massifs — sits at 4,996 feet, and is a popular climbing destination in the California Adventure District. This will be the focus of today’s adventure: highlighting where Castle Crags is, how to get there, what to bring, and the incredible views from this vantage point.

Wake up, Adventure!

Charlie, a guest in the CAD Crew, doing his thing at Castle Crags State Park, California!

The CAD team is doing the exploration today. Join us on our objective to Castle Dome. With a roundtrip mileage of 5.5 miles and an elevation gain of 2,400 feet, this hike is built for the beginner as well as seasoned adventurer.

We set off from our home base in Redding, CA. This climb is always a pleasure, because it’s so close and accessible within a day’s time. We certainly can still get our beauty sleep and have time to push our limits.

Before we set off for the Crags, we stop in at Country Organics for some berry chocolate crepes, a smoothie, and nutrition bars. This is a favorite store of ours, because it has nutritiously dense food in a deli and juice bar format, as well as a grocery store to find snacks and produce. Our favorite food for lunch tends to be ready-made Everyday Daal packets and a rice/bean mix. Additionally, Organic Food Bar can be found here, and has the best tasting protein bar I’ve ever had.

We start our drive into the mountains on I-5. We wind through and over Shasta Lake, one of the premier recreation destinations in the District. Throughout this drive, there are views around every corner: the Gray Rock’s striking granite array, Mount Shasta’s massive aura, and the quaint rolling hills with homesteads dotting the landscape.

Castle Dome is part of the Castle Crags’ granite array. The geology of this region is quite peculiar, and invites intrigue! Accessibility is located just off I-5 in Far Northern California. PC: Bubba Seuss of

Within 35 minutes, we hit the Castella highway exit. The entrance, located just 45 miles north of Redding and 15 miles south of Mount Shasta, has easy accessibility. A left turn takes us past a Chevron and general store.  If you were to take this road past the main entrance, you would end up on the southside of the Crags, where the PCT and other access points are located. If you go to the roads’ end, you would end up in the ‘other’ Gray Rocks Range and Tamarack Lake (a trip we will explore later). The main point here is, there is A LOT of adventuring that can be done!

The Castle Crags State Park entrance is the first right turn off the highway. This portion of the State Park is here to provide camp sites, amenities, information, and easy accessibility (**note that there is an entrance fee here**). The Wilderness portion of the park is where the actual Castle Crags are situated.

From the main state park office, the road is paved through a large campground and ends at a parking lot. This parking lot is the gateway to 28 miles of hiking trails and even more off-trail excursions into the Crags themselves.

  • The trailhead is fully surrounded by a pine forest and mountainous terrain. There’s also a vista point here, with views of Mount Shasta through the trees — alluding to what’s to come. The trailhead sign displays directions to the Crags themselves, Castle Dome, Indian Springs spur, and other features around the park.

Castle Crags trail system from the main trailhead entrance. The Castle Dome Trail will take us to our destination for the day!

Before we set off on the trail, we check our gear:

  • Daypack (15-30 liters)
  • Water Reservoir or Water Bottles
  • Hiking Clothes: hiking pants, hiking shirt, rain jacket, fleece sweater, hiking socks, and hat
  • Hiking Shoes (with good traction!) – Approach Shoes are recommended for the Dome
  • GPS
  • Hiking Poles
  • Sun Glasses
  • Sunscreen

**In regards to shoes, keep in mind that safety can be a concern going up and down Castle Dome. Shoes in good condition and meant for hiking are required to maintain good traction on these granite slopes. Non-hiking shoes or shoes in bad condition may get you to the base of Castle Dome, but not up the Dome itself. This is an epic hike/climb, and the right shoes (especially Approach Shoes) will make this excursion well worth the extra cost!**

Josh looking up at the goal, while Sam and Leah are close behind. There is not too much to be disappointed about in the Castle Crags Wilderness…

Directions: From Redding or the Central Valley, take Interstate 5 North to the Castella Exit. Take a left, passed a Chevron/general store, and then the next right into the Castle Crags State Park entrance. From Oregon or Mount Shasta, take Interstate 5 South to the Castella Exit.

Pit Stop: Country Organics, in Redding, CA

Note: **Entrance Fee**

General Trail Statistics:

  • Trailhead Elevation: 2,600 feet (792 m)
  • Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet (732 m)
  • Summit Elevation: 4,966 ft (1,514 m)
  • Trail Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 6.5 miles (10.5 km)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

Castle Dome Trail

The first part of our journey will take us on the Castle Dome Trail, which is also aptly named the Castle Crags Trail. Either way, this main trail will take us to a front-row seat of the rest of the Crags. The official end of the trail is below Castle Dome, but an additional 250 feet of Class 4 scrambling and rock hopping leads to outstanding views of the California Adventure District and a climbing accomplishment.

An early left turn is made to continue our quick ascent up the forest floor. Be cognizant in the beginning, because heading down Root Creek Trail will lead to a different region of the park.

Elevation gain happens quickly in this first mile of the trail. Soon enough, there is an opening, which affords our first major view of the day: the Gray Rocks.

Josh snapping a view of the snowy Gray Rocks Range, in California Adventure District! The Castle Crags’ granite spires are just off camera, to the right.

At this time of the year (February), the Gray Rocks are still covered in a thick blanket of snow, which provides an almost-mystical feeling. As always, my mind wanders into this diverse landscape, thinking about my next adventure. For now, we observe the mind-boggling variety of mountain ranges that are presented in this view.

The next feature of the trip is a special add-on, which I believe needs to be seen. The Indian Springs Spur, at the next junction, offers the ability to visit natural springs. This is a sacred place, and it is known that Native Americans used these springs for clean water.

This quick, tenth of a mile hike, ends at the springs. In the hot summer months, this is a fantastic spot to cool off. Fresh water from right underneath the Crags flows down granite slabs here, and also provides the water source for the Castle Crags Campground.

Getting back on the main trail, and we immediately start gaining elevation. For a 2.8 mile one-way trip, the journey is short, but the trail ascends a majority of the time. The impressive aspect of the Crags is the ability to explore this landscape without having to spend an entire day in the wilderness. If we have to get back to Redding for dinner, this trail’s time would allow it.

The views really start opening up at the wilderness boundary. This national forest system’s designated sign is evident on the trail and marks the boundary between the State Park and Wilderness Area (owned by the US Forest Service).

The view from the Wilderness Sign. This scene is where the National Forest System boundary is located — providing a special view for what’s to come!

In typical California Adventure District fashion, the entire landscape changes with just one bend in the trail.

This scene is exceptional. Castle Dome’s granite face rises up from the Sacramento River Valley, which then begins the Castle Crag’s granite spire landscape. Rolling hills are displayed in contrast, leading up to Mount Shasta’s enormous prominence in the distance.

From this point forward, our pace quickens. We ascend up countless granite stairs, and maneuver through corridors of granite fortresses. As we hike through this area, I keep thinking about how much time I could spend exploring all these nooks and crannies. This is indeed an adult playground!

We emerge into an open vantage point, where a largely pine forest has turned into thick areas of manzanita bushes. This is the end of the official trail and the view where we always find ourselves in utter surprise.

The Final Push to Castle Dome

Sam Furey observing Castle Dome’s huge relief. The top of that granite spire is the objective for today! As a tip (from this perspective), looking at the bottom right of Castle Dome, there is an easy way up to the small plateau. Make sure to scramble this way up and around to the southeast face!

The Crags are on full display here. Massive granite faces are bursting from the ground, and areas of snow and ice fill the highest cracks and gulches. This striking display almost seems like it was placed here for a reason — allowing explorers to view what wilderness looks like.

We take a 15 minute break at the base of Castle Dome: staying hydrated, munching on our protein bars, taking pictures of Mount Shasta and the surrounding landscape, as well as portraits of each other.

At this juncture between the hike and impending climb, we find it important to analyze the gear we will need, the easy availability of that gear in our pack, and making certain that we feel comfortable going up that large granite dome in our footwear.

If I wasn’t already wearing approach shoes, I would change into the La Sportiva TX2. These are my preferred type of footwear for granite scrambling and give me that comfort and safety to maximize my joy. Additionally, these approach shoes can double as a hiking and climbing shoe.

With mind and camera ready, we start the Class 4 scramble up the ‘regular route’ to the top of Castle Dome. This first part is straightforward, with simple navigation up grooves in the granite.

A view from the slopes of Castle Dome, looking southward. In the valley below, one can see Interstate 5 heading towards Redding and the Central Valley. What an incredible perspective!

We plateau around to the east face, where dwarf pines make their home. Every face is very exposed on Castle Dome, adding to the complexity of the climb. Because of this reality, it can be a bit confusing at times to find the ‘right’ way to go. While there is no perfect route, a few specific areas are better than others.

At the small plateau, a crevice jutting from the east face will present itself to the keen eye. It will be more obvious which crevice is the most appropriate, due to the climb involved.

If done right, this crevice will top out at a section where notches and ‘stairs’ are present. At this point, you could go up these notches. While these are obvious ‘stairs,’ the exposure might be too much for the under-experienced person.

Another option would be to take granite grooves protruding to the right from the ‘stairs.’ Either way will lead to easier climbing and of course, the best part: summit fever.

Summit Fever!

At the top of Castle Dome! There are unimpeded views of the Gray Rocks, Castle Crags spires to the right, and Mount Shasta behind me.

The top of Castle Dome is a sacred experience. As is the case with any summit experience, that euphoric feeling provides an unparalleled level of confidence. Due to the dome’s separation from the other Crags, the views are quite surreal. Our gaze is enveloped by each individual Crag. The view only gets better from the base, and provides an unimpeded view of Mount Shasta to the north, the Gray Rocks to the south, and the Castle Crags in all their glory.

The crazy part? Our group of four people were the only ones up there and only a handful of parties were hiking on this late winter day. Considering the views, I feel fortunate to live in a region where I can access these beautiful wild areas in relative solitude.

Overall, the Castle Dome Trail is a hike and climb where new perspectives can be attained and limits can be pushed. The hike portion is doable for just about anyone. The climb portion does create extra sensations and can be tough at times, but for the beginner looking to get into basic bouldering, this is a great mountain to start on. The advanced climber will still find a fun objective, with incredible views to boot.

There aren’t many places in the world that can boast such awe-inspiring vantage points AND less crowds. The top of Castle Dome shows its great qualities, with three distinct landscapes and rock types within view, simple trail accessibility, and a special wilderness reputation. Consider Castle Crags and the greater California Adventure District for your next adventure!

THE Castle Crags — Climb On!!