- Location: Castle Rock State Park
- Date: 17 June 2018
- Distance: 5 miles
- Info: California Department of Parks & Recreation, Portola and Castle Rock Foundation, and the Mountain Project
- Fee: $8, which I got around by parking on the road outside
- Weather: 15°F cooler than I was prepared for
San Francisco’s famous fog isn’t limited to the peninsula. One Friday afternoon, I could see ground-hugging orographic clouds crawling over the Santa Cruz Mountains from my day-job office in the South Bay. The fog lingered through Saturday, perched atop the peaks as far south and west as I could see. By Sunday, there was no discussion. The fog must be hiked.
Forty minutes south of San Jose, and 15°F cooler than the valley floor, Castle Rock State Park is a popular destination for local free climbers. I saw many people trying to ascend the park’s pitted sandstone formations, but the moisture-slicked surfaces gave them trouble.
The park’s visitor center is a hut from which a lone attendant gives information and takes $8 entrance fees. But the parking lot was full, so I parked on Skyline Boulevard, a few minutes away from the entrance. On the plus side, parking outside meant I didn’t have to pay. Ten minutes of waiting for an open spot was worth saving a few bucks.
Unlike my recent hikes, Castle Rock SP has few level stretches of trail, few exposed areas, and no open fields. Where there weren’t trees, there was fog. While San Jose caught ample sunshine, I walked through waves of mist and gentle drizzle. Twice, the trail required scrambling on all fours to get over obstacles.
I followed an easy loop to Castle Rock itself before heading to Goat Rock, my ultimate destination. Groups of people, including an REI-lead tour and a family speaking German, were attempting to scale the fog-soaked sandstone.
Not everyone was happy to be there. As I left the Castle Rock formation, I heard a little girl — single-digits, at a guess — bawling with fear. She’d gotten stuck rappelling a dozen yards off the ground while adults tried to coax her down. Not everyone is Brooke Raboutou.
Goat Rock is a higher climb, less than five miles into the park. At least, I think it is. The atmospheric scenery made judging distances hard. The Saratoga Gap trail descends along a creek that runs through the mountains, before climbing again towards the park’s campsites. Even on a clear day, trees and steep inclines enclose the trail. When I finally reached an open stretch, I was facing south, away from Silicon Valley and into more fog-enshrouded wilderness.
The scenic overlook, wasn’t.
The fog was still thick when I left. But before I reached the highway, I was back under clear skies and brilliant sunshine.
For next time
- Black Road, which leads to the park from Highway 17, has many tight switchbacks. The road sometimes narrows to one undivided lane. Use caution when driving through dense fog.
- Parking is limited, even on Skyline Boulevard and the meager overflow space. If possible, arrive early.
- The trails aren’t difficult, but aren’t casual strolls, either. This is not a park for wheels or city dogs.
- In foggy conditions, expect the park temperature to fall 15–20°F lower than the Valley, and dress accordingly. I need a new rain jacket. And maybe a water-resistant hat.