Hiking in Northern California: Castle Rock

California never ceases to amaze me. It’s  ranked as the #1 state in terms of beauty and for the lovers of the outdoors, it is a mecca for hiking. I wish I never left California but because of the housing boom and the incredibly high prices, my husband and I chose to live in Texas after our six-year expat stint in Japan—a decision we made 15 years ago I now regret. My family first migrated to a suburb in Los Angeles when I was fifteen years old. I loved the racial and cultural diversity of SoCal (Southern California) that makes the city more colorful, vibrant, and exciting. LA is made up of several ethnic enclaves such as K-town (Korean), J-town (Japanese), Filipinotown, Little Saigon, little Armenian, Little Ethiopia, Thaitown, and more—an example of its multicultural character. Something I’ve been missing out living in Texas. 

Lombard Street in San Francisco

Northern California is just as beautiful and as culturally refined. If SoCal has LA, the beaches and Hollywood, NorCal has San Francisco, the winery, and Silicon Valley. The weather in the south is similar to a mediterranean climate whereas it is much colder in the north. I have always preferred Southern California over Northern California during my younger years but since hiking became a big part of my life, I discovered the northern side is abundant in natural beauty and great for outdoor pursuits.

the views from our drive to Big Basin

the route to Big Basin was a zig zag two-lane road with great scenery

 My cousin and I  originally planned to hike Mission Peak. But because of the unusually hot weather that day in the Bay Area, we ditched that idea since Mission Peak’s trails do not provide shade (unfortunately due to the over cutting of trees). We drove to Big Basin Redwoods but the usual route was closed for traffic and the reroute would add an extra 30 minutes to our drive. Thus we decided to hike at Castle Rock.


We weren’t disappointed because Castle Rock, located in the Santa Cruz mountains, is abundant in solitude and wilderness. Not to mention the high cliffs and sweeping vistas where visitors enjoy a panoramic views of Monterey Bay. 


The hike can be tailored to one’s ability. There are different options to choose from on a day hike: 1, 3, 5, 6 mile loops or a 9.3 miles to Waterman Gap Trail Camp (which is 5 hours one way). The trails connect to nearby state parks and open preserves, allowing visitor travel from skyline to the sea. I met a young man who will backpack the 30-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, which will take him from Castle Rock State Park to Big Basin to Waddel Beach. I asked where he would be spending nights, he said he will sleep on the beach. I wished him luck and watched him leave for his adventure. 


We met a volunteer who accompanied us in the first hour of our hike (she later proceeded to Goat Trail, a 5-mile loop). We were pressed with time so we just wanted to do the 3-mile loop. I haven’t gone on long walks for probably over a month now (since I found out I couldn’t go to Nepal, my motivation wore off). My cousin and I were panting in the beginning of the hike since the trail was an uphill climb. The volunteer was wondering why we were short of breath “at a young age” (she assumed we were college-aged women)! We laughed and told her we weren’t as young as she thought we were. That made our day and inspired us to walk faster! 😄


The volunteer left the two of us us to navigate on our own. We realized it’s easy to get lost in the wilderness because the directions in the trails weren’t as clearly marked. We suspected we were lost when we couldn’t locate the waterfalls but found the rock where we can take photos of the stunning view. The park ranger warned us in the beginning to be careful when taking our pictures on the rock since it is a thousand foot down if we fell. My cousin and I were laughing while taking our pictures and joked that if we fell, it would be an embarrassing news of how we died: taking a selfie!

My cousin

On our way back, we saw a family of reindeers but they stopped moving when they heard us coming. We also paused to listen to the woodpeckers.


Witnessing the reindeers and listening to the the woodpeckers were a great way to end our hike. Although, while on the trail, I started to feel sad thinking about all the trips I want to take in my life. Nepal, Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Camino de Santiago, Bhutan, Cuba, Morocco, and the Middle East (especially Iran)….not too long ago those trips didn’t seem impossible but now I’m afraid they only belong in my dreams.

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