Castle Crags State Park
There is an area of California that is often overlooked, since it’s not within an easy day trip from the Bay Area or Los Angeles. It’s up north – way up north. I’m talking about Mt. Shasta. The area surrounding Mount Shasta as some of the best hikes in California, and is also home to some of the most incredible waterfalls in California.
If you’re willing to take the trek, your trip near Shasta will be well worth it. The trails aren’t busy, and the campgrounds are relatively easy to hike. Castle Crags State Park alone is worth a weekend trip, and is underrated compared to the beauty of the park. If you plan to camp, don’t miss this list of camping essentials.
In this blog post you’ll find tips on the best hikes in California near Mount Shasta, Mt Shasta camping, and waterfalls in California around Castle Crags State Park.
Looking for more inspiration for your California trip? Check out these posts:
- Hidden California: Explore Tahoe’s Sierra Buttes
- What to do in Sacramento
- The ultimate California bucket list
- What to do in Monterey and Carmel
- Visit off-the-radar Pinnacles National Park
- The 2 Day San Francisco itinerary
The best hikes around Castle Crags State Park
Hedge Creek Falls
Warm up with a short walk to Hedge Creek Falls, a waterfall that you’d never guess would be located right off of I-5. Pull off the road at Siskiyou Avenue in Dunsmuir, and you’ll be able to park your car right next to the freeway to start your hike.
Hedge Creek Falls is a bit busy, simply because it is such a short easy hike. That being said, we were up there on Memorial Day weekend, so I’m guessing it would be less busy at other times.
Hedge Creek Falls looks like a waterfall straight out of a movie, or at least a waterfall that would be typical in Iceland!
Mossbrae Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my life, and Mossbrae Falls really stood out amongst other waterfalls in California, or any waterfalls I’ve seen in place like Maui, Indonesia, or Iceland.
Mossbrae falls flows into the Sacramento River over a mossy wall that is approximately 50 feet tall by 175 feet wide. The effect is just magical. Mossbrae Falls looks like something straight out of Ferngully.
Reaching Mossbrae Falls on the other hand is a bit strange. Sure, you could call it a Northern California hike, but it is more of a walk along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
If you look on AllTrails, you’ll see that they’ve noted that this trail is closed. I suspect they note that for safety reasons, but if you go there yourself you’ll see there are many visitors to Mossbrae Falls.
To reach Mossbrae Falls you’ll need to park your car along Dunsmuir Avenue, and walk through the neighborhood of Shasta Retreat. Once you reach the railroad tracks, head right and follow the tracks for about twenty five minutes until you reach the bridge. If you don’t hear them already, the waterfalls will be on your right side about one hundred feet before the train bridge.
Please DO NOT walk on the tracks themselves. This walk is incredibly dangerous if you do not have your wits about you – this is an operating railroad! There is enough room on either side of the train tracks to walk on the rocks next to the tracks – you have enough space in most places to stay at least six feet away from the tracks.
When we were there we saw plenty of people walking along the tracks themselves, which shocked me, considering that there was plenty of room around the tracks to walk. Anyway, please pay attention and remember that it takes a very long time for a train to come to a complete stop, so it won’t be able to brake in time for you!
Anyway, enough of the warnings. Mossbrae is one of the most beautiful sites I saw around Mount Shasta, and is a must-do if you’re at Castle Crags State Park. Mossbrae Falls is also relatively easy for all ages – we saw visitors across the age spectrum. Just be sure that you have decent shoes on, as it is pretty easy to twist your ankle while walking along the rocks next to the railroad.
Castle Crags Trail
Length: 6.5 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 2,135 feet
Granite crags tower above the Sacramento River between Dunsmuir and Castella – and you can hike all the way to the top. Welcome to Castle Crags State Park!
These dramatic crags make for a beautiful and heart-pounding day hike. According to the state parks site, these crags are more than 170 million years old.
You can hike from the base at the campsites of Castle Crags State Park all the way up. The trip will take between 4-5 hours round trip from the campgrounds, depending on how often you stop and how quickly you’re hiking. In total the hike is about 10 miles round trip, and you’ll gain well over 2,000 feet. You can also start from the Vista Point parking lot to shave off a mile in each direction, and some of that elevation gain. But what’s the fun in that?
The start of the Castle Crags Trail is a butt-burner. It’s a steep uphill hike that will have your legs aching in no time. Be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in the summer months.
As you wind your way up the hill, the crags and Crag Dome will start to come into view, and suddenly you’ll be amongst the crags looking out over the hills and valley below. This is the perfect location for a lunch spot. Perched in the crags, you’ll feel like you’re getting a view that only birds usually get. A view like this is what makes the Castle Crags Trail a great northern California hike, and one of the best hikes in California in general.
From this spot, you’ll continue following the trail which requires a bit of scrambling, although the scrambling sections are relatively limited. I wouldn’t suggest this hike for anyone who isn’t sure footed, or anyone without decent walking shoes with them. Since the way up is fairly steep, the hike down is a knee buster. Those with knee problems should keep that in mind.
The trail leads all the way to Castle Dome, which you can climb at your own risk. I wouldn’t, considering that there are huge drop-offs all around Castle Dome. I personally stuck to the main trail, and that was both strenuous and gorgeous enough for me.
Root Creek Trail Hike
Length: 4.5 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 816 feet
The other beautiful, and less strenuous hike, you can do in Castle Crags State Park is the Root Creek Trail. Root Creek starts at the Vista Point (same as the Castle Crags Trail), but forks to the right while the Castle Crags trail forks to the left.
Anyone interested in seeing waterfalls in California definitely needs to check out this hike. Root Creek Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall that is seemingly tumbling out of the crags above it. The beginning of the hike is easy and flat, making it a great recovery hike the day after you do Castle Crags. As you follow the trail, you’ll wind up next to Root Creek, a rushing creek with rocks and trees covered in moss making it look like something out of a fairytale.
If you follow the creek for a little while, you’ll feel like the trail dead-ends – don’t be alarmed! Just head up the left bank next to the creek, and soon you’ll see a well-worn trail that will lead to all the way to an impressive waterfall.
As you approach the waterfall the trail will become more and more slippery and mossy. Be careful with your footing here. You’ll get to a few clearings where you can get good views of the waterfall.
For those who are more adventurous, you can continue left up the hill and scramble to the huge granite boulders to get an even better lookout. I tried it, but the rocks were pretty slippery so I opted for a lower view of Root Creek Falls instead.
The PCT also intersects the Root Creek Falls trail, so be on the lookout for any long term hikers.
Camping at Castle Crags State Park
Camping at Castle Crags State Park is the cheapest and easiest way to visit this area. Many state and national parks sell out spaces pretty far in advance, but you probably have a better chance of finding a spot at Castle Crags since the Shasta region is much less busy than regions of coastal California.
Keep in mind if you camp at Castle Crags State Park that the campgrounds are located very close to I-5 AND the railroad, so you’ll get a fair amount of noise from both of those. We were fairly busy hiking during the day, but if your plan is to spend time relaxing in nature at the campground, this probably isn’t the best place to go!
If hotels are more your speed, check out the hotel overview below:
What to bring on your trip to Castle Crags
When hiking in California, there are a few must-haves that you’ll want to bring with you to make you much more comfortable when out in nature:
- A good day pack: I personally love my Osprey daypack that comes with a built in water reservoir. I can carry 2 liters of water with me, and still have space to pack my lunch and an extra windbreaker. Not only that, but this daypack rests on your hips, so it takes a huge burden off of your shoulders on a long hike.
- Hiking boots: On trails like these that require some scrambling from time to time, you’ll definitely want a good pair of hiking boots that goes over the ankle. I have a pair just like these from Columbia and I always feel secure when on long hikes with them.
- Hiking socks: I know, it sounds a bit dorky, but you don’t want to get blisters in your boots! Plus you’ll want to avoid getting a bunch of dirt in your shoes. So buy yourself a good pair of hiking socks.
- A headlamp: these are a lifesaver when camping, and should always be in your pack if you’re planning to hike close to dusk. Headlamps might look a little silly, but with your hands free you’ll never regret having one.
Did this post help you plan your trip to Castle Crags State Park? Let me know in the comments below!
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.