Castle Rock State Park, Mountain Winery a Winning Combination

Los Gatos, CA- The Santa Cruz Mountains are beautiful. They can also be formidable and unforgiving.

With a evening concert on tap at Paul Masson’s Mountain Winery, an early morning drive to the Bay Area left all options on the table.

After grabbing a quick bite at the tasty Big Basin Burger Bar in Saratoga, we set our sights just a few miles up the winding roads for Castle Rock State Park. Perhaps it was due to the hot temps or our Monday arrival, but the park was nearly devoid of adventure seekers, a rare occurrence in the Bay Area.

We saved $8 with some free parking just outside the entrance, grabbed our packs and started out along the easy Saratoga Gap Trail. Before visiting, pick your trails wisely. What began as a relatively easy stroll in the woods, turned into an hours long exercise in mountain goat climbing, navigating jagged sandstone chutes under the sun-filled ridgelines and sweltering heat. Trying to keep pace with my 18 year old son as he scurried up and down boulders and rocky inclines quickly became an exercise in futility. Quickly humbled by both my age and fitness level, I slowly pressed on as he occasionally gazed back from afar to check on my progress.

The efforts eventually paid off as we were rewarded with spectacular views from one of the highest ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Miles of rolling hills that eventually reach the Pacific beckon the most weary of hikers. It’s a sight to behold. Our minds immediately began to ponder the possibilities of a remote backpacking trip spread out over multiple days. The beauty and solitude are immense among the coastal redwoods, pines and oaks. The hikes vary greatly in intensity, so be sure to plan ahead.

According to the Castle Rock website, “The park’s 34 miles of rugged trails conveniently connect to an extensive trail system that links the Santa Clara and San Lorenzo valleys to nearby Big Basin Redwoods State Park and open space preserves on the Skyline to the Sea Trail.”

Taking Highway 9 to Skyline Boulevard (35) offers some of the best views of Silicon Valley, especially at night. If you’re heading in from out of town, Saratoga provides some ideal lodging and dining options. Plan ahead with reservations, especially on weekends and concert nights.

Our stay at the cozy Saratoga Oaks Lodge, a few miles away and  just a couple miles from the Mountain Winery was a perfect location to rest our aching muscles and refresh before heading over to an evening of live music in this amazing outdoor venue. Complimentary breakfast on the go, including Peet’s coffee made our stay here extra sweet.

Castle Rock is a scenic place to experience the Santa Cruz Mountains by foot for a few hours, a day or entire week. It’s yet another grand adventure that makes the Bay Area such a classic California destination.