Castle Crags State Park is one of Northern California’s best hidden gems, with rushing rivers, pine tree forests, and dramatic granite cliffs. The Castle Dome Trail is one of the best hikes through this alpine wonderland, taking you through an impossibly green forest up to a mountain ridge, which offers panoramic views of the park’s 6,000-foot tall granite cliffs and one of California’s tallest mountains, Mount Shasta.
So lace up those hiking boots—here’s everything you need to know about the Castle Dome Trail.
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About the Castle Dome Trail
The Castle Dome Trail- also called Castle Crags Trail or the Crags Trail- is the only option in the park that will actually take you up to the Castle Crags, which are rugged granite spires and domes, carved out by massive glaciers 12,000 years ago. The park is absolutely one of the best things to do in Northern California and is frequently compared to much more popular Yosemite National Park, thanks to its dramatic and towering granite formations.
There’s a couple of different routes to reach the Castle Dome Trail, which offers some of the most iconic views in the park. This trail review focuses on the short, but challenging route that leaves from the park’s Root Creek Trailhead in the Vista Point parking lot, located here.
- Length: 5.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,066 ft
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Permit? No permit is needed, but you will need to pay an $8 entrance fee to get into Castle Crags State Park.
- Dog-friendly? Unfortunately, you’ll need to leave the pups at home for this one.
- Trail map
There are longer routes to Castle Dome as well, like this 8.8-mile trail that follows along the Pacific Crest Trail to the Crags Trailhead.
How to Get to the Castle Dome Trail
As mentioned above, the Castle Dome Trail is located in the beautiful Castle Crags State Park in the teeny town of Castella in Northern California.
Unfortunately, the park is a bit remote, located about an hour north of Redding or two hours south of Medford, Oregon. Alternatively, my husband, Justin, and I visited Castle Crags as part of a Northern California road trip, stopping at Redwoods National and State Parks, located less than four hours away, before our visit to the Redding area.
Any passenger vehicle can get to the trailhead, located here, just fine, given that the park’s roads are well-maintained and paved. That being said, Vista Point Road, up to the trailhead, is just one lane and quite twisty—so drive carefully!
The parking lot holds about twenty-five vehicles and, when we visited on a Friday morning in June, we had no issue finding a spot. However, I’ve heard this trail can be quite popular on weekends during the summertime, so you might want to get here early to ensure you can snag a spot!
What to Expect Along the Castle Dome Trail
From the parking lot, you’ll start down the Root Creek Trail, a dusty path through a shady, pine tree forest. At 0.3 miles, the trail will fork—follow the path to the left to the Crags Trail. Shortly afterward, the trail will intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail, but continue straight on the Crags Trail (unless you feel like heading on a 2,650 mile thru-hike, of course!).
After this junction, the elevation gain will steadily increase, as you climb higher and higher through the forest.
Once you’re 0.8 miles into the trail, you’ll reach another junction—the Bob’s Hat Trail—but we’re going to continue to the right. Once you’re a mile or so into the trail, you’ll start getting peekaboo views of the jagged granite crags, towering above, through the dense trees around you.
A mile and a half in, the pine trees open up and the path will transition from a dusty trail to granite rocks. For the next mile, you’ll climb and sometimes, even need to scramble over chunks of granite along the pathway. The ascent can definitely be a challenge at times, but at least you’ll be distracted by the jaw dropping views of Mount Shasta, the surrounding Cascades, and Castle Dome, a stunning granite monolith that looms over the landscape below.
After 2.6 miles into the trail, you’ll finally reach the endpoint, a rocky saddle between Castle Dome and the rugged spires of the eastern crags. The maintained trail ends here, leaving you in a bowl surrounded by jagged granite spires. However, if you want more adventure, there’s definitely plenty of opportunities to continue to explore the rock formations on the mountaintop.
There’s even a super sketchy-looking boot trail to the top of Castle Dome you can tackle. Justin and I generally have a fearful reverence of gravity and decided not to take on the virtually vertical ascent, but you might feel up for it if you’re comfortable with Class 3 and 4 climbing (and/or have a death wish!).
Once you’re done taking in the spectacular views, just retrace your steps to the trailhead.
When to Hike the Castle Dome Trail
The best time to hike the Castle Dome Trail is late April through October, when the trail should be snow and ice-free.
If you’re visiting on either the early or late side of the window, I’d recommend checking the recent trail reports on AllTrails to check weather conditions and bringing along microspikes and trekking poles, for extra traction in case you encounter any icy patches (I definitely would not want to fall on the giant slabs of granite here!).
From November through mid-April, you’ll likely encounter quite a bit of snow on the trail—like, several feet of powdery snow. I’ve read reports of folks hiking the trail during periods of time when it’s packed down, but unless you’re up for a snowy adventure, I’d probably recommend saving this trail for warmer weather.
Tips for the Castle Dome Trail
- Come prepared. The last mile of the trail is basically totally exposed to the sun, and it can get quite steamy here in the summertime, with temperatures well exceeding 90°—so be sure to bring along sunscreen and plenty of water (we have these giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere). There also can be a fair amount of bugs, so I’d suggest packing along bug spray as well.
- Start early. Adding on to the last point, be sure to hit the trail early if you’re hiking in the summertime, so you’re not climbing up the extremely steep and rocky second half during the hottest part of the day.
We hiked up this trail during an unusually cool day in June. By the time we were descending along the trail during the warmer afternoon, we met a hiker climbing uphill, who told us it felt like it was over 100 degrees and looked a bit worse for the wear. Don’t let that be you!
- Wear hiking boots. For almost half the hike, the trail is nothing but large slabs of granite. Accordingly, this definitely isn’t a trail I’d recommend taking on in flip-flops—instead, I’d strongly recommend wearing hiking boots, like the pair Justin has or my pair, to ensure you have the appropriate traction and ankle support.
Where to Stay Near Castle Crags State Park
Given Castle Crags’ remoteness, there’s a good chance you might be visiting from some distance. So why not stay a night or three to explore the Mount Shasta area, like McCloud or Faery Falls?
If you’re an RV brethren, consider camping in Castle Crags Campground. Unfortunately, there’s size limits—with trailers up to 21 feet and campers up to 27 feet—but there are plenty of other campgrounds nearby, like the Fowler Camp Campground or McBride Springs Campground, that may be better suited for larger RVs.
If you’re not into camping, there are several hotels in the Mount Shasta area to make your base camp. Check out:
- Inn at Mount Shasta: This newly updated motel has lots of nice perks, like walkability to restaurants and shops in Mount Shasta; a sweet outdoor space, with cornhole and a firepit; and comfy beds.
- Strawberry Valley Inn: This historic inn retains a lot of charm, with each room boasting unique decor. Plus you get a surprisingly nice breakfast each morning and a free glass of wine(!!) each afternoon!
- Mount Shasta Inn Bed and Breakfast: Built in 1923, this bed and breakfast feels incredibly cozy and secluded, with heavy wood furniture and antiques decorating each room. You’ll get a big ol’ homemade country breakfast each morning and freshly baked cookies each day.
Now, go forth and enjoy Castle Crags State Park and the Castle Crags Trail, some of the best hidden gems in California. Do you have any questions about this hike? Let us know in the comments below!