October/November 2018 61
ANN MARIE BROWN (2)
In autumn, you may find a few ripe apples. At 1.6 miles, Peters
Creek Trail reaches a small pond that borders the private Jikoji
Zen Center. A few switchbacks zig-zag to the ridgetop, where
your trail junctions with Long Ridge Road. At this 2,500-foot
elevation, the view opens wide. You’re treated to an astonishing
panorama that includes neighboring Butano Ridge, the Pescadero
Creek watershed, and far west to the blue Pacific.
Head to your right along the ridgeline and pause at the stone
bench commemorating Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace
Stegner, who lived in nearby Portola Valley and helped to conserve
this land. (If you happen to have your tattered copy of Stegner’s
classic “Angle of Repose,” you might want to read aloud a few lines.)
Follow Long Ridge Trail back into the forest to finish out the
loop. The path makes a wide curve to the north and then east
through a grove of colorful oaks, then reconnects with the start
of Peters Creek Trail.
INFO: No fee; 650/691-1200, www.openspace.org
GETTING THERE: From Saratoga, take Hwy. 9 west to its junction
with Skyline Blvd. Turn right on Skyline Blvd. and drive 3.6 miles
north to the Long Ridge/Grizzly Flat parking area on the right.
The trailhead is across the road.
CASTLE ROCK STATE PARK sits on one of the Santa Cruz Mountains’
highest ridges, offering unsurpassed views of timber-covered
slopes descending all the way to Monterey Bay. Most people know
the park for its hole-pocketed sandstone outcrops, which inevitably
invoke Swiss cheese comparisons. Hiking here is rewarding at any
time of year, but in autumn, the park’s black oaks put on a brilliant
show. On this 5.2-mile loop, you’ll see fall colors, sculpted sandstone
formations, and a vast expanse of the wild Santa Cruz Mountains.
Take Saratoga Gap Trail from the far side of Castle Rock’s parking
lot. The beauty begins immediately as you travel downhill,
walking along rocky, fern-lined Kings Creek through a forest of
black oak, Douglas fir, and madrone. In a mere 0.8 mile, the trail
reaches a large viewing deck above Castle Rock Falls, which may
be flowing vigorously after autumn rains. Even if the 50-foot waterfall
is dry, you have a grand view of the Santa Cruz Mountains
parading down to the Pacific Ocean.
From the viewing deck, continue
on Saratoga Gap Trail for another 1.8
miles. The terrain changes quickly
from a shady mixed woodland to
a sun-exposed slope with views extending
to Monterey Bay. The trail
passes several whimsically sculpted
sandstone outcrops, hollowed out
by wind and water. This is Vaqueros
Sandstone, a rock that is particularly
prone to weathering, creating
“finger pockets,” cavities, and even
At 2.5 miles, Saratoga Gap Trail
junctions with Ridge Trail. Turn
sharply right and make a brief climb
to the Emily Smith Observation
Point, where colorful black oaks line
a forested knoll. Continue on Ridge
Trail to 100-foot-high Goat Rock.
You might see or hear rock climbers
plying their trade on its south side.
A picnic area nearby offers a place to
relax and enjoy the scenery.
Beyond Goat Rock, Ridge Trail
continues eastward until it reconnects
with Saratoga Gap Trail just above
Castle Rock Falls. Turn left and make
a half-mile climb back up the creek
canyon to the trailhead.
INFO: $8 day-use per vehicle, 408/
867-2952, www.parks.ca.gov or www.
GETTING THERE: From Saratoga, take
Hwy. 9 west to its junction with Hwy.
35/Skyline Blvd. Turn left on Skyline
Blvd. and drive 2.5 miles to the park
entrance (15000 Skyline Blvd.).
Castle Rock State Park
LOS GATOS » 5.2 MILES
outcrops at Castle