Castle Crags Wilderness

Located in the Shasta National Forest in California.

The Castle Crags Wilderness was established in 1984 with the passage of the California Wilderness Act. This 10,500 acre addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System contains towering spires, steep-sided canyons, and a few alpine lakes. Most of the area is covered by high brushfields and rocky outcrops with a few wet meadows in the creek headwaters. Mixed conifer forests can be found on the north, east and west facing slopes.


For thousands of years, the Indians living around the base of Castle Crags regarded this formation with awe and superstition, rarely if ever venturing up into its heights. After a few years of gold rush in the 1850's, the relationship between miners and Indians strained to a breaking point. The result was the 1855 Battle of Castle Crags, which marked the beginning of the long and drawn-out Modoc War. The primary location of this battle was at the very northwest end of the Crags between what is now known as Battle Rock and Castle Lake.

By 1886, construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad through the Sacramento River canyon was completed, resulting in extensive lumber and mining operations. Chromium mines were operating as late as the 1950's in one part of the Castle Crags. Today none are operational, and most mines have been swallowed up by the re-emerging wilderness. In 1933, concerned citizens succeeded in acquiring much of the land that became the Castle Crags State Park.

Numerous resorts and hotels also flourished throughout the late 1800's and early 1900's; many were built around the mineral springs discovered by the miners. Castle Rock Mineral Water won numerous awards regionally and statewide. Although most of these resorts no longer exist, a few of these historic buildings can still be found in the Castella area.


Castle Crags forms a small portion of the Klamath Mountains geological province. Rocks within the province consist predominantly of volcanic and sedimentary types. However, granite bodies (plutons) intruded many parts of the province during the Jurassic time. Castle Crags is one of these plutons.

The towering crags and spires from which the Castle Crags pluton derives its name are especially prominent to the west of Interstate 5 between the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir. Elevations range from 2000 feet along the Sacramento River to over 6500 feet at the summit of the highest crags.

The Castle Crags area has been heavily glaciated. As a result several lakes can be found in the western section of the Castle Crags Wilderness. Among them are Gray Rock Lake, Timber Lake, and Little Castle Lake.

Plants and Animals

Trees of the area range from mostly live oak in the lower elevations to red fir, Jeffery pine and weeping spruce (also known as Brewer spruce) near the Crags summit. Mixed conifer forests include western yew, Port-Orford cedar, incense cedar, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir and lodgepole pine. Broadleaf trees such as bigleaf maple, vine maple, black oak and Pacific dogwood can be found in the area. Poison oak is also common at lower elevations.

Shrubs include azalea, ledum, and tanoak in the moist areas, while the dry slopes are dominated by greenleaf manzanita, pinemat manzanita, wedge-leaf ceanothus, whitethorn, snowbrush and deerbrush.

The area contains over 300 varieties of herbaceous wildflowers. Indian rhubarb, tiger lily, pitcher plant and yellow monkey flower can be found in the moist areas. Cycladenia, yarrow, aster and eriogonum are found on dryer sites. The Castle Crags hairbell (Campanula shetleri) is a flower found only in the Crags.

Birds of the wilderness include jays, ravens, warblers and other common woodland species. Hawks, golden eagles and peregrine falcons are also known to inhabit this area.

Reptiles common to the area are lizards and rattlesnakes. Although the local variety of rattlesnake (Crotalis viridis) is neither as poisonous or aggressive as the southern variety, caution is still advised.

Mammals include the common ground squirrel, gray squirrel, coyote, mule deer, bobcat, mountain lion and black bear. Martins and fishers are rare but occasionally seen.


There are 27.8 miles of developed and maintained trails within the Castle Crags Wilderness, accessed by 9 designated trailheads. The Castle Dome Trail, Indian Springs Trail, Root Creek Trail, and Bob's Hat Trail are reached via the Castle Crags State Park. The Little Castle Lake/Mt. Bradley Trails are accessed from Castle Lake. The Cray Rock Lake Trail is reached by an unmaintained natural surface road that branches from the South Fork of the Sacramento Road.

The Pacific Crest Trail runs for 19 miles through the wilderness, giving many scenic views of the Crags. The PCT can be accessed from the Soapstone Trail and the Gumboot trailhead, both of which are reached from the South Fork of the Sacramento Road. The PCT is also accessible via Dog Trail (off of Whalen Road), the Soda Creek exit of Interstate 5, and through the Castle Crags State Park.

There is no trail through the spires of the Crags. And although the rock formations look tempting to rock climbers and other recreationists, safety factors would limit this activity to only a few areas. Most of the Crags formation exhibits a geologic process called exfoliation -- the peeling off and crumbling of the ancient granitic rock, leaving unstable surfaces.

For further information contact: McCloud and Mt. Shasta Ranger Districts, Shasta-Trinity National Forests

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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