— Kevin Baird, EDN
Spring can be frustrating. When it stops raining and the sun shines I want nothing more than to head for the mountains. Many hiking trails in the cascades at this time of the year are heavily covered with snow and plagued with mosquitos. I’ve had to turn back on many hikes because the trail gets lost in the snow. Castle Rock is the perfect day hike for the spring; there is no snow, and it’s far enough from water that there are no mosquitos.
To reach Castle Rock head east on Highway 126 4.2 miles past Blue River and turn right on Cougar Dam Rd/NFDR 19. Continue on Cougar Dam Road and go strait towards the Cougar Dam powerhouse. Look for Road 2639 on the left it comes up fast. After nearly half a mile turn right on Road 480. Follow this winding gravel road for another five and half miles uphill until it ends at the parking lot. There are a few potholes, large rocks, and downed trees on Road 480 so drive carefully. There is no fee required to hike here.
The Castle Rock Trail runs 1 1/4 quarter mile uphill with lots of switchbacks. The trail is shaded from the sun by large evergreens, and the trail itself is covered with soft pine needles. There aren’t any rocks on the trail until the end. Not far into the trail there is a fork. Make sure you follow the sign and, stay on the Castle Rock Trail on the right that heads up the hill. Along the trail humongous boulders can be seen. The forest is thick and it’s hard to see beyond the canopy, but the trees are large and beautiful. The wildlife I found along the trail included a millipede, and a grey snake slithering across the trail. I saw one large bird come swooping down from the trees, which actually startled me, it may have been an owl (not sure).
At the top of Castle Rock the canopy disappears and towering views surround Castle Rock on every side. On the eastern side there is an impressive view of the Three Sisters. While you’re on the east side if you look to the northeast you can also see Mt. Washington (the pointy one). Wildflowers are also growing on the rocky top of this hill. The west side of Castle Rock offers sweeping views of foothills, ridges, valleys and clear-cuts. On the west side of Castle Rock there are some choice sitting rocks that are perfect for soaking up the afternoon sun. Castle rock would also be a great place for a picnic.
This is a great hike to bring your kids on (it’s easier than Spencer’s Butte), or to train on and get back into hiking shape. If you are looking for a greater challenge try trail running, Mountain bikes are also permitted on the trail.
The roads and trails were empty. I didn’t see any cars or people after leaving highway 126. If you hike alone make sure you tell somebody where you are. Castle Rock should be open from April thru November depending on the weather. For more information contact the Ranger Station in Mckenzie Bridge at 541-822-3381