The snowy crags of the Grey Rocks gaze down on lively Castle Creek.
Running swiftly through a wide valley flanked by magnificently rugged mountain towers, Castle Creek is easily one of the most scenic waterways in the Mount Shasta area. After the first rank of the area’s three rivers, it is quite possible that Castle Creek is the most scenic creek in the area. Beginning in three basins high in the southern Trinity Divide, the three forks flow steeply down rarely visited mountain canyons until they join together in the valley that lies beneath the watchful gaze of the mighty Castle Crags and the mysterious Grey Rocks (also seldom seen!). With a large and powerful flow and its beautiful valley, Castle Creek is a beautiful mountain gem that is seldom seen but waiting to be discovered.
It might seem unusual that such a prominent landmark and one that passes so close to civilization would be considered “seldom seen”. In the case of Castle Creek, this certainly seems to be the case. Despite its proximity to the interstate and Castle Crags State Park, the creek remains a fairly unappreciated landmark in the Mount Shasta area. Aside from a fleeting and unheralded crossing on I-5, most people come into contact with Castle Creek while driving on Forest Road 25, which passes along the base of the Castle Crags. The creek is visible from a few places along the road but is hardly a feature of the drive. It is simply passed by on the way somewhere else. The state of anonymity experienced by Castle Creek is most likely due to the fact that there are no trails along its course. To experience the creek, one has to be prepared for some bushwhacking and a lot of scrambling on rocks.
Castle Creek Headwaters:
Castle Creek is the largest tributary of the Sacramento River between the river’s headwaters and its inundation at Shasta Lake. The headwaters of Castle Creek are also among the highest of the Sacramento’s feeder streams. Three forks of the creek flow down to combine into the large and fast-flowing main stem. The North Fork begins in a large basin at the head of the Castle Crags. There are no lakes in this steep-sloped bowl but there are a few springs and meadows that provide a sustaining flow later in the summer. The Middle Fork is the longest of Castle Creek’s three branches and begins in the beautiful Seven Lakes Basin. The South Fork, the most enigmatic of the three, rises in a very seldom seen basin on the east side of the Grey Rocks. This basin includes Grey Rock Lake and a few smaller unnamed lakes. The confluence of Castle Creek and the Sacramento has already been addressed in this series but it is worth noting that it is a place of great beauty and easily one of the most picturesque spots in the Mount Shasta region.
The three forks tumble down their respective canyons in a steep and vigorous descent to the valley floor. The confluence of the three forks is in fairly rapid succession to the main stem of Castle Creek which is birthed fairly rapidly. Once all three forks combine, Castle Creek only flows for a little less than 3 miles before joining the Sacramento River but it is a remarkable and beautiful 3 miles. The creek is wide, with a rocky creekbed. Large granite boulders are strewn about, offering lots of visual interest and rock scrambling opportunities. In spring, when the water flow is high, the creek has a beautiful turquoise hue.
The most prominent landmark easily visible from the creek are the Grey Rocks, the tall, craggy turrets that are the dominant peaks of the southern Trinity Divide. The stunning Castle Crags are often frustratingly obscured from the creek, though the tops of the granite spires are still visible at times. The floor of the valley is rocky with patches of pine, cedar and oak occasionally broken up by small meadows. Several smaller creeks flow into Castle Creek, most of them originating in the Castle Crags. The most prominent of these are Indian, Dump, Sulphur and Burstarse. The latter two are notable for having excellent waterfalls or lovely cascades over granite slabs. The south side of Castle Creek’s valley is bounded by long Flume Creek Ridge. Not much water flows off of this forested wall, but in spring when it is covered in snow, it is a pretty sight.
Spring is the best time to visit Castle Creek. The tall, snow covered peaks, blue water and strong flow make it a gorgeous sight. This is especially tree for folks who, after a long winter, are eager to get back up into the mountains. The creek is not high but the setting and rugged mountains make it feel like it is much higher in elevation than it is. Indeed, despite having a paved coming alongside, when you are on the creekbank, it feels like you could be 50 miles from the nearest road, gazing at mountain stream in a deep wilderness.
If you do choose to explore Castle Creek, be prepared for a primitive experience. It is easy to get to, but access is almost entirely of the bushwhacking variety. However, there are a few trails nearby and some other recreational amenities. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses the flanks of the Castle Crags high above the creek. Views of the valley are possible from a few places on the trail. The PCT can also be used to reach the beautiful waterfalls on Burstarse Creek. The Flume Trail also travels within earshot of Castle Creek and also features an impressive overlook of Castle Creek’s valley. Castle Crags State Park also has a small walk-in campground not far from the creek. There are also several primitive campsites along the water at the west end of the valley.
A Castle Creek Gallery (click to enlarge):
Castle Creek Watershed:
Beautiful. How do you get there?
Take the Castella exit off of I-5 and then drive west on Castle Creek Road. You’ll see the creek but the best places to explore it are a matter of exploration and discovery.
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