PCT: Ash Camp to Castle Crags

Rolling ridges and deep forest between the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
48 km
Ascent
2.3 km
Descent
2.4 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
629 m
High Point
1.4 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Ash Camp to Castle Crags Map

Description

In this northern stretch of California Section O, the PCT wanders along forested ridges and through creek valleys, eventually dropping to the Sacramento River in Castle Crags State Park. It’s primarily a relaxed and shady walk, but summer temperatures can soar, and there are spans of several miles without reliable water.

Just past Ash Camp, the trail crosses the McCloud River on a big wooden bridge. For the next few miles, the trail contours among old-growth conifers, allowing only intermittent views to the river below but constant audio of the plunging water. In a side canyon, the trail crosses Fitzhugh Creek, with water and scattered campsites (NB mile 1473.1). Shortly after that, the PCT crosses a dirt road, then continues to bend in and out of tributary drainages on a steady ascent. As the river falls farther away, clearings provide expanding views up and down the canyon. Eventually, the trail pops over the shoulder of a ridge and proceeds on a twisting course through continual forest, on smooth trail with no dramatic elevation change.

The next highlight is the bridge over Squaw Valley Creek (NB mile 1484.7), which is a wooden span over a basalt box canyon. The water tumbling below is not easily accessible, but a side trail reaches a swimming hole with a brief detour. After crossing a dirt road about a mile later (NB mile 1485.6), the trail makes a sharper ascent on switchbacks and gains a higher ridge, still shrouded in forest with some truly huge trees. Shasta peeks through only occasionally, but the miles are apt to go quickly thanks to shade and smooth trail.

Water can likely be found in North Fork Fall Creek (NB mile 1494.8). If this source fails, then the next chance is in the bottom of the valley after several more miles. Meandering downhill and crossing some clear-cut areas, the PCT finally arrives at Soda Creek and the Sacramento River (NB mile 1500.9), both of which are crossed on bridges. This is also where the trail enters Castle Crag State Park.

On the other side of the river, the trail crosses a railroad and soon goes under the interstate, but a frontage road (NB mile 1501.1) can be taken into Castella. This is a small town containing the state park headquarters and campgrounds, plus some small stores and a post office. It’s worth noting that the next few miles continue through the state park, with chances to detour by trail to the same campgrounds. Parking for this section is at Soda Creek trailhead in the state park, located just west of the interstate.

Permits: On this segment within Shasta-Trinity National Forest, no permits are needed for hiking or camping. As with the rest of California, however, a campfire permit is required for use of a fire or camp stove. Where the trail enters Castle Crags State Park, trailside camping is not allowed. Backpackers must stay in designated sites at the campground instead.

Sources: https://hikemtshasta.com/mccloud-river-trails/ash-camp-to-ah-di-na-via-pacific-crest-trail/ https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area