Lost Valley Trail to Castle Rock
The hike begins at the end of Nira Campground at the large informational sign marking the San Rafael Wilderness area.
1 tenth mile, cross the river. This is the Manzana River.
At about 1/2 mile you will see some metal retaining structures on the hillside above to the left. This is the actual Lost Valley trail, but the start of the trail has gotten so overgrown that it is too easy to miss. There is a better way to get to the trail up ahead. So stay on Manzana trail.
At just under 1 mile you come to a very inviting pool (if it is not too late in the year). You head down the shaley slope where this pool is and pass it by as you follow the trail. A little further you will see the trail head into the bushes. The trail is sandy here and you have been walking on river gravel. But dont take this turn into the bushes. Instead, stay in the dry creek. You should see lots of foot prints of people who have done the same.
As you walk, keep an eye out to the left for a break in the cliff where there is an old drainage pipe. It can be easy to miss, but the rock here is white and and you can see there is a way up to the top of the ledge. Take this little cut-off and climb up over the drainage pipe. At the top there is a large rusty metal sign marking distances to Hurricane Deck and White Ledge. Some of these distances appear to be inaccurate. You are now on Lost Valley Trail.
Continue up the trail, meeting up with pine trees along the way.
The trail used to be a road, so it is gentle uphill. But since that time, the road has closed in with vegetation and rockslides to the size of a trail again.
At points here and there the trail dips down into Sulfur Creek where as you cross, you can smell the sulfur. At one sulfury creek crossing there are always a few bees buzzing around. I wonder why they like sulfur. Stay alert at crossings so that you find your way across. Sometimes you are asked to cross through thick riparian vegetation and the trail becomes more like a maze.
At about 3 miles you come to a small camp. To the left there is a small trail leading to the creek. There is a small pool here that always has water in it. If you are low on water you may want to fill up here with your filter.
Continue past the camp taking the right fork in the road.
Walk through some fallen pines. The poor pines in this area are dying. Maybe they have bark beetles. Im not sure, but it would explain it. I have a story to tell about a pine tree that fell if you are interested.
At about 3 and 1/2 miles, as you pass the tree, start looking to your left until the trail gets a little wide and you see a faint, unmarked trail leading down into the creekbed to the left. Another clue is that there is a big rock with a pine tree on top to the left. If you are standing at the little side trail looking down into the ravine and you look straight up, you will be looking at this tree. This little trail is the trail you want.
Take this little trail and head down into the ravine. Drop into ravineYou will be heading rightward, up the creek. I cant tell you which way is the "right" way because the trail is so faint, but you can get sort of lost here. Just try to keep an eye out for a faint trail, and if you find yourself running into dead ends, remember you are pretty much just trying to find the easiest way down into the creek. If you can get to the creek youll be ok.
If you have managed to follow the trail I usually take, and didnt just crash your way to the creek, you will pass a grave-like pile of rocks. The trail heads down to the creek right after this spot. Watch out for poison oak.
Drop into the creek and follow it rightward, or upstream if there is any water in it. Cross creek at duck. The duck is on the other side of the creek actually, marking the start of the trail up the side of the hill. Its big, though, made of three round rocks.
At the duck, head up the hill. Watch out for the yucca. You will wind around chaparral brush, but the trail is fairly distinct. Remember to look for the cuts, places where branches have been cut with metal tools.
You will reach a little tiny meadow with a little tiny creek. At the meadow, cross the tiny creek and go up steeply keeping the brush closely to your right. You'll reach what seems like a top. There is a yucca at this top.
Shortly thereafter there is a little confusing spot. Looks like a trail to the left and the right. Stay to left at this confusing spot. There will be more confusing spots to come. Just stay alert to the faint trail and keep looking for cuts.
If you are going the right way, you should see a big boulder on the left right about now.
Keep going until you find yourself struggling up steep slippery sand. Yep, youre still going the right way. Then you get to struggle up crumbly sand-rock. You may need to hold on to the brush to keep from sliding down. Its a little scary.
You will see a distinctive rock ledge to the left, and ahead of you. You get to climb it, sort of. We have an easy way up a crack in the middle. We dont actually climb the rock itself. Just keep on the little faint trail and it will lead you up this easy way.
Emerging at the top of this neat rock, walk along it to the right. See a distinctive rock with caves straight ahead and a tree on top. Aim toward it. A little ways up, there are neat rocks to the left to explore one looks like a dinosaur fin and another has a hole right through it. Take some time to explore if you wish.
Back where we were...crossing a little meadow. Look straight ahead at the giant rock formations. Castle Rock is the one with the dead log laying in a crack along the side. You will climb Castle Rock at this dead tree. In fact, the tree will become your friend as you hang on for dear life and try not to fall. Well, its not quite that bad.
The trail is pretty distinct and easy to follow from here. You will reach the place with the dead tree and climb up along it to its right. There is a crack in the rock here. You have a choiceattempt the scary crack or brave some poison oak. I like to brave the poison oak myself. To do so, take a little trail on the left after you make it up the first slippery section. There is a nice little tree to hang on to as you climb. The way up to the top of the rock is easy from here.
Pretty much all that is left of this hike is to explore the top of this rock. Scary sheer cliffs and interesting, rounded up-and-downs. It looks like it would be some kind of climbers paradise except that the rock is so crumbly and the lichen comes off too easily, too. But it is fun to walk on so have some fun and try to find the little amphitheater. It is a nice place to have some lunch, take off your shoes and socks to dry in the sun, and have a nap.
To return to your car, head back the way you came.