Castle Rocks and its class 2-3 summit is about a 15-20 minute scramble from the PCT across relatively steep but easy forest terrain. The summit is a blocky crown of granitic rocks typical of the San Jacinto Peak massif with good holds and no route-finding issues. The mountain flanks are adorned with a forest mixed with conifers such as Coast Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, White Fir, Jeffrey Pine, and Lodgepole Pine apparently giving it its "black" appearance and enough manzanita in the exposed areas to complete the package.
Summit access is via Fuller Ridge and the PCT from the Black Mountain Road. This road receives periodic maintenance, but is still a pretty rough drive due to heavy wash-boarding. A low clearance vehicle could surely navigate Black Mountain Road, but high clearance will certainly speed up your trip. Case and point, it took me about 25 minutes in my Honda Pilot.
Getting ThereFrom Points North:
Drive I-10 to Banning. Exit at 8th Street (SR 243). Turn right at end of the ramp and proceed as follows:
At 0.2 mile, turn left (W Lincoln Street).
At 0.7 mile, turn right (San Gorgonio Avenue).
At 1.4 miles, keep left on SR 243.
At 11.8 miles, pass the Vista Grande Ranger Station.
At 12.8 miles, pass turnoff for "Black Mountain Trail."
At 15.6 miles, pass Indian Vista.
At 16.9 miles, turn left at 4S01, "Black Mountain Road."
From Points South:
Drive SR74 to Mountain Center and turn north on SR 243.
At 4.4 miles, pass turnoff for Idyllwild Ranger Station on right.
At 12.5 miles, turn right at 4S01, "Black Mountain Road."
Once on Black Mountain Road, proceed as follows:
At 1.5 miles, fork. Keep left.
At 4.8 miles, turnoff for Black Mountain #1. Keep straight on 4S01.
At 5.8 miles, Black Mountain Group Camp on the right.
At 7.2 miles, fork. Turn sharp right.
At ~7.5 miles, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses road, continue straight.
At 7.8 miles, turn right into parking lot for the Fuller Ridge Trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). There is room for 10-12 vehicles and half dozen or so campsites.
Standard Route DescriptionFrom the trailhead, hike east up the PCT about a mile along the north side of the ridge to where a saddle and meadow appears off to the right (8040'+). Continue on the PCT another 0.6 mile to a point about 50' past the second of the first two switchbacks on the trail (not counting a detour around a fallen tree), where there should be a duck on the right side of the trail. Leave the trail here and go up slope following occasional ducks and a well worn use trail through easy forest terrain, keeping somewhat to the right. Once you reach the summit rocks it is an easy class 2-3 boulder hop to the register and summit. It may be difficult to discern the correct summit rocks through the forest canopy as there is an lower outcrop about 100 yards east, but the summit group is obvious once you scramble up and get a look. Total RT distance is approx. 4 miles with 900' elevation gain.
Red TapeCastle Rocks lies within Mount San Jacinto State Park so wilderness permits are required under all circumstances. Permits are free and limited to 12 hikers. They may be obtained inside the Idyllwild Ranger Station just off SR 243 at 54270 Pine Crest Road or by the self-issue permit stand outside of the ranger station. Permits may be obtained in advance from:
San Jacinto Ranger District
P.O. Box 518
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Voice: (909) 382-2921
Fax: (951) 659-2107
Additionally a National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park at the Fuller Ridge Trailhead. These passes run $5 per day or $30 per year. Details on this pass and how to purchase online are located at the link above. You can also pick one up at these locations in Idyllwild, CA.
CampingDetailed camping information for the Boulder Basin and Black Mountain (Group Camp) campgrounds and Fuller Ridge trailhead primitive campground is found on the San Bernardino National Forest website. The two maintained campgrounds have toilet facilities, but no water.
When to ClimbCastle Rocks can be climbed year round. Snow is common in winter and will linger on the shady sections of the PCT. Temperatures can reach the 80's in summer but this is a heck of a lot better than the 100 degree plus temperatures in the surrounding valleys. The Fuller Ridge portion of the PCT is 'dry' trail. You won't encounter water along the trail until about 1/4 mile from the junction with the Marion Mountain Trail; nearly 2.5 miles from Castle Rocks. Ensure you prepare appropriately.
Current Weather in Idyllwild, California
EtymologyFrom HPS Summit Signatures:
Named for the spire-like appearance of the summit and after a famous Soboba Indian legend concerning a princess whose spirit still mournfully awaits the long delayed return of her husband. This had been an HPS use name until USGS named (and moved) summit on San Jacinto Quad (1981).
Peak was added to the HPS Peak List in 1965.