There are no less than 18 officially named Castle Rocks
in Colorado. This one is the highest, at 11,453 feet. It is also the high point of Montrose County
, in western Colorado. It is located on the northern end of the Cimarron Ridge, which connects to Wetterhorn Peak, some 20 miles to the south. That makes Castle Rock a remote member of the San Juans. The Cimarron Ridge forms the eastern boundary of Ouray County and is visible all along the drive from Delta south to Ridgway. Montrose County catches a piece of it, from Castle Rock to the ridge terminus at Buckhorn Lakes.
The summit hides itself well in the trees. From the usual approach, you cannot get a clear view of the summit until you are standing on it. How did this shy Castle Rock get its name? It looks nothing like a castle when you are standing on it. The decrepit structures on the summit resemble a hen house, but not a castle. It has virtually no prominence from the normal vantage point, that is, from the west. It must look like a castle from the east, but I can't prove it.
Castle Rock's north ridge includes a minor sub-summit named Storm King. Storm King is 0.5 miles north, and only 40 feet lower than Castle Rock's true summit. The normal route takes you right over the top of Storm King, but even from there you cannot see Castle Rock.
From Montrose, drive 13 miles south on U.S. Highway 550 to Buckhorn Road, which turns off at Colona, just past the Montrose/Ouray county line. From the turnoff, follow Buckhorn Road 11.3 miles east to the large red sign marking the entrance of Buckhorn Lakes park. The first 4 miles are paved. Then it gets washboarded, and steep in places. The road rises through the classic series of bio zones: pinyon-juniper, scrub oak, aspen. If your passenger car makes it to the Buckhorn Lakes park entrance at mile 11.3 in one piece, congratulations! But don't push your luck; park there. If you have 4WD and can navigate steep, muddy inclines, proceed on four wheels. Measure 1.3 miles past the entrance sign, to a side road that heads south. Both the main road and side road are steep at this point. There is room to park at the bottom of the hill just below this juncture.
If the side road has been cleared of fallen trees, you may be able to drive a little farther.
Getting there in the winter or early spring would be problematic. There don't appear to be any permanent residences on the last 5 miles of the road, so don't expect a plowed thoroughfare. The road inside Buckhorn Lakes park is mostly shaded and the area collects water, so the park may not be accessible by vehicle until late June (my speculation, not observed facts).
Red Tape, Camping
The City of Montrose offers free camping and beautiful scenery at the Buckhorn Lakes park.
The road leading up to the park is surrounded by private land. The road itself is privately owned. No camping, hunting, or other forms of recreation will be tolerated, according to posted signs. The Buckhorn Lakes are public, however, and the entire route is on public (BLM) land. ATVs are permitted on the back roads. The actual summit is recorded as county property.
Views from Castle Rock
Castle Rock itself is not particularly scenic. Most of the time you cannot see it. But the views to the east, west, and south are spectacular, especially in their yellow autumn hues, or with a fresh coating of snow.
Detailed weather forecast
for this area, courtesy of the National Weather Service.
A Climber.org Trip Report. Leon Peak and Castle Rock in a day.
Montrose County profile