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Let me just start out by saying how lucky were were to find Castle Crags State Park open this summer. Apparently, the park was closed temporarily due to the state-wide budget issues and reopened just in time for our late summer visit a few weeks ago.The Castle Crags were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. Trust me when I tell you that by the end of the Crags Trail to Castle Dome, you'll see just how amazing the formations really are.

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We left camp early (we stayed at our super secret spot mentioned here) and reached the trail head by about 8:30 a.m. After checking in at the ranger station, we took the short drive up to the parking lot (it boasts fairly nice bathrooms, by the way) that serves as the starting point for a few trails and the vista point.

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Even the parking lot afforded us with a bit of awesomeness:

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We were focused on the trek to Castle Dome, so we headed right for the main trail head:

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The beginning of the trail can be quite cool since it's mostly shaded, but once you hit the Crags the sun can get pretty toasty. The hubs is very familiar with the trail and I had hiked it once before, so we knew that we wanted to be back down in the shade before it got too hot.

At the start of the hike, it's easy to be fooled into thinking you're on an easy nature walk. The trail looks a lot like this:

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And you can easily take in a little close-up plant life action:

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However, you'll start to gain some elevation and notice the trail getting a bit rocky:

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If you're flat-landers like us, you'll feel it. Trust me.

At least we felt better than this guy:

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Eventually, the trail starts to look more like this:

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And like this:

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Yes, that's the trail.

There are rewards for scrambling across shifty rocks, however. Views of Mt. Shasta, anyone?

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How about the beautiful Castle Dome?

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How about a little of both?

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Coming around a corner to see that dome looming above you....spectacular.

As we climbed closer to the top, I stopped more and more to take it all in (and, let's face it, to breathe). This place was just as amazing as I remembered.

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Once we made it to the trail end (proof):

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...we let out a little "woo hoo," chilled for a bit, had some snacks and snapped a few more pictures:

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We could see for miles. I also couldn't get over how cool some of the trees were all the way up there.

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I have to mention that at this point in the hike, you can do what we did (hang out and take the obligatory "we made it!" photo):

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Or you can go up here:

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Yeah...that's the "trail" up the dome. I really don't rock climb and I had no desire to start. My adventurous husband has climbed up to the top of the dome before and says the views are pretty great. According to the information sheet we received at the ranger station, it's a 500-foot ascent meant for experienced rock climbers.

That was enough for me! I am nowhere near being considered 'experienced' in the rock climbing department. We said no to the dome and started heading back down. My knees were hating me right around here:

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...but we both made it back down without incident.

Did I mention we hiked the trail on a Friday in mid-August? Best idea ever. The place was practically empty. I think we maybe passed four people on the trail.

Since we pretty much had the place to ourselves, we decided to take the quick walk to the Vista Point.

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It was cool! There were information boards detailing the formation of the Castle Crags, Mt. Shasta and the nearby Gray Rocks.

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We also found picnic tables and telescopes to get a clear view of all three geological wonders.

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It took us between 3 and 3.5 hours to finish the hike and the walk over to the Vista Point. The Crags Trail (not including the dome) is about 5 miles round-trip and is listed as strenuous. If you opt for the dome climb, bring gear, wear the right shoes and be careful!

My best tips for this hike are to start early, bring twice as much water as you think you'll need and be sure to stop often to take in all that beauty.

Anyone else venture out on a fun hike this summer? We're always looking for new places to explore, so feel free to link up in the comment section if you want to share!

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Happy Monday, all!

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