Hays, KS: Castle Rock
Explore a rocky labyrinth and towering sandstone spires on this easy 2.3-miler around an eroded ancient sea bed in central Kansas.
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Millions of years of erosion carved the dramatic bluffs, spires and pinnacles of this stepped, 100-foot contour that is one of Kansas’ most interesting geological features.
Begin this trip with a drive to the overlook above the cliffs for a birds-eye view before setting out on foot. The parking area about half-way up this mile-long bluff system is a great place to start; the central section of the bluff is packed with arches, tunnels and eroded gullies to explore. This route loops south first, climbing user-created trails to the bluff top and following its edge. .4 mile in, the trail dips to the road—be sure to explore the two large crags on its south side—before tuning north under the cliffs.
This route follows the road for .2 miles and tucks back into the maze of cliffs to bypass the parking area and continue north past a large fin formation and through an open field toward the grayish mounds just west of Castle Rock.
Castle Rock itself towers over 60 feet high and marks the northern end of this loop. After cruising it’s base, follow the dirt road, or the small singletrack trail alongside it, .6 miles back to the parking area.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland
- Distance: 3.8
Location: 38.8496724, -100.1702229
At this cattle guard, continue driving straight to reach the Castle Rock overlook. Turning right here bypasses the viewpoint and leads downhill to the base of the formations.
Location: 38.8536954, -100.1653361
This mapped route begins at the second turn-around. This spot is about half-way to Castle Rock’s main formation, but provides easy access to the area’s most interesting rocky sections.
Location: 38.8530782, -100.1659193
Heading southwest, pick your way under arches, through rocky tunnels and on well-worn trails leading to the top of the ridge.
Location: 38.852509, -100.1655936
Peek over the rocky edges at the towering sand and limestone cliffs below. It is more difficult to work your way back down to the bottom of the cliffs from here, so trace the singletrack along the ridge heading south.
Location: 38.8500692, -100.1648855
The cliffs shorten at Castle Rock’s southern end and this route dips toward the road. Follow this route to explore lone pillars on the road’s south side, or turn north to trace the bottom of the cliffs.
Location: 38.8527766, -100.1648625
Follow the road back toward the parking lot, but tuck back into the rocky wonderland at this towering 40-pillar near the first car turn-around.
Location: 38.8538625, -100.1672673
Headed north toward Castle Rock, there’s an impressive fin. Climb the crumbling little hills on your right and begin traversing an open field heading north.
Location: 38.8570206, -100.1680612
Cross over this old fence en-route to Castle Rock’s namesake (and most dramatic) formation, but bear left to check out the rounded grey mounds west of the spire.
Location: 38.8611477, -100.1697564
Towering over 60 feet, Castle Rock is an impressive formation of soft sandstone, shale and chalk, and it marks this route’s northernmost point. After taking an up-close look, follow the road or the singletrack on its east side back toward the parking area.
Location: 38.8565194, -100.1689625
Looking northeast to this area’s namesake feature.
Location: 38.8536954, -100.1653576
A view of the chalky stone cliffs from this route’s starting point.
Location: 38.8530938, -100.1658726
Trails wind over and around rocky formations along the bottom edge of the cliffs. Pick your path by following already-worn trails.
Location: 38.8530688, -100.1657975
Plenty of arches and tunnels provide exciting detours as you pick your way up to the ridgeline.
Location: 38.8530604, -100.1658404
Location: 38.8525591, -100.1656902
The chalky stone–once an ocean floor–is soft and leaves white residue where it touches hands and clothing.
Location: 38.8524004, -100.1655722
It might be impossible to follow this mapped route exactly, look for steps carved in the cliffs and follow your own line to the ridge.
Location: 38.8519408, -100.1657009
Looking down on trails that criss-cross the base of the cliffs.
Location: 38.8514228, -100.1657653
Location: 38.8509716, -100.1647997
Looking down from the cliff-tops onto a spire and car-park turn around area.
Location: 38.849735, -100.1648426
A hiker explores this formation on the loop’s southern edge.
Location: 38.849735, -100.1633406
Location: 38.8527513, -100.1648426
Looking up at the 60-foot spire below the cliffs.
Location: 38.8538792, -100.1667416
A fin, or narrow ridge, of rock alongside the trail.
Location: 38.8540714, -100.1667523
Look carefully under rock overhangs for these nests built onto the cliffs.
Location: 38.8570708, -100.168072
Castle Rock is on private property and old fences criss-cross the area.
Location: 38.8423817, -100.1699066
This sign points the way to the otherworldly landscape of Castle Rock, 1 mile north on County Road 80.
Location: 38.8589683, -100.170415
The yellowish hue of the main cliff area gives way to grey tinted formations on the area’s north side.
Location: 38.8612981, -100.169735
These towering pinnacles are still being shaped by erosion. Major sections of the tower crumble occasionally with two notable sections collapsing in 1998 and 2001.
Location: 38.86102, -100.1695567
A singletrack trail runs alongside this road back to the parking area.