There is a point in some hikes when doubt creeps in and you question whether you are on the right trail or not. When you choose a path at a fork in the road, sometimes a premonition will creep in and, if it is strong enough, convince you to take the other route. It’s a similar sensation to the itchiness that comes upon the upper lip just before taking a sip of whiskey. It’s as if you inherently know what is likely to happen. However, this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes you fail to take the right path and are forced to rely on your bearings to navigate home. Sometimes you end up on a road four miles from your car and have to run back because the sun is setting. Sometimes you’re Liam Neeson, lost and fighting off a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. Let’s hope that last one isn’t the case. It took me three times to successfully navigate this week’s trail, but this set of directions will allow you to do it in one.
The history and vistas of Knapp’s Castle earn it a spot in the series. There are three routes to reach Knapp’s Castle, ranging from a quarter of a mile to a full nine miles. If you don’t want to hike, but still want to enjoy the ruins, the castle is accessible via a short driveway on East Camino Cielo Road, which is three miles right off of the 154. This is also a great option if you’re running short on time or want to make a quick trip to enjoy a sunset.
If you’re in the mood for trailblazing, then take the Snyder Trail up to Knapp’s and follow it back down to the car. This is a mild seven mile round-trip hike that has a well-defined leveled path. For the bold who want more than a simple up and down, take Snyder up to Knapp’s and then come down the historic Fremont trail. This nine-miler is called the Fremont Loop and it offers a variety of terrain and both front and backcountry views. It also contains the portion where I got lost, but thankfully you can learn from my folly.
Snyder Trail begins in the Los Padres National Forest, so an Adventure Pass is required. It’s a $5 parking permit that can be purchased at the Forest Service Station on Paradise Road. If you’re feeling risky, the ticket for no permit is also $5. Park your car at the Snyder Trailhead, where a large bulbous tree serves as a landmark.
Start up the old dirt road and follow it three quarters of a mile. Here, you’ll see water tanks on your right and a sign pointing to the designated route. Follow the trail up some switchbacks for half a mile and there will be a fork with another trail route sign. The trail becomes a dirt road again, and will lead you straight to Knapp’s. When you reach a garage at the three-mile mark of your hike, turn left and cut up a path to the castle. Enjoy lunch or a quick break on the ruins, and then follow the same path down if you’re content with Snyder.
To complete the Fremont Loop, head up the dirt path from Knapp’s to East Camino Cielo Road. Follow the road west for 1.25 miles until you reach a locked gate on your right. This is the beginning of the Fremont Trailhead. It begins as an easy to follow dirt road overlooking the San Marcos Pass and Cold Springs Bridge. Follow this for two miles until there is a fork in the road with a high power pole with two blank signs.
The route along the ridge is the historical Fremont trail, but it has been rerouted due to private property issues. Instead of taking the ridge trail, follow the road for another quarter mile. You’ll see “No Trespassing” signs on your left, but they are only there to keep you on the road. Follow the trail through a series of somewhat steep switchbacks until you reach a meadow.
At the meadow, it is key that you don’t wander off the side trails to the left and right. Follow the meadow down its middle until you reach a shady area that is teeming with moths at this time of year. This narrow trail will lead you to a drier brushy trail. Continue past two water towers on your left, but be careful, as it gets steeper at this point. In a short distance, you will reach a T-intersection where you will go left for half a mile to the Fremont Campgrounds. When you are adjacent with the campgrounds, travel straight through them to Paradise Road. Turn right on Paradise Road and navigate the windy roads one a half miles back to your car at the bulbous tree.
Thanks to vague online directions and an outdated map, it took me three times to successfully navigate the correct Fremont Loop; however, I’ve done my best to make it clear and accessible through this article. Don’t be afraid of becoming lost, as it can be a great source of introspection. Just make sure you don’t stay lost. Keep safe, keep your bearings and keep exploring.
Daily Nexus columnist Harrison Gibson is a firm believer that the third time’s the charm.