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Kellie Duckhorn
 
June 30, 2015 | Kellie Duckhorn

Hike Napa Valley

Mount St. Helena, CA

 

I love to run, but my favorite end of the week exercise is my Sunday hike. It’s my time to slow down, feel the week fall behind me and re-energize for the next week. It’s about seeing a place for the first time, even if it’s my favorite trail that I have traveled hundreds of times…it’s the awareness of the seasons, the subtle changes in light and foliage and flowers…it’s about hugging my favorite redwood tree and giving thanks.

For those of you who are new or who are veterans of the Napa Valley, the best way to plan a Sunday hike is to gauge your energy level on Sunday morning! Do you want to stroll or break a sweat? Picnic or just water? View or solitude? All things are possible!

Calistoga

For a picnic hike, pop into Cal-Mart and grab a fantastic sandwich, drink and other snacks. Table Rock is the best place for a view and a place to eat. It is a bit of a climb and you will have earned your picnic, but fortunately, it’s not too far. In the spring there are plenty of wild flowers and there is an area where people have put rocks into creative formations which seem surprisingly natural and almost unearthly. Go early as parking is limited and since the trail is western facing, you will be in the sun. No dogs are allowed.

Mount St. Helena is a longer hike, but has the sense of accomplishment…that flat topped peak at the north end of the Valley that has been in your sites will now take on a different dimension. The trail is actually a fire road, so very easy to navigate with a steady uphill grade for about five miles. There is an old wooden platform at the base of the cell phone towers to sit back on, and enjoy the view. On clear days most of the San Francisco Bay Area is visible, to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Sierra’s to the East and the top of Mt. Shasta, 192 miles to the north. This hike has been a family Thanksgiving tradition for over 20 years and it is how we all earn our extra helping of pumpkin pie! No dogs allowed.

St. Helena

One of the best state parks is Napa Bothe. This little gem is tucked up into Ritchey Canyon and the rich forest belies our more arid Valley floor climate. It is so unexpected to find beautiful redwood trees, ferns and seasonal flowers. This is also an excellent park for weekend camping! Even if you are a local, it’s nice to break out the car camping gear and spend the night under the stars without the grind of a long drive. There are many different trails and my favorite is Coyote Peak for the view and the solitude as you follow Ritchey Creek up to the summit. If you have young children, this is one of the best “intro to car camping” parks around as it is often overlooked for sites on the Coast or the Sierra’s, thus making it a quiet and peaceful nature escape that is close to home.

Ritchey Canyon to Coyote Peak Trail Lake Hennessey

 

Lake Hennessey is my go to Sunday stroll. Follow old Howell Mountain Road to Conn Valley Road and keep driving until you cross a small bridge over Conn Creek. If you hit Greenfield Road, you’ve gone too far. The parking turn out is just before the bridge, on the east side of the road. Directly across the parking area is a gate to access the dirt road which follows Lake Hennessey along the west side. It’s about two miles to the dam with an easy, level grade until just before the settling ponds. The short climb up the slight incline brings you to the top of the dam. This walk is a bird watcher’s paradise! Pack a picnic from Sunshine Market and bring your binoculars. It is so easy to pass a few hours sitting on the bank of the lake soaking in the sunshine with the sounds of water and wildlife to gently lull you into a nap.

Napa

Without having to plan too much in advance, Napa offers two small parks for a quick hike. Choose from either Alston Park or Westwood Hills Park as a remedy for the Sunday hang-over when it’s necessary to have some exercise, without being too serious. Both have benches perfectly placed for a rest and a view and both are active with locals and their dogs. These parks can also be best enjoyed with a pastry from Alexis Baking Company or Sweetie Pies and a hot cup of coffee!

If you want something a bit more strenuous, Skyline Wilderness Park is part of the greater Bay Area Ridge Trail system. The hike up to Lake Marie is steep but gorgeous. It’s a true trail that can be narrow and rocky, but given that you are minutes from downtown Napa, it provides nearby adventure and an escape from the world.

Skyline Wilderness Park, Lake Marie and Buckeye Trail

 

Finally, for those of you who love to backpack, I highly recommend the Lost Coast. It is as remote as the literature describes and the variation in terrain is fantastic! Redwoods, open scrub brush, coastal wild flowers, lush ferns which grow along the creeks, grassland and more…this area is still wild and we saw whales, a bear and a multitude of birds. The trail is often a goat scramble, but the final reward is a campsite on the beach at Little Jackass Creek. Pure backpacking bliss!

 

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