Bike Rides & Hikes

Weekend Hike: Mount St. Helena Trail

The view’s great from Mount St. Helena’s summit.
The view’s great from Mount St. Helena’s summit. Sacramento Bee file

Steep mountain ascents? In Napa Valley?

Who knew?

When you think of that lush region crawling with wine lushes on weekends, you think of a, well, valley – rolling hills stitched with rows of vines.

But Mount St. Helena, at 4,339 feet, is the second-highest peak in the Bay Area (Mount Hamilton is 4,354 feet). Why not ascend the winding path before coming back and downing one or four glasses of pinot noir, which, by the way, is 200 calories per?

The reward, of course, is the aforementioned sweeping view (on clear days) of Mount Tamalpais to the southwest, Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta to the north and even – OK, you might need binoculars – Sacramento to the east. You can also reward yourself, post trek, with a soak in the bubbly, sulfuric waters in Calistoga.

It’s advised to make a day of it because, depending on your fitness and swiftness, it almost takes longer to drive to the trailhead than it does to traverse the 10-mile trail. There’s no easy way to get to Stevenson State Park from Sacramento. Any way you go, you must endure winding country roads with, inevitably, some antsy dude in a white truck tailgating you because you dare to drive the speed limit on the curves.

Weekend Hike: Mount St. Helena Trail – Calistoga, Napa Valley

Trail length: 10 miles

Elevation gain: 2,100 feet

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 west to the Highway 12 exit toward Napa and Sonoma. Take Highway 12 to Highway 29. When reaching Calistoga, stay on Highway 29 north for 8.7 miles. Look for a parking area on the west side of Highway 29. That’s the trailhead.

Route: From the parking lot, walk up wooden steps to the picnic area. Look for a brown sign denoting the Stevenson Trail. Take the Stevenson to the T-junction with the Mount St. Helena Trail. Turn left and follow the trail, a dirt fire road, for 4 miles to the summit.

Difficulty: Moderate

Exposure: Very exposed to the elements on the fire road. Bring more water than usual; sunblock, too

Toilets: No

Parking: Free