Misty Mt St Helena – Napa

At 4,341 feet high, Mt St Helena can be seen from almost anywhere in wine country! On clear days you can see the city from the summit of Mt St Helena and the entire Napa Valley! She’s a beauty of a mountain even after the 2017 fires. It was sort of good we weren’t able to see the full extent of the fire damage. What we were able to see from the trail was sad. So much burned.

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

The official name of the park is Robert Louis Stevenson State Park after the author of Treasure Island. The foundation of the cabin Robert Louis Stevenson and his bride stayed in for their honeymoon still exists and you can visit a memorial to him just before climbing up the Mount Saint Helena trail.

The day we hiked up from Highway 29 was cloudy, misty and a bit windy. The last time we summited this mountain it was hot, dry, and clear for miles!

When we parked at the trail head the wipers were going, a heavy drizzle was surrounding us and the clouds were hiding the mountain above us. Love the smell of rain in the forest. As we hiked through the picnic areas and began the ascent up the switchbacks, the trail was damp and the orange and yellow leaves were no longer crunchy underfoot. The trees were dropping rain drops on us as we walked under them.

The rocks lining the switchbacks were covered in bright green moss as if they were leading the way for us. Back and forth up the hill we went! At the first landing, we came across the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial. A bronze colored book on top of a stack of rocks. We paused and enjoyed the quiet of the forest. The clouds were so dense and hovered just above the trees. So peaceful.

Head straight up the trail and get ready for a steeper climb over boulders and up a narrow clearing. Someone had carved foot holds into the giant rock to make it easier to climb over. This worked great on the way up but was a little tricky on the way back down. This is the only part that made our legs shake a little on the way back down. Make your way up the trail to the fire road and hang a left on Mt St Helena trail.

Mt St Helena Trail

The Mt St Helena trail is a nice wide fire road. The elevation gain is slow but constant. We kept wrapping around the side of the mountain back and forth on long switchbacks. The view from the trail was blackened pines, manzanitas, and madrones set against a bright white cloudy background. We could see some of the fire damage from the 2017 fires. Thankfully our visibility was low so we couldn’t see the full extent. Some of the blackened trees laid down on the trail. Some were leaning against their neighbor.

At about 2 miles into the hike you turn a corner and there’s the bubble rock. Mt St Helena is made of mostly volcanic rock and this one is crazy to see. You can climb a little ways up without ropes and have good handholds. Last time we were up here there were a couple people climbing. Not this time! It was super cloudy and wet so it wouldn’t have been safe.

Keep going on the Mt St Helena trail and wind around the mountain. Most of the fire damage was on the west side so it was nice when we walked around to the other side and were able to enjoy some of the healthy trees and plants. We also saw more wildlife on this side. Birds darting around and over the bushes. Squirrels were sprinting across the trail to the other side probably wondering why any of us humans were on their mountain in this weather.

It was a little eerie reaching an area of the trail where the fire had clearly gone over the top of this part of Mt St Helena and traveled down the other side. Blackened trees were lined up along the trail waiting to decompose or have a creature use them as a home. New power lines and power poles were up. Signs of recovery were there but mother nature still has a long way to go here.

The trees start to change and the wind kicked up a lot as we got closer to the summit. The last half-mile push to the top was WINDY! The drizzle was no longer drizzle it was just wet wind that stuck to our coats, pants, and beanies and soaked us. We were so close to the summit we weren’t going to turn back now!

The Summit

Reaching the summit after 5 miles and 2,034 feet of wet, chilly, partially muddy trail we did a little happy dance. Sort of to keep warm but also to celebrate reaching the top! There was a plaque replica of one left by the Russians in 1841. Mt St Helena was named after the Princess Helena. The 2017 fires did not destroy this. People have been leaving offerings at the rock where the plaque is located. Had we known we would have brought something to leave there also.

The summit of Mt St Helena is spectacular on a clear day! Check out our last post Humbled at the Summit of Mt St Helena on our old site for photos of this gorgeous place on a clear day! We could barely see 100 feet ahead of us on this last hike. The giant communication tower hovered over us and we finally had really good cell signal. Looking over the side of the mountain we could only see the boulders disappearing into the clouds. We couldn’t tell how high up we really were. No views when it’s cloudy on Mt St Helena!

Was it worth going anyway? YES! We have seen the stunning views and were in awe the last time we were up there but it sure was warm! This mountain is relentless on a sunny day. Only the first mile up is shaded, the rest is full sun and can be pretty brutal. This is a highly trafficked trail (for good reason!) but the day we went we only ran into a couple other crazy people that were hiking in that weather. We thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful somewhat easy hike up the mountain. We had more energy without the sun blazing down on us and got to just enjoy being on the trail.

If you ask the hubs, he would have added gloves to the winter hiking gear! After being blasted by the wet wind at the summit it was a bit chilly heading back down the hill. We were hiking into the wind and the temperature seemed to plummet. All of this just made our split pace a little faster in the windy spots. Someone also earned a cheeseburger and fries for doing this hike so it was totally worth it!

The hike down was uneventful, more wet, and seemed to go by faster than the way up. When we reached the truck we blasted the heat and turned up the seat warmers to high!

Happy to be dry again we enjoyed a glass of cab in front of the fire at home and relaxed the rest of the evening. If you want to experience Mt St Helena in all her glory and enjoy the views from her summit we would totally recommend going on a clear, but cool, day. It is so worth it!!

Hike Details:

Parking is free. No toilets (just trees to hide behind). Only 2 of the 10 miles are shaded. Sorry no dogs. 10 miles roundtrip with 2,034 ft elevation gain. Nearest food is the cute town of Calistoga with several delicious restaurants along their main street.

Things We Love:

The hubs has an old Patagonia rain jacket pullover rain jacket that he’s had forever (like 20+ years) and still works wonderfully! The bosslady has a nice bright ruby pink Marmot lightweight jacket that she loves! She wears it everywhere and stays completely dry. The fact that it is a bright color helps the hubs to be able to find her in the rain! The bosslady is very particular about how things feel. This jacket not only performs but it isn’t rubbery on the inside arms like a lot of other rain coats. Who wants to be sweaty and stick to something rubbery?? Not her! This jacket has been to the Pacific Northwest in the winter, out on trails doing trail maintenance and on a few of our rainy hikes…it is worth the money and love the selection of colors!


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(I forgot to turn off the AllTrails app and it picked up some of our driving on the way back home) Trail length is 10 miles with 2,034 elevation gain/loss.

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Searching for Fall in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park has a very diverse landscape including the farthest inland redwoods in a California State Park, tanoaks, Douglas fir, maples and madrones. The maples were turning yellow and so was all of the poison oak! The bosslady was up late the night before trying to figure out our hike for the weekend. Really need to start planning sooner, but life happens and we were busy watching Tyler Florence’s latest film screening of Uncrushable about the fires in wine country last year. This might have been why she decided to stay in wine country for our hike. Subliminal messages…or another force pulling on her to make this decision? Read to the bottom to find out!

Bothe-Napa Valley SP

We live just over the hill from Napa Valley so we were able to sleep in a little and still start the hike at a decent hour. It was a chilly start and we would have warmed up faster if we weren’t busy stopping and taking in all the views! Redwood trail takes you from the parking lot through oak woodlands and onto a nice wide path with dense forest on one side and Ritchey Creek on the other side. We opted to go clockwise on this hike and went up Coyote Peak trail to the top of the park at 1,170 feet.

Coyote Peak Trail

Coyote Peak trail veers off to the left from Redwood trail and begins to narrow and gently climb. We hiked up, down and around the mountain getting higher and higher above the creek below. Jackets came off and our muscles were all warmed up by the time we popped out of the forest canopy to get the first glimpses of the canyon views! The canyon is filled with dense evergreens and dots of yellow. Guessing they were maples but they were so far away we couldn’t be sure. We started running into people hiking from the other direction at the intersection of Coyote Peak trail and the spur to get to Coyote Peak. This is where we had the best expansive views in the park! It is totally worth going to this spot for the views!

After taking several pics we waited our turn to go up the slippery rocks to head to the peak. Most of the other hikers opted to not go up to the top. We knew the views at the top would be obstructed by the dense trees but it is still great to go up and see! You feel like you are on top of the world in a secret lookout spot where no one from below or above can see you but you can see them! Coyote Peak is a great spot to pause and enjoy the quiet you worked hard to reach!

Careful making your way back down. Don’t let the canyon views distract you on the slippery rocks! Head left to reach South Fork trail.

Upper Ritchey Canyon Trail

South Fork trail is narrow and short. There are a couple of crossover trails from here that lead you back to Ritchey Canyon trail. We stayed on South Fork trail to Spring trail to Upper Ritchey Canyon trail. If you follow Upper Ritchey Canyon trail all the way to the Traverso Homestead you are rewarded with a hike through redwoods, spider webs, poison oak, maples, and a peaceful end at the old homestead. All the while you are following the creek and if you are quiet you might even see some deer! We got to see a young buck making his way up the hillside. The only thing that gave him away was all the leaves crunching as he crept along.

We ended up turning around at this beautiful grove of redwoods because there was a large group of people not far behind us and we weren’t able to get the peace and quiet we were looking for. It was a great decision as timing is everything! Had we not made the choices we did, we would not have experienced the surprise at the end of the hike that we did! (read on to find out!)

Heading back to Ritchey Canyon trail we stopped and enjoyed the orange and yellow leaves covering the trail every chance we got.

Ritchey Canyon Trail

Ritchey Canyon trail winds along the side of the hill with trees shooting up from the canyon below. The redwoods were tall and healthy, the Douglas firs were mossy and reaching for the sky and all the ferns were loving the water in the creek below. The sun was shining over head and just barely peeking through the tree canopy. Every turn of the narrow trail brought more and more beauty…and then we came across the stair step waterfall! Hearing water flowing over rocks was a very welcome surprise for us! It was a beautiful sound and a beautiful sight! The moss-covered rocks had water flowing over and through them with the final destination being Ritchey Creek. We were the only ones at this spot so we got to take our time and enjoy this gem!

Moving along the trail we came to a creek crossing and paused for a break to take in the beauty! We could still hear the waterfall and the water flowing through the creek made for a very tranquil spot!

Only because we were starting to get hungry did we get up and hop across the rocks and cross the creek. Ritchey Canyon trail became wide again with redwoods mixed in with maples, madrones and firs along the creek. We were so mesmerized and distracted we almost missed taking the cut over across the creek back to the Redwood trail! When the water is flowing good during the winter months one might need to take the Vineyard trail out to reach the Redwood trail to take you back to the parking lot. There wasn’t much water this time and we were able to hop over the rocks to the other side.

This is the good part…we were just plugging along on the Redwood trail and came across a group of hikers just starting out. The bosslady said her usual hellos and then the hubs stopped and was surprised to see his cousin hiking on the trail! What?! She lives in New Orleans! It was so crazy! Still can’t get over how if we didn’t take our time at one place or another along the trail or had we started earlier or “what if” we made a thousand different choices…would we have run into her? Serendipity!! We chatted for a bit then let them get on our their way. Walking back to the car we were both still so confused. It’s hard for the brain to comprehend seeing someone outside of where the brain thinks that you would see them. It was a wonderful end to our beautiful hike through Bothe-Napa Valley State Park!

Next time you have a strange urge or gut feeling to go somewhere or do something…do it! Go for it! And remember wonderful serendipitous things can happen! Have you run into someone on your hikes that you totally did not expect to see? Drop a comment below!

Hike Details:

Parking is $8, toilets near parking, no dogs on trails, 7.5 miles with 1,365 ft elevation gain, easy to moderate hike. Calistoga is the closest food or St Helena. Both have amazing options AND you are in the middle of the Napa Valley so stop in and have a glass of wine at one of the hundreds of wineries! Send us an email or comment below if you want specific suggestions on either food or wine options!

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Searching for Fall in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park | Hike Then Wine

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Searching for Fall in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park | Hike Then Wine