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!
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!!
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!
All Trails Stats:
Are you following us on All Trails yet?
(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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