Mount Saint Helena

This is a hike to the highest peak (4339 ft) in Sonoma County, though it’s only about 1500 ft or so away from the Napa County line. The hike is 10.2 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain for around 2300 ft.

In honor of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 160th birthday today, we are proud to present the first post ever on our blog.  This trail is located in Stevenson’s own California State Park, where he lived in a cabin and wrote The Silverado Squatters.

Summary: This is a hike to the highest peak (4339 ft) in Sonoma County, though it’s only about 1500 ft or so away from the Napa County line.  This trail follows a gently graded fire road, so in cool weather it’s fairly easy despite the distance.  The hike is 10.2 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain for around 2300 ft.  Parking is free on the side of the road.

Directions to Trailhead: From Calistoga, drive north on Highway 29.  The road becomes very windy as it makes its way up into the hills.  Keep an eye out for a brown Robert Louis Stevenson State Park sign.  Shortly thereafter, at the crest of the hill (approximately 9 miles from downtown Calistoga), you will find the trailhead on the left side of the road.  There is room to park on either side of the road.

Trail Description: We decided to hike Mt Saint Helena for no other reason than that it is the highest point in Sonoma County – where we both grew up.  The drive to the trailhead was almost as nice as the hike itself!  Okay maybe not quite, but Napa Valley in the springtime can really be quite beautiful.  Fortunately for my wallet, it was early in the morning so I was not tempted to stop at the many wineries along the way.   The road past Calistoga became very windy – be warned if you are sensitive to car sickness.  The trailhead was easy to spot.  Even though it was a weekday, there were several other cars parked there.  Several signs at the trailhead warned us about not leaving valuables in the car (apparently there have been some problems with theft here in the past).

Just past the trailhead there are several picnic tables nestled in the trains.  The trail quickly begins winding up several switchbacks through dense forest.  The first few miles are really the only shaded portions of this trail – I imagine this could be quite a brutal hike on a hot day in the summer.

At approximately the 1.0 mile mark, we came upon a monument to Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson was a 19th Century writer who spent his honeymoon living at the abandoned mining camp in this location.  He wrote about this experience in The Silverado Squatters. One entrance to the Silverado Mine is actually very close to the trail.  More about that later.

After another short jog up the hill, the trail hit a very well maintained fire road.   From this point, we were able to follow the fire road the rest of the way up to North Peak.  Even though fire-road-hiking can be a little dull, there were some great views along the way to make up for it.  The trail passes by an outcropping of rocks that look like fun to climb – and judging by the amount of chalk visible, it appears to be very popular with climbers.  There are several trail junctions leading to South Peak and East Peak along the way.  Stay to the right at each junction, and you will be able to follow the road to the top of North Peak.  There, we were greeted by a cluster of antennas.  We perched under one and ate our lunch.

On our way down, we decided to explore the Silverado Mine.  Or rather, we decided to walk to the entrance of it.  We followed the fire road back down the mountain.  Shortly (maybe 0.25 miles) before veering off the road and returning once again to the single track trail, there is a completely un-readable sign.  I presume it once pointed to the entrance of the mine.  The mine is on a side trail leading a short distance away from the fire road.  It is on the right side if you are coming down the mountain as we were.  The mine entrance looked like another popular climbing spot.  Rob wanted to climb down into the darkness to see how far he could get but I talked him out of it – I really didn’t want to try and dig him out of a mine shaft. After that little detour, it was a brisk downhill walk back to the car.

More Info: I made a map of this hike, that you can print or save to your phone.

Any thoughts?