Basics: This 17+ mile loop on BLM land travels along Blue Ridge, then descends and winds through Fiske Creek’s riparian canyon. This trail would be difficult on a hot summer day, but it is a great winter hike with expansive views.
Trail Description: The first four miles of the trip are the same as hiking up Fiske Peak from the parking lot right off Cache Creek (Hwy 16). Once you reach the top, you just keep going along Blue Ridge, soaking in the expansive views the whole way. The trail can be a bit tricky to follow, but there are some cairns and it mostly stays right atop the ridge. After about a mile you reach another peak that’s a little bit lower than Fisk peak. The trail along the ridge is at times easy to follow, at times hard to follow but easy to pass, and sometimes even easy to follow but very difficult to pass due to overgrown chaparral. Christa tripped and fell at least once. Some sections are rocky, some are grassy with wildflowers, and some pass through and under dense chaparral and oak forest. When we hiked this loop, California was in the middle of a tick epidemic. We were knocking the little buggers off of our pants left and right all along the entire trail.
You descend down the ridge and up the next peak (Lowery Peak, 3038′) over the next 1.5 miles. By now you’ve hiked 6.5 miles and you’re probably ready to turn around. Instead, if you choose pain, you will descend by continuing down the ridge for over 1.5 more miles. You’ll reach a point where there’s simply no further trail to continue on the ridge, and that’s the Napa County line. This is where you turn right, and descend down a trail that becomes incredibly steep and unstable. It’s especially treacherous towards the bottom as you near the dirt road – I recall grabbing onto willow tree branches to stay upright. Christa fell at least once on the descent. At the bottom is the cul-de-sac of a dirt road, where it appears many people choose to camp, drink, and shoot guns.
If you’ve made it this far, you can take a deep breath, eat a snack, and re-energize. The next two miles or so is along this road, which roughly follows Fiske Creek. It’s hot, dry, and exposed so be sure to wear sun protection. Eventually, the road crosses Fiske Creek, and after that you will have to turn off onto a trail on the right to follow the creek. By the time we were going along this trail, I was absolutely disgusted by the tick infestation. I found one blade of grass with seven ticks on it, hanging over the trail. I’m not kidding, too bad they weren’t in focus in my photo for proof. I digress. For the next couple miles you follow the creek along this trail, through an open oak woodland.
Hopefully your legs have rested up during this gradual saunter down Fiske Creek for the past 4 or 5 miles. The trail climbs the west hill above Fisk Creek for a mile, up to Sulphur Spring. This section of the trail is beautiful open oak woodlands. From here you’re back on a dirt road for the rest of the way out – about two miles. There is a fun bedrock creek crossing, that may be a little bit dangerous if it has just rained. So close now, yet so far; you still have a little bit of climbing to do (including a short but steep section) before you’re back at the car.
Loop hikes are a great way to experience a lot of nature in one day. This one was very difficult, mostly due to it’s length, but partially due to a few very difficult short sections. It took us 9 hours to complete this hike, including breaks for snacks, rest, and lunch. My tick anxiety didn’t help the difficulty, but we both got out unbitten. Couldn’t walk very well for a couple days, but unbitten.