Smittle Creek might be the least exciting hike we’ve gone on this year. I think it has the potential to be really nice – if Lake Berryessa had more water in it and if the hills were green, things would look very different. Nevertheless, with Stebbins Cold Canyon still closed to the public after the Wragg Fire, we’ve been driving a little further to find new trails. Despite the somewhat drab landscape, I actually really enjoyed this trip. The soft dirt trail is perfect for running. We also found it to be incredibly quiet and peaceful: very few people visit Lake Berryessa this time of year.
Trail Basics: The 2.6 mile (one-way) trail follows the shoreline between Coyote Knolls (part of the Oak Shores Day Use Area) and Smittle Creek Day Use Area. Parking is free and there are restroom facilities at both ends of the trail. We parked at Oak Shores. There was a locked gate between the Oak Shores entrance and the Coyote Knolls area, so we walked an extra 0.75 miles along a paved road to reach the trailhead. The trail itself is relatively easy with a few ups and downs, but no major climbs.
Fun fact: Lake Berryessa provides water to both the Fairfield Budweiser factory and the Jelly Belly factory.
Directions to Trailhead: From Winters, head west on CA-128. In approximately 20 miles, turn right on Berryessa Knoxville Road (following sings for Spanish Flat). Drive another 7.3 miles to the Oak Shores Day Use Area. Once you’ve pulled off the main road, follow signs to Coyote Knolls. Parking is also available at the north end of the trail. Google Map link to trailhead.
Trail Description: My plan was to park at the Coyote Knolls trailhead and hike north to Smittle Creek Day Use Area. That plan failed immediately when we reached a locked gate on the paved road to Coyote Knolls. It’s the non-peak season so everything is pretty much shuttered. Instead, we parked in the nearest lot and began our walk from there, adding an extra 1.5 miles to the round-trip.
It looked like it might rain on us and I hadn’t brought a jacket. The gloomy weather and deserted surroundings made me walk quickly. It didn’t take us long to reach the actual trailhead. The switch from a paved road to dirt path was welcome.
The lake is very low right now. We contoured around the shoreline and passed several parched, dry coves that under normal circumstances would have water in them.
The path climbs and descends gentle hills, but overall it is easy and pleasant. We made it to Smittle Creek in less than a hour.
We sat and enjoyed the (nearly) complete silence. We could hear woodpeckers in the distance, but otherwise, nothing.
From Smittle Creek, we ran the trail back to Coyote Knolls. Man, I’m out of shape. That or trail running is just really freaking difficult. Apparently I can’t pace myself when the ground is not flat. But it was a short run and it was a lot of fun. It never actually rained on us either. All things considered, it was a pretty good start to the day.