Yesterday I completed four segments in Napa County: Oat Hill Mine trail, Palisades & Table Rock trails, Mt St Helena, and the trail in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Below, I’m trying something new with photos, a Flickr embed.
As always, most of the access is by transit, this time Capitol Corridor to Suisun/Fairfield, then Vine Transit buses 21 and 10X to Calistoga, then a short walk to the trailhead for Oat Mine Hill trail. The Oat Hill Mine trail is an old wagon road, so the grade is moderate but continuous. The lower part is mostly shaded, oak forest, while the upper half is mostly sunny, chaparral with some grasslands. At the top of the hill, a marker on the sign post says ‘end Ridge Trail segment’ but this isn’t correct, as the trails along the ridge and to Mt St Helena have been added to the Ridge Trail. (7.3 km)
The Palisades trail is much different, a narrow trail with many rock steps. The sections with rock steps and through forested areas are in pretty good condition, but on the open grassy hillsides the trail is sloughing off, and the yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis, an aggressive non-native invasive) has taken over the the grasslands, leading to a less than pleasant trail experience. The Palisades are a volcanic rock formation that tops the ridge and falls away steeply on the west side. The Palisades trail connects with the Table Rock trail that continues more or less along the ridge, crossing a small creek (probably seasonal) and continuing to the Highway 29 crossing. This seems to be a much older trail than the Palisades trail, well beat out and eroded by use. It passes two large labyrinths, but it was the heat of the day, so I skipped these. (9.7 km)
The next segment is the trail and road up Mt St Helena, the highest spot on the Ridge Trail (4342 ft/1323 m). The path is pretty boring, and passes through large areas that were burned in 2017, and/or butchered by a misguided attempt to create firebreaks (the fuels were not removed or burned, but left on the ground, so these actually carry fire better than live vegetation). But the views are pretty amazing. It was not a very clear day, but Mt Diablo and much of the route of the Ridge Trail is visible. Once years ago I was there on a very clear day, and most of northern California was visible. The vegetation contains California nutmeg (Torreya californica), a conifer with a cone that looks like a large green berry, and that sprouts after fires, and on the top of the north peak, sugar pine, with its long, pendant cones. (8.1 km)
I returned to Calistoga by hitching a ride from the Highway 29 saddle, not because returning on the trail would not have been good, but to save time. I walked the gap between Oat Hill Mine trailhead and Bothe Napa Valley State Park, stopping at Calistoga Roastery for tea. There is a path along the alignment of Washington Ave for about 1/3 of the walk, but the rest is along the shoulder of Highway 29. The high speed traffic is not pleasant, but there is space enough to feel safe, and in fact there is space enough to add a separated multi-use path. However, I hope there is some way the future Ridge Trail alignment can follow the Napa River, away from the highway. (8.0 km)
The trail up through Bothe Napa Valley state park along Ritchey creek is pleasant. The is apparently the furthest east occurrence of redwoods in Napa County, with some large though second growth trees in the lower part and increasing areas of redwoods in the upper part, which is further west. The lower trail dawdles along the creek, and the upper trail climbs the slopes above the creek. The official end may be at the creek crossing at ‘Traverso Homestead’ site, or maybe further up the old logging road at the park boundary (prominently signed) beyond which the road seems to disappear. There is no ‘end of Ridge Trail’ sign at either location. The trail will apparently go from here to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. (5.5 km, or more)
It was my original intention to get to Santa Rosa for two more segments, but I did not feel like hitchhiking that part, and the transit all runs north-south, not east-west, so getting to Santa Rosa requires going all the way to El Cerrito Del Norte BART, and then back north. Yow! So those segments will await another trip.
I’m now at 68% of the trail, plus 64 km of gaps and side trails. The official trail tracker spreadsheet shows the Palisades/Table Rock and Mt St Helena segments as official parts of the trail, spurs, so those I’ve included in my total.