Pick your difficulty level before you embark.Hiking can range from leisurely to strenuous, depending on the terrain you will cross. If you’re unsure of how much ground you can cover, or you’re unaware of the fitness level of all members of your hiking party, always opt for the less strenuous route.
Easy hikes: Yountville Crossroads (1.03 mile loop) is part of the Napa River Ecological Reserve and is home to many native bird species. In addition to bird watching you’ll see ash trees, blackberry bushes, and wild grapevines. Trailhead location: Between Hwy 29 and Silverado Trail in Yountville; entrance is by the bridge.
Enjoy a less crowded hiking experience on one of the crisscrossing two mile loop trails at Westwood Hills Park, where you’ll pass under a canopy of stunning old oak trees and just might see some cattle. Parking at Westwood Hills Park is free. Trailhead location: Thompson Avenue at Browns Valley Road in Napa; trail begins at the edge of the parking lot.
Moderate hikes: Survey the oak forest and grasslands on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, a 7.4 mile loop that should take about a half day to complete. Shade is limited, so wear sunscreen. Trailhead location: 2201 Imola Ave. in Napa; trail begins inside the Skyline Wilderness RV park at the end of Imola Avenue.
Traverse the five miles to the top of Mt. St. Helena in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and enjoy the view of the San Francisco Bay Area or, on clear days, the top of Mt. Shasta. This hike is perfect for spring and fall, but dress appropriately for snow and chilling winds in the winter. Trailhead location: 7 miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29; trail begins at the parking lot on Highway 29.
Skyline Park also features a range of moderate hikes on its 20+ miles of trails. Enjoy gorgeous views of Napa Valley along with the park’s native plant garden. Entrance to Skyline Park is free and there is no admittance to the park 30 minutes before closing time. Trailhead location: 2201 Imola Ave. in Napa; trail begins inside the park at the 4th Ave./Imola Avenue East parking and picnic area.
Wear a watch.Before you start walking, review the length of time it should take you to complete your hike. Always remain aware of the elapsed time and be mindful of when sunset starts. Weather conditions can change quickly after the sun goes down and many state parks close at sunset. If you do not think you will be able to complete your hike before the sun goes down, save your hike for another day.
Stay on marked trails.It’s temping to add a little extra adventure while hiking in Napa Valley, but straying from marked trails can lead you onto private property or jeopardize your safety. Stay on official park trails to accurately gauge your distance and reduce your risk of becoming disoriented or lost.
Beware of poison oak.Poison oak can leave an itchy reminder of your day spent hiking, so it’s best to avoid it completely. Wear long pants, stay on marked trails, and refrain from touching any unknown plants. If you see a red, itchy rash where your skin has been exposed to plants, wash the area with soap and water and avoid scratching or touching the area, as this can cause the rash to spread. Use hydrocortisone cream to minimize the itching or take short, lukewarm baths. If your poison oak rash does not improve after seven to ten days, see your doctor.
Prepare for various types of weather.Napa’s mild weather makes it a great location for year-round hiking. However, weather conditions can change quickly, especially in high elevations. Wear sunscreen (even during the winter), bring or wear a lightweight wind-blocking jacket, and bring gloves if you’re going to begin your hike in the morning hours when the wind is still cool.
Bring plenty of water.Basic hiking safety tips apply while hiking in Napa Valley and bringing enough water is extremely important. Two liters of water per person per day is the recommended amount while hiking. Bring more water if your hike will be strenuous or during summer months.
Leave the wine at home.Alcohol consumption is prohibited in all State Parks, so you will have to enjoy your favorite Napa wines during a winery tour/tasting or back at your hotel.
Pack snacks.Hiking can cause you to work up an appetite so bring energy-promoting snacks like nuts, fruit and vegetables, or an assortment of local Clif Bars. Throw your wrappers in designated trash areas or pocket them to discard back in the parking lot.
Invite your dog.Some Napa Valley hiking trails permit you to bring your canine companions with you while you enjoy the fresh air. Pope Canyon Trail is an easy 2.1 mile trek for humans and dogs and culminates with a beautiful view of Pope Creek. Be sure to research specific rules regarding dogs for any of the trails you wish to hike before you set off.
Image source: Meadowood