Robert Louis Stevenson State Park,
National Park Service,
Napa County
In brief:
Mount St. Helena is the Bay Area's highest publicly accessible (by trail) peak, topping out at 4,304 feet. This trek begins uphill on a short, eroded trail, then continues to the summit on a long, sinuous, well-graded fire road. There's very little challenge here, just a steady climb to the top, where views unfold, spanning the distance from the San Francisco skyline to Mount Lassen (on a clear day).

Distance, category, and difficulty:
11.2 mile strenuous out-and-back.

Exposure:
Some pockets of shade, but largely exposed.

Trail traffic:
Light.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire road.

Hiking time:
6 hours (varies according to your hiking skill).

Season:
Very hot in summer, but good anytime.

Getting there:
Leave San Francisco via the Bay Bridge. Drive north on I-80 26 miles, then exit #33 onto CA 37. Drive west on CA 37 2.5 miles to the junction with CA 29. Turn right and drive north on CA 29 38 miles to the junction with CA 128. Turn right, and continue another 9 miles east on CA 29 into Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, where there's roadside parking on the left side of the road (there's a larger dirt lot on the right).

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/28

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude (coming soon)
Longitude
(coming soon)
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
No camping in the park (nearest campground is at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park). All services are available in Calistoga. I highly recommend combining a Mount St. Helena hike with an overnight stay in one of Calistoga's mineral springs resorts. There are a variety of lodging choices, from basic motels to luxurious inns-just be sure to pick a place with a heated mineral pool to soak your tired legs after climbing the mountain.

Trailhead details:
No fee. No facilities. Side of road parking in small dirt lots.

Rules:
Dogs are not allowed on the park trails.

The Official Story:
CSP's Robert Louis Stevenson State Park page
Park office: 707-942-4575

Map/book choices:
• This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (order this book from Amazon.com). (Yup, that's me, the creator of this website.)
Map from CSP
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of this hike.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com), has a map and description of this hike.


Robert Louis Stevenson State Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

This long hike begins on the west side of CA 29 at the Stevenson Memorial trailhead. TrailheadA few steps bring the trail up into a small grassy meadow dotted with a few picnic tables, then the climb begins through a mixed woodland of California bay, Douglas fir, tanoak, madrone, and live oaks. You might see red larkspur and columbine blooming in late spring, preceding pink flowers on wild rose shrubs. Visitors have worn ugly shortcuts into the hillsides between the switchbacks here--for anyone considering following their lead, consider the erosion you will cause, as well as the copious amounts of poison oak along the trail. After ascending through woods and a few pockets of manzanita, chamise, and pine, the trail reaches the Stevenson Memorial spot at about 0.7 mile. Author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife spent their honeymoon here, sleeping in a decrepit old mining building. Stevenson's slim memoir, Silverado Squatters, is a vivid description of their adventures. Just past the memorial the trail becomes badly eroded with several steep sections over exposed rock. Manzanita and knobcone pine line the last steep stretch, then the trail ends at a T-junction with the Mount St. Helena Trail at 0.8 mile. Turn left.
     The fire road climbs at a modest grade, through sun-drenched hillsides packed with canyon live oak, knobcone pine, yerba santa, and manzanita. Bush poppy is conspicuous in late spring, when its straggly branches are crammed with gorgeous yellow flowers. Stevenson Memorial TrailTraffic noise from CA 29 is audible, but fades as the trail bends right and heads west. Even at this relatively low elevation there are sweeping views down to Calistoga, and you might see hot air balloons floating through Napa Valley in the early morning hours. Big rock formations are visible, jutting out of the mountainside uphill, and there are piles of little rocks lining the trail with virtually no topsoil in sight. In spring, deerbrush (a white-flowered ceanothus), sticky monkeyflower, paintbrush, iris, and purple bush lupine bloom along the trail. Later, in early summer, look for red-flowered California fuchsia, a native annual flower often found in rocky areas. When in Silverado Squatters Stevenson wrote about chaparral "thick with pea-like blossoms," he's describing chaparral pea, a shrub with vibrant magenta flowers. At the base of a rock formation the trail bends sharply right, the first of three switchbacks on the eastern side of the mountain. You might see chipmunks and lizards scampering across the trail and birds of prey flying overhead-be on the lookout for peregrine falcons, which nest in the park. The Mount St. Helena Trail curves left on the second switchback, all the while gaining elevation gradually. Mount St. Helena TrailThere are nice views east to the Palisades area of the park, distinguished by dramatic dark red, volcanic rock formations. After the third switchback the fire road heads north. When I hiked here on an unfortunately hot May day, I appreciated every tiny patch of shade from the occasional knobcone pine, Douglas fir, and cluster of canyon live oak; most of the trailside vegetation is comprised of chaparral shrubs. At the 4-mile mark, the trail reaches a saddle and unmarked junction. Look off to the right here for a peek at Lake Berryessa. The fire road doubling back to the left leads to South Peak. Continue straight.
    This fairly level stretch offers good views toward North Peak. The trail descends gently, passing through knobcone pine, chinquapin, manzanita, toyon, and California coffeeberry. Some of the manzanita shrubs were still in bloom a few days after Memorial Day. The Mount St. Helena Trail jogs left (ignore the steep path worn by shortcuts, heading straight) and begins to ascend again. Although this is a quiet part of the park, far from civilization and paved roads, keep an eye out for trucks that travel the fire roads to service the communications equipment on top of the North and South peaks. The fire road crests at 5.1 miles, and an unsigned, rough fire road breaks off to the left. Continue to the right. Rocks at summit
     This spot may be the only Bay Area parkland where you can stand at the junction of three counties: Napa to the southeast, Lake to the northeast, and Sonoma to the west. Descending slightly downslope of the hillside on the left, North Peak finally comes into view. The last push to the summit is the steepest part of the hike, but offers the best views from the mountain south to the prominent Bay Area peaks, Mounts Diablo and Tamalpais. Even though it was a bit hazy on my hike, I could make out downtown San Francisco skyscrapers. The steep climb is over quickly, and at 5.6 miles you'll reach the top. With communications structures sprawling over the mountaintop, there is surprisingly little room to explore-an exposed rocky area is probably the best perch to gaze north, where I was stunned to see all the way to snow-topped Mount Lassen. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Total distance: 11.2 miles
Last hiked: May 28, 2003