Hiking Mt St Helena, the Napa County Highpoint
Mt St Helena towers above the northern end of the approximately 30 mile long Napa Valley. Its east peak is the high point of Napa County, though the high point of the actual peak is its north summit. The peak is within the boundary of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and the summit is accessible via a ten mile round trip hike on single track trail and fire road. From the summit, views into the surrounding wine country are spectacular (and a refreshing change from my local parks), and on a clear day one can easily see the Sierra and Mt Lassen to the north.
Getting There: Mt St Helena Trailhead
To get to the trail head, take the twisty highway 29 out of Calistoga until the saddle, and pull off and park in the obvious lot on the right side. This lot looks like it can hold about 10 cars but many more cram in there on a busy day. My advice: park somewhere where you can’t be parked in. There are no facilities (water or restroom) at the trail head so make sure you come adequately prepared. Carefully cross the road to access the Stevens Memorial Trail.
This trail switchbacks with a gentle grade for the first 3/4 of a mile. Enjoy the shade because you soon will have none. At the top of the switchbacks you’ll reach a clearing with a Robert Louis Stevenson memorial plaque, and continue past this plaque to continue along the trail. The trail steepens and gets a bit rocky, with steps cut into the rock at one point. After a short but steep section, you’ll intersect a wide fire road.
From here the route is straightforward. Turn left onto the fire road and follow it the remaining four miles to the summit area. As it gradually climbs the southeast side of the peak the views open up into northern Napa Valley, east towards the Sierra, and north towards Snow Mountain Wilderness and Mount Lassen. It was a bit too hazy on our hike to capture these views, but you can trust me when I say they are fantastic.
There are several ‘bumps’ that look promising as potential summits when you finally are within the final mile of the climb, but head for the farthest one out at the end of the road for the highest point of Mt St Helena. Due to the way the county boundary lines pass over the peak, the slightly lower East peak is the high point of Napa County. Several radio and communication towers dot these bumps and the summit isn’t exempt. Despite the equipment, rocky outcroppings provide nice places to stop, rest, and enjoy the views.
To get back to the trail head retrace your steps. This is the only trail to the summit, but be careful not to miss the turnoff to the single-track trail off the fire road on your way down!