I took advantage of an opportunity to hike a new segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail on the day it was dedicated. The Lower Oat Hill Mine Trail is not a new trail, but the Ridge Trail designation is one result of a nice partnership with the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District – and a new “Go North” initiative for the Ridge Trail. Views from the trail are spectacular, so it was especially nice to hike it in the beautiful Fall weather of the dedication day.
The trail starts at the intersection of CA-29 and Silverado Trail in Calistoga and follows the former Oat Hill Mine Road, constructed between 1873 and 1893 to provide a transportation route between Calistoga and quicksilver mines a bit farther north. The Ridge Trail segment follows the route to the intersection with Palisades Trail and the Upper Oat Hill Mine Trail at Holms Place, the location of the Holms family homestead in the 1890’s. A portion of the trail passes through Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. An interesting description of the trailside geology can be found here.
The trail climbs continuously, gaining almost 1900 feet in 4.5 miles. Although this is “only” an 8% grade, it’s actually fairly steep for its original intended use as a transportation route. This was an out-and-back hike with a group of people who had attended the trail dedication.
A short 0.3 mile from the trailhead, there is a lovely view across Calistoga, with trees displaying seasonal Fall colors.
There are two places where there are particularly nice views of vineyards. One is from a commemorative bench at 0.5 mile, and the other is a bit higher up, about 1 mile from the trailhead. Even the grape vines showed their Fall foliage!
Much of the lower portion of the trail is shaded, which would be very welcome on warm summer days. I especially enjoyed the manzanitas, which in places almost formed a bridge across the trail.
Not far after (i.e., above) this, the terrain becomes much more open and exposed. About 3.2 miles up the trail, the trail crosses a saddle along the crest of the ridge. There is a short spur trail to a wonderful rocky hilltop with 360 degree views, where we stopped for lunch and to enjoy the views. It was impossible to miss Mount St Helena, roughly 6 miles away to the northwest. This was my first view from relatively close, so it was especially impressive. I think the Palisades Trail may be in the foreground.
From the lunch spot there was also a great view of the Palisades. A bit farther, about 3.9 miles from the trailhead and just under 2000 feet elevation, we had a close-up view as we hiked just below some of the formations.
The hillside drops off just as sharply to the left as it rises to the right. From such a vantage point there were beautiful views of the rugged hills, I believe part of the Mayacamas Mountains at the northwest end of the Napa Valley.
This view looks across the Napa Valley, showing the flat valley floor covered with vineyards and the ring of surrounding hills.
Nearby there is an interesting volcanic rock formation. I believe the geological description calls it a “bubble rock,” but to me it looks like a Sphinx.
A bit farther along the trail there is a clear, up-close view of a portion of the Palisades with vertical columns, which reminded me of corduroy. The scientific description is columnar andesite.
The upper portion of the trail is very rough. There are several places where ruts, formed by heavily laden freight wagons, are visible. Here is one example. It’s hard to believe that this used to be a road!
Almost exactly 4.5 miles from the trailhead is the junction with Palisades Trail and the Upper Oat Hill Mine Trail. At this junction there are remnants of the Holms family homestead from the 1890’s. Our group posed for a photo with a rusty sign. Though the letters do not show up well in the photo, they say Oat Hill Wagon Road.
Having reached our destination, we returned down the hill to the trailhead, enjoying repeat performances of the stunning views.