Moore Creek Park is a new regional park outside St Helena, in Napa Valley; it opened in June 2013 and is operated by the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment in the park is currently partially complete. I was able to hike the entire current Ridge Trail segment – or, at least, all that I could find – as two out-and-back sections from the main parking area trailhead, which is near the “e” in Moore on the GPS track.
I knew very quickly after leaving the trailhead that the hike would be a bit of an adventure. Less than 100 yards from the north end of the parking area is a cattle gate, and immediately past the gate there was a small herd of cows – about 15 adults and 3 calves – feeding on a small pile of hay bales. One cow was in the middle of the trail and two others were partly in the road. One of the calves, barely visible in the picture at the edge of the trail, looked kind of shiny and wet, and I wondered if it was a newborn. At least 6 of the adults monitored my presence and approach. I walked past carefully and slowly, at the far side of the road, fully aware that I would need to return the same way later in my hike. Fortunately, I passed both times without incident.
For now, to reach the main Ridge Trail segment you walk up Moore Creek Trail about 1.1 mile to the caretaker’s residence. At this junction I first went to the right on the upper portion of the Valentine Vista Trail for about 1.1 mile. After returning to the junction I continued north on the Moore Creek Trail about 1.7 miles to what appeared to be its northern end, then returned again to the same junction and back to the parking area. Then I walked down the park entrance road about 0.1 mile to the lower Valentine Vista Trail trailhead and continued up the trail a little over 0.5 mile until I encountered a brush pile that signaled the current end of the trail, and then returned again to the parking area.
For planning purposes, it is worth noting that trail signage is currently incomplete. There are quite a few informal trails (cow trails?) and a few places where the intended trail is unclear. Once the signage is complete the official mileages may turn out to be different from what I hiked. I only identified about 0.6 miles of my hike as bona fide detours and explorations, and nearly half of that was at the Moore Creek Pools at the north end of Moore Creek Trail (see below). And although the main trail elevation at the Pools is only about 400 feet higher than the parking area trailhead, my total ascent and descent were almost 1800 feet each.
Walking up Moore Creek Trail to the junction near the caretaker’s residence I saw the first of many trees festooned with feathery decorations, which added a kind of ethereal atmosphere to an overcast day.
There are many oak trees in the park. I’m not skilled in identifying different types, but it seemed that there were several. Here was a nice example up a grassy hillside from the trail.
The Valentine Vista Trail climbs steadily for a mile, zig-zagging up the side of the canyon and gaining about 450 feet (9% average grade). Near the top of the climb I encountered several weathered bones. I imagine that a mountain lion made a nice meal out of a cow. I made sure that my bear bells (which I usually carry on hikes) were jingling enough that I wouldn’t startle any wildlife that happened to be nearby.
The trail passes in and out of groves of trees and chaparral. The shade would be welcome on warm days. Next to the tree in the center of the picture is a small cairn, indicating the intended path among the trees.
The Valentine Vista Trail is currently under construction. Although I didn’t find a distinct place to turn around, I was looking for a vista point that was indicated on a map at the trailhead. When I found this lovely view south along the canyon I decided it was the right place. I am wondering if the peak near the center of the skyline is Atlas Peak, but I’m not sure.
After returning to the junction near the caretaker’s residence I continued north along the Ridge Trail following Moore Creek. Near the junction I heard some rustling in the underbrush and caught a brief glimpse of a distinctive spotted towhee. (My single photo was out of focus, but sufficient for identification.) The trail crosses the creek 5 times. This picture is at the second crossing. I presume that equestrians cross in the shallower areas. Even with the creek level relatively low, the best way for hikers to make dry crossings is by using the 4×4. All of them seemed to cross over deeper water, so I was glad I didn’t have to carry a mountain bike.
In the still water next to the 4×4 the abundant leaf fall was visible on the creek bed. Reflections of the sky danced across the surface of the water above the leaves.
Especially along the north section of the creek there were beautiful madrone trees in the forest, with several main branches looking like waving arms and the distinctive peeling bark.
Near the north end of the trail there was a small side trail signed for hikers only. I went down the trail to explore, since I had noticed a sign that mentioned Moore Creek Pools. Sure enough, soon there was a more primitive sign pointing the way. There were several small pool-like areas in the creek, though it didn’t look like the creek was deep enough for swimming. The map at the trailhead indicates that there is a “top secret swimming hole,” and I presume that’s what I found.
After returning to the main trail I continued, and found that the trail makes a small loop, just 0.35 mile or so. After completing the loop I returned to the trailhead and then explored the southern section of Valentine Vista Trail. This section of trail is currently only about 0.6 miles long. It climbs about 200 feet and, for now, dead-ends in a brush pile: a very clear indication not to continue. When the central section of the trail is complete, it will connect to the northern section by traversing the canyon-side above the creek.
After I returned to the parking area I continued my drive east on CA-128. Along the way I passed several vineyards, with the grape vines in neat rows and set for the winter.
I will look forward to a return visit after the Valentine Vista Trail’s central section is complete. The higher elevations along this trail afford more distant views of hills and peaks in the area.