I’m still a little sore and stiff from a 10.4-mile hike I took Saturday. I didn’t have to drive to Yosemite or the Sierra Nevadas to find solitude on a wilderness trail; it was in my backyard. It was on my way to work, for goodness sakes, and it overlooks northern Napa County, including Calistoga and the surrounding area.
The hike is made up of three connecting trails, all within Robert Louis Stevenson State Park: the 2.1-mile Table Rock Trail, the roughly 3.8-mile Palisades Trail and the Lower Oak Hill Mile Trail, which is 4.5 miles.
It takes a little bit of planning to enjoy this trail, especially if you’re planning a one-way hike, because you need to get to the Highway 29 pass at RLS State Park, some 17 miles from downtown St. Helena. If you’re hiking with a friend, you need two cars: One parked at Highway 29 and Silverado Trail, and the other at RLS State Park, which is 7.5 miles from that intersection. You can either start in Calistoga and hike mainly uphill or start at RLS and hike mostly downhill. I chose the latter.
The pathway is well-marked and it’s mostly plain enough to see where the trail goes, at least until you get to Table Rock. Go ahead and wander around. Walk to the edge of the rock cliffs and enjoy the vistas. Just make sure you make it back to the Palisades Trail, which is marked with a sign.
Did I mention the solitude? Even on a beautiful Saturday morning (I started at 8 a.m.) I spoke with only two runners for nearly four hours. Those runners were particularly strong: they started and ended in Calistoga after a 21-mile run. I felt like I was plodding along, carrying my backpack with water, lunch and the clothes I shed as the day got warmer.
None of the three trails were very smooth. In fact, I would say they are in rough shape, but that just adds to their beauty. Some are as narrow as 18 inches, and, if you’re not careful, you’re liable to lose your footing, since most of the trails are not flat, but rather hewn out of the side of the Palisades.
Some four miles into the hike, I came to Lasky’s Point, where a bronze memorial plaque is embedded in a large stone. It is dedicated to Moses Lasky, a noted San Francisco attorney who died in April 2002 at the age of 94. The plaque stated that during his career, Lasky reached the pinnacle of the law profession. It also said that he was a hiker, climber and mountain man who loved the Palisades, climbed and hiked there often, and donated the land. Without that generous donation — the piece that is called Palisades Trail — the two other trails would not connect.
A few random thoughts about my hike:
— It was harder than I expected, in part because I was breaking in new low-top hiking shoes that didn’t fit correctly;
— I was pleased to see the bees buzzing, getting nectar from a plant high up in the Palisades, and enjoyed both the buzzards soaring overhead and the numerous lizards that scampered out of my way;
— The hiking app on my iPhone takes up too much battery power. I had to turn it off after two hours when it got down to 10 percent power, because I needed it to call for a ride at the end of the hike;
— One peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a peeled orange for lunch, eaten sitting on a stone in the shade, was far better than any other meal I could imagine;
— I loved seeing the huge rocks that made up the roadbed of the Lower Oat Hill Mine Trail, and especially seeing the wagon wheel ruts in that stone, made more than 100 years ago;
— I enjoyed sitting on the bench dedicated to Guy Kay, who as a director of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District had so much to do with establishing the historic Oat Hill Mine Trail;
— As a multi-use trail (hikers, runners, dog walkers and mountain bikers), the Oat Hill Mine Trail is fantastic and a well-loved resource; and
— A pint of Sierra Nevada on draft and a tall glass of ice water at La Prima Pizza at the end of the trail were a fitting end to the day.
Although I walked the lower 4.5 miles of the Oat Hill Mine Trail, from Calistoga to the historic foundation of Holm’s Place, I’ll bet I would enjoy the Upper Oat Hill Mine Trail, which goes for another 4.2 miles to Aetna Springs Road.
Finally, if you plan to take this hike, do it soon, while the wildflowers are out, when the weather is still cool during the day. During the summer, this hike would be blazing hot, and even last Saturday, all but one of the water courses were dry. It’s best, then, to carry water and let the time spent in the wilderness lift your spirits. A perfect way to spend a day.