Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
Stevenson Memorial Trail
To Stevenson Memorial is 2 miles round trip; to summit of Mt. Saint Helena
is 10 miles round trip with 1,300-foot elevation gain
You can see the imposing mountain towering above the wineries. Mt. Saint Helena is a landmark, a wild backdrop behind the neat cultivated vineyards of Napa Valley.
The best view of the wine country is from the top of 4,343-foot Mt. Saint Helena, reached by a five mile trail that winds through stands of knobcone pine to deliver summit panoramas of not only Napa Valley but the High Sierra and San Francisco Bay as well.
While winter is not the most popular of seasons for touring the wine country, it is the best time for looking down at it from the top of Mt. Saint Helena. Crisp, clear winter days mean breathtaking views from the summit. Local Sierra Club members schedule an annual New Year’s Day hike up the mountain—surely an invigorating way to celebrate the year past and welcome the year ahead.
Most of the summit and broad shoulders of Mt. Saint Helena are protected by Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Stevenson, best remembered for his imaginative novels, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, honeymooned in a cabin tucked in one of Mt. Saint Helena’s ravines in the summer of 1880.
Quite the world traveler, Stevenson, constantly seeking relief from chronic tuberculosis, globe-trotted from Switzerland to the south of France to Samoa. The native Scot followed his heart to California to marry an American woman, Fanny Osbourne.
Short of money, the newlyweds honeymooned in the abandoned mining camp of Silverado, moving into an old cabin and using hay for a bed. While so encamped, Stevenson filled a diary with local color and later penned an account of his experience, The Silverado Squatters, which introduced him to American readers.
Stevenson flled his notebooks with descriptions of the many colorful Napa Valley denizens—from stage drivers to winemakers—he met. Perhaps the biggest infuence upon Stevenson during his stay on Mt. Saint Helena was the mountain itself; it became the model for Spyglass Hill in his novel Treasure Island.
Today you can take a short (one mile) hike into California literary history by joining the trail leading to the secluded site of the Stevensons’ honeymoon. Wrote Stevenson: “At sunrise, and again later at night, the scent of sweet bays filled the canyon.” A memorial in the form of an open book commemorates the author’s stay on the mountain and marks the site of his cabin.
Travelers interested in learning more about Robert Louis Stevenson and his work should head for the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, located seven miles south of Calistoga. The museum features books, letters, and other memorabilia of Stevenson’s life.
Stevenson Memorial Trail is particularly enjoyable for the first interesting mile as it winds through the forest to the memorial. The next four miles of trail—a well-graded fire road leading to the summit—are frankly a bit monotonous; however, the grand vistas, becoming better and better as you climb, more than compensate.
Directions to trailhead: From downtown Calistoga, at the junction of Highways 128 and 29, head north on the latter road. Highway 29 ascends 8.2 miles to a summit, where you’ll fnd parking at turnouts on both sides of the highway for Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. The trail departs from the west side of the highway. Hint: The not-very-well-signed state park is easy to miss. If you find yourself rapidly descending on Highway 29, you overshot the summit and the state park. Carefully turn around and return to the summit.
The hike: Just above the parking lot is a picnic area. During Stevenson’s day, a stage stop and the Toll House Hotel were located here. The Stevensons came down the hill from their honeymoon cabin to buy provisions.
Signed Stevenson Memorial Trail switchbacks up a shady slope forested with oak, madrone, bay and Douglas fir. A pleasant mile’s walk brings you face-to-face with the granite Stevenson memorial, itself something of a historical curiosity, having been erected by “The Club Women of Napa County” in 1911.
To continue to the peak, scramble up a badly eroded hundred-yard-long stretch of trail to the fire road and turn left. The road soon brings you to a hairpin turn and the first grand view en route. You can admire part of the Napa Valley and surrounding ridges, San Francisco high-rises, as well as two distinct and aptly named nearby peaks: Turk’s Head to the west and Red Hill to the south.
The road continues climbing moderately, but doggedly, up the mountain. Wind-battered, but unbowed, knobcone pine dot the middle slopes of Mt. Saint Helena. Three miles from the trailhead, you’ll pass under some power lines, and another half mile’s travel brings you to a junction with a spur trail leading 0.4 mile to Mt. Saint Helena’s South Peak.
Half-a mile from the summit, the road passes through a forest of sugar pine and Douglas fir, then begins the final climb to the peak. Various transmitters, communication facilities and a fire lookout clutter the summit, but don’t block the view. Vistas include the Sonoma County coast to the west, Santa Rosa due south, San Francisco and the Bay to the southwest, the High Sierra north of Yosemite to the east. On the clearest of days, you might be able to glimpse Mt. Shasta, nearly 200 miles to the northeast.
© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author. To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.