About once a year, I hike the Palisades trail. It’s the collection of post-volcanic rock formations adjacent to Mount St. Helena and overlooking Calistoga. It’s not a summertime hike to be sure as much of it is exposed and high up, meaning you will absolutely bake in a Napa summer.
But in the winter, it’s as pleasant as it is strenuous, which is saying something. I headed there recently and did my favorite route, which is to park at the base of Mount St. Helena, but on the south side of U.S. 29 in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Instead of heading up the mountain, head south toward Table Rock, a few miles away and about 2,500 feet up. From there, it’s a few more miles on the Palisades trail itself to the ruins of an old homestead, which served as a mining cabin, and then descend on Oat Hill Mine trail a few more miles down to the opposite trailhead near downtown Calistoga. Or do the route in reverse, and make it a mostly uphill, 11+ mile climb.
It’s not an easy hike, but it’s not back-breaking. The first few miles are steady climbs to the rock formations and then it’s generally downhill or flat from there. Footing can be tricky as there are literally hundreds of rock stairs along the way, and a few wet spots, which are generally fairly mild and have never amounted to much.
Each time, I notice new sights on this trail, from a view of a distant bridge or mountain that wasn’t apparent before, to a freshly-downed tree that now makes part of the trail an obstacle. This time, I paused at Laskey Point, about 2,000 feet up, named for a San Francisco lawyer who was passionate about the area and helped develop the trail. His family owns property around the trail. Another standout was the continued growth and evolution (and devolution) of the rock art, sculptures and mazes that have taken shape near Table Rock. They include not just labyrinths, but what looked like rock snowmen, prayer circles, tributes, memorials and more. Definitely worth wandering around in the rock gardens and admiring this impromptu public art display.
The first 10 pictures in the photo gallery below are from last week’s hike; the rest are from my previous Palisades hikes.