Magic at Napa’s Edge
By Nora Heston Tarte
Photo by Jay Jensen
Mentions of Napa conjure up images of endless rows of vineyards stretching over arid hillsides and wine glasses that never seem to empty. But Robert Louis Stevenson State Park offers a glimpse into Napa’s earlier days, before wine became the area’s biggest export, when quicksilver was one of the main industries. The Scottish novelist perhaps most known for penning Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island put the future park on the map after honeymooning there.
Perched on the edge of Napa Valley and taking up real estate across Sonoma, Lake, and Napa counties, the historic park is revered for its more than 20 miles of picturesque trails, including stunning views of much of the Bay Area. For those willing to make the ten-mile (round trip) trek to the top of Mount Saint Helena, it’s possible to catch glimpses of Mount Shasta’s peak 192 miles away. “From the top of Mount Saint Helena, where you can sometimes see Mt. Lassen and Mount Shasta, to Table Rock, to hiking along the rock walls of the Palisades, the views are inspiring,” says Jay Jessen, park steward assistant at Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. In fact, the park offered the inspiration for Stevenson’s novel Silverado Squatters, and later Stevenson’s legacy would be seen in its name.
Over the years, the park has endured several wildfires that have altered its landscape—one on the south side of Mount Saint Helena in 2017, and another on the eastern side of the park in 2020— and given way to powerful, vibrant wildflower displays that encourage travelers to visit during the blooms. The wildflowers are a small part of the area’s biota; the park is also home to species commonly found throughout Northern California, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and the occasional black bear. Peregrine falcons— the fastest animals on Earth—have also made a comeback along the Palisades cliffs.
Views from the park are unmatched and also serve the community, beckoning Bay Area residents with an adventurous spirit to come for a hike, bring their mountain bikes, or embark on a rock-climbing adventure. “Mt. Saint Helena is like a giant cork at the end of Napa Valley, growing in size as you drive north,” says Jessen, “And the rock outcroppings of the Palisades loom over the town of Calistoga as a reminder of all the open space available to locals.” While many dream of tackling the park’s more rugged terrain and higher elevations, the most accessible route, Oat Hill Mine Trail, is walking distance from Calistoga; this is an important factor for the space, which admittedly lacks ample parking for weekend visitors but allows for both mountain bikes and dogs.
The park’s location within the Valley adds to its charms. While typical park visits purely evoke feelings of connection to nature and rejuvenation, an itinerary of activities such as relaxed wine tastings and luxurious spa treatments near Robert Louis Stevenson State Park allow adventurers to take in their surroundings while appreciating the Valley’s other offerings. “You’ll understand the region better if you get out of your car and above the valley floor,” says Jessen.
The park is highly used by locals and visitors, so much so that the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District that operates it worked tirelessly to keep it open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and to reopen it quickly after the wildfires.
To help support the work of the Napa Open Space District, join or contribute to the ReLeaf Napa Fund, napaoutdoors.org/releafnapa.