Table Rock Trail/Palisades Trial/Oat Hill Mine Road
(Saturday, 26 March, 2005 at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Napa County, California)

See also my photo album from this hike.

Sarah and I had been wanting to do this hike since we first read about it about a year ago, and now we finally had the time, weather, and a ride to do it (being a one-way hike, it requires two cars). Our friend Randy drove us to the trailhead at the summit of Highway 28 on Mt. St. Helena and we hit the trail at 10:20, a little late given that this is a long hike (>10 miles).

We climbed at a moderate grade on familiar territory from a previous hike on this trail. There were few flowers initially since we were in dense forest, but we soon came to some patches of Milk Maids, Miner's Lettuce, Indian Warrior, Paintbrush, and Shooting Stars, along with the ubiquitous Poison Oak and a very lost-looking bush of lavender. At a rocky outcrop near the trailhead, we had lovely views to the northeast of a snow-capped mountain range (what its name is, I have no idea, but we were a little surprised to see snow west of the Central Valley).

Climbing, then descending through a rocky wash, we arrived at the clearing where we'd previously turned around at 11:09. As before, there were many rock "ducks" (rocks stacked on top of each other in sometimes precarious arrangements), and a nice rock spiral. As I was taking photos of the lovely surroundings, Sarah spotted a new-to-us flower, Purple Mouse Ears, a cute, but very small species.

From here on we hiked on new territory and soon realized that our previous hike on this trail did not take us particularly near Table Rock at all. Our trail descended through a seeping hillside rife with Monkeyflower and Broad-leaf Filaree, then climbed fairly steeply and over rather rocky terrain for nearly a mile, and the going was slow. Nearing the top of an obvious ridge, we followed a creek and soon came to a lovely grotto bursting with wildflowers, and then, at exactly noon, arrived at Table Rock.

Table Rock is a flat rocky feature on the very north edge of the Palisades, a craggy set of cliffs on the northeast side of Napa Valley (prominently visible from downtown Calistoga). We heard the unusual cry of a nearby raptor, and through Sarah's binoculars, saw a Peregrine Falcon perched on some rocks a ways below us - cool! The bird was too distant for really good views, but its song carried our way easily, and we enjoyed watching it as it flew to and from a sparse tree. This seemed like a good opportunity for a snack, so we ate gummy, pretzel bits, and jerkey as we enjoyed the excellent views of Napa Valley below us. Table Rock is a very worthy destination in itself if you want a shorter hike as evidenced first by a couple who arrived, admired the view for a minute, then returned the way they'd came, and second by the arrival of a large'ish group of children and their parents as we were leaving.

We left Table Rock at 12:25, continuing now on the Palisades Trail, which descended at a fair grade. The Palisades Trail is only a couple of years old, and is set somewhat edgily just below its namesake cliffs. Vistas were fairly jaw-dropping all around, but we had to pay a good bit of attention to the trail itself, as it was narrow, rocky and steep. In addition to the flowers already seen, we saw patches of Shooting Stars and Mission Bells. Sarah was glad to have brought a trekking pole, and I wished I had too (for this hike, I definitely recommend bringing at least one if you have them). A pair of power-hikers passed us going the other way, and half an hour after leaving Table Rock, we came to Lasky Point (2,040').

Here a comemorative plaque paid homage to Mr. Lasky, who had a big hand in getting the Palisades Trail created, and we continued to have lovely views down the green oak-studded hills to the valley below with its geometric squares of grape fields. It seemed too early for lunch, however, so we soon continued on our way, climbing and descending along the base of the cliffs, still on a rather rocky and rough trail, but with just fantastic views.

Wildflowers became much more diverse here as the trail entered and left shady forests and open hillsides, with a long laundry list of species making a nice show of it. These included: Vetch, some fat succulents, Scarlet Pimpernel, Purple Clarkia, Blue Dicks, Yarrow (I think), Paintbrush, Bush Lupine, a large-flowered shrub, Phacelia, Blow Wives, Baby Blue Eyes, Blue-eyed Mary, Cañon Delphinium, Purple Sanicle - wheeew! As we hiked along below the cliffs, we passed three women who were having lunch at a pretty rocky outcrop, which spurred us to seek a lunch spot of our own. We came to a nice spot a little before 2 and stopped for lunch.

A group of 5 hikers passed us, heading the opposite direction, as we sat and lunched (starting from Calistoga, this would be a pretty chunky one-way hike of 10.5 miles and well over 2,000' of climbing!). We enjoyed our sandwiches of ciabatta, turkey and cheese, some nice white wine, gummy worms, and flavor-sprayed pretzel bits as we sat among the linanthus, blue dicks, poppies and lupine. Things could be a lot worse! Did I mention the fabulous views of Napa Valley and the mountains separating it from Sonoma Valley to our west?

At 2:22 we finished up and continued on our way. The trail here was mostly a gentle grade, but was side-sloped and still rocky. The constant right-facing slope on the trail was starting to take a toll on our ankles and we wished for a trail that sloped to the left for at least a short ways! We passed several waterfalls, one in particular of reasonable height, and blanketed with loads of flowers at its top. The trail steepened from here, climbing some stone steps (which we appreciated, as it would be very difficult going without them), then reaching the (unmarked) high point of the hike and turning downwards.

We descended on a steep goat path to the junction with the Oat Hill Mine Trail, which we reached at 4:00. There was a bit of crumbling building foundation here, presumably from the old mine that operated here early in the 1900's. Descending to the right on the Oat Hill Mine "Road", we still had about 4.5 miles to go, and were starting to get a little tired, d'oh!

Oat Hill Mine Road was, as most old wagon roads are, a reasonable grade, and we continued to have excellent views of the cliffs of the Palisades to our north, Calistoga to our west, and wildflowers everywhere, including a new-to-us Kellog's Monkeyflower, a whole heck of a lot of Cañon Delphinium, easily the most I've seen in one spot, Fremont's Death Camas, Shepherd's Needle, White Hyacinth, the occasional Ground Iris, and Bearded Clover. In places we could plainly see the ruts cut by wagons as they carried whatever it is they mined here back to the valley. A couple of young boys climbed past us on their mountain bikes (we were impressed, as they didn't look more than about 13 years old, and had already climbed a fair ways!), asking if we'd made it to "the camp" - I had no idea what this was, but it turns out to be where the Oat Hill Mine Road ends, a short ways east past its junction with the Palisades Trail.

As I stopped to photograph some lovely and new-to-us yellow fairy lanterns, a fellow walked by with a bottle full of picked wildflowers. I was too preoccupied with my picutres to bitch him out, but he obviously knew he shouldn't have picked them since he commented that I was "taking them the right way." By way of excuse, he said his son is a botanist and is collecting species. Hmm, maybe.... He did have a lovely boquet of Mission Bells, Yellow Fairy Lanterns, Fawn Lillies (which I've never seen in the wild myself), Shooting Stars, and Larkspur. Too bad nobody else will get to enjoy that patch now....

Our feet were hurting, and we were ready to be done, but alas, we were still a couple of miles from the end. A couple with a dog passed us first on their way up, then on their way back down (they must not have gone very far up), and our views were soon obscured by forest. Fortunately we continued to have a good selection of wildflowers to distract us.

Finally, at 6:17, a little too close to sunset for my comfort, we arrived at my car at the east end of downtown Calistoga and drove back to Lee and Randy's. I hadn't wound up using my 70-200mm f/4L lens at all, and was not happy to have carried its 1.5# for the entire hike, but oh well - I'm sure if I hadn't brought it, I'd have found some critical use for it :)

The miles seemed a bit longer than usual on this hike. Although it trends downward, it's by no means without climbing, and those with a fear of heights may take umbrage with the narrow trail, gingerly carved into the base of the cliffs. That said, I will remember this hike fondly for a long time as an epic, and absolutely beautiful, day.

Hike Stats:
Distance: 10.5mi
Total Time: 7h 56min (incl. 55 min stopped at Table Rock and lunch)
Elevation Gain: ~1,700'
Difficulty: 8 - longish, rocky, steep and narrow
Scenery: 10 - stunning!
Trail condition/markings/etc: 5 - getting lost isn't likely, but it's somewhat tough going in places. Trekking poles are your friend here.
Overall rating: 9.5
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Last modified 02 November, 2021 MST
Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul