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Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Redwood, Ritchey Canyon Trails

6.5 miles round trip with 1,200-foot elevation gain;
longer and shorter options possible

First-time visitors to this park typically arrive by accident, not design; they’ve just completed a tour of one of the renowned Napa Valley wineries and are looking for a place to picnic.

But if it’s the park’s proximity to wineries (just down the road are Beringer Vineyards, Charles Krug Winery and a dozen more) that first lures travelers, it’s the park’s beauty that brings them back: Year-round Ritchey Creek shaded by redwoods and Douglas fir, plus inspiring wine country views from Coyote Peak. The park is a particularly pleasant refuge in summer, because it stays cool when Napa Valley temperatures soar into the 90s.

During the 1800s, this land belonged to Dr. Charles M. Hitchcock of San Francisco, who built a second home called “Lonely” in 1872.

Life in the country seemed to have resulted in the fierce independence of Hitchcock’s daughter, Lillie. An early feminist, she scandalized her social set by riding horseback astride, forcing her way into an exclusive men’s club, and winning poker games.

As a child, Lillie Hitchcock was rescued from a fire that killed two of her playmates. As an adult, she was an enthusiastic booster of San Francisco’s firemen. When she died in 1929, Lillie Hitchcock Coit left the city of San Francisco the money to build Coit Tower, a memorial to the city’s firemen.

Reinhold Bothe acquired part of the Hitchcock/Coit estate and developed a resort, Paradise Park, with cabins and a swimming pool. The resort was popular during the 1930s, much less so after World War II. The state park system purchased Paradise Park from Bothe in 1960.

Best hike in the 1,900-acre park is an exploration of three mile long, fern-lined, redwood-shaded Ritchey Canyon. The redwoods sprouted from the roots of trees felled in the 1850s during the settlement of Napa Valley. The second-generation trees are thriving. Adding a magical touch to the forest scene are redwood orchids and trillium growing at the base of the redwoods.

Directions to trailhead: Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is located on the side of Highway 29 in the Napa Valley, five miles north of St. Helena, four miles south of Calistoga. Leave your car by the visitor center or at the horse trailer parking area just past the campground road turnoff where the trail begins.

The hike: The trail, which travels west beneath big leaf maple, madrone and oaks soon crosses a paved road and begins paralleling the road to the campground, as well as Ritchey Creek.

Beneath the tall Douglas fir and redwoods grows a tangle of ferns, bay laurel and wild grape. After 0.5 mile, you’ll pass a trail on your right leading to the campground. A mile out, the forest thins and you intersect Coyote Peak Trail on your left.

Recently re-worked and re-routed Coyote Peak Trail climbs high and dry terrain and offers good views of Upper Ritchey Canyon, plus glimpses of the wine country and mighty Mt. Saint Helena.

As the path steepens, you’ll pass more big redwoods and fir. About 1.5 miles along, you cross Ritchey Creek (usually an easy crossing except when rains swell the creek). This is a good turnaround point for the leg-weary or families with small children.

The trail continues up-canyon, crossing Ritchey Creek again and linking up with Upper Ritchey Canyon Trail. After passing a junction with Spring Trail, you climb above the forest into a brushy environment of manzanita and scrub oak, then dip back into the redwoods.

Three miles from the trailhead, your path forks. The main trail angles left, then climbs south to the park boundary.
A better bet is the right fork, which leads over an old bridge to an 1885 homestead site, where plum and apple trees grow in a picnic-perfect clearing.

Return the same way, or take a slightly longer route back via either Spring Trail or Coyote Peak Trail.

© 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.