Hike Date: January 18, 2014
Distance: ~ 7.5 miles
Trail(s): Moore Creek Trail, Valentine Vista Trail, Bay Area Ridge Trail
Where’s it at? Between Calistoga and Napa, east of Lake Hennessey
Moore Creek Park is in Saint Helena (Google) on the east side of the Napa Valley, near Lake Hennessey off Hwy 128 just a short bit down Chiles Pope Valley Road. According to the brochure and map available at the parking lot, it contains 673 acres and is run by Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. Moore creek flows through the heart of the valley all year. The park has oak, fir and madrone forest, grasslands and chaparral. The soil here seemed to me to be serpentine in some areas and almost more like a scrub forest toward the higher elevations. While I didn’t see any of these, there are said to be black bears, bobcats, gray foxed, coyotes and mountain lions.
Important: If you’re planning to hike here, make sure you check out the map or website ahead of time and note any trails that are still under construction!
I actually arrived here on very short notice, having had another hike planned for the day which I’d mixed dates up on. (Linda falls…). So I scrambled to find a new hike nearby and came across this park which opened in June 2013 and is still under construction as of this writing.
Starting out I immediately found a herd(?) of cows at the beginning of the trail. I’ve never had any trouble walking past cows other than one time I had them start following me, but I have heard that the mothers are really protective when they have calves, and there were about 4 calves among this group of 15. I just gave them a wide birth and had no problems. On the way back to the lot the same group was making their way up the trail in some narrow areas.
This is a nice hike. This year is a drought year and so my visit was probably not the most beautiful time of year. The trail was a little dusty and the creek was very low, but clearly it flows all year. There were about 5 creek crossings which presented no threat of getting your feet wet although I’d imaginee it is a different story on most January 18ths. They all had a wood board to use to cross them though I was able to cross a few on the rocks since it was so low. I”m picturing that these bridges may end up needing to be rearranged during a heavy flow. They were all tied down on one end presumably to prevent them from floating away. There may be times where even the “bridge” is unusable.
For being a “creek trail” there was more elevation change than I would’ve expected, which was fine with me. There are a lot of deciduous trees along this trail and I’d imagine it’s pretty shaded most of the year and makes for a nice fall color show. Along this trail you pass by a house that is occupied and private, and in another spot it looks like maybe an old homestead area complete with rusting washer and dryer. The building has completely collapsed. As you get toward the end of the trail there is a nice bench with a good view dedicated to an individual. There is also a sign for a pool and it *was* still a swimmable pool this time of year but was probably lower than it would ever be on a normal year. I’d imagine it’s a very welcome spot in the summer as it probably gets really hot in this area. Even this year it was probably 70 and I was half tempted to take a dip, but didn’t. There is another trail planned that will give you an alternate loop back but this time I just did an out and back. However, about halfway back you come to a new trail called the Valentine Vista Trail which heads upward and is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, though it is currently under construction. On this trail there isn’t nearly as much tree cover and the sun beats down on you as you go through switchbacks gaining elevation and views. While the trail was pretty well marked, toward the top there gets to be a few choices and it wasn’t really obvious to me where each one led to, they weren’t really marked on the map. I just kept taking the trails that headed higher, generally taking lefts. I got a little bit of an eerie feeling in the dense chaparral brush up here as there were some bones here and I did see that there are both bears and mountain lions in the area. I kept an eye out for anything following me or that might jump out of the brush. A tip I heard once if you see a mountain lion is to try to sort of hide your neck. One tip was to lift your arms if you’re wearing a jacket or long sleeve which will make your neck invisible. I would like to think I’m big enough and move quickly enough to think a mountain lion might think twice, but who knows! I do want to *see* one someday on the trail but not close by! I looked around a little bit for a heavy stick just in case but never did see anything.
On my visit I was sort of surprised that they didn’t block off the trail or put a sign up at some point on the unfinished section, as the trail literally just comes to an abrupt end. I ended up having to go off trail a little (sorry!) to get back down. By the way, if anyone involved in building this trail is reading this, thank you very much for the hard work I know that goes into building trails. It is much appreciated! I don’t mean to sound like it was anything done wrong that I ended up hitting a dead end 7.5 miles into hiking, the map did clearly show that this section wasn’t finished.
All in all this was a surprisingly nice hike with enough elevation changes and distance to make it exercise as well. If you find yourself in the area definitely consider paying this park a visit. I look forwarding to visiting again when the trails are further along. I’d also like to visit during spring or fall next time.
Photos from Moore Creek Park Trails (click to enlarge)
Useful Links about Hiking Moore Creek Park in Napa
Distance: 7.52 miles
Total Time: 3.09 hours
Grade: -60% Min., 23% Max
Elevation Gain: 1490.16 ft