One of my favorite trails in Northern California is the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail. Like Mt. Diablo or Mount Tam, it’s one of the more challenging summits in the greater Bay Area.
About Mount Saint Helena:
Mount Saint Helena is located in Napa Valley. It’s a peak in the Mayacamas Mountains that has flanks in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties of California.
Mount Saint Helena is actually made of 2.4-million-year-old volcanic rocks from the Clear Lake Volcanic Field. It’s actually one of the only mountains in the bay area to receive snowfall! Yes really!
There are 5 peaks on Mount Saint Helena. North Peak is the highest summit in Sonoma County, whereas the highest Peak in Napa Valley is just east.
At 4,342 ft, it’s the 44th highest peak in California! Wow, because we have some large mountains around here.
The Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail:
A few things to keep in mind about the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail:
- Can you hike the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail? Yes. But it’s long. Make sure to have good shoes.
- Is the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail easy? No, but as far as peaks go, it is one of the easier and shorter peaks in the Bay Area?
- Is the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail the best view in Napa Valley? I would say probably, but Rector Reservoir is great too.
- Can you drive up to the Mount Saint Helena Summit? No.
- Wear good shoes. Don’t use garbage as you are more likely to fall and hurt yourself. This is not an easy trail to just wing in on.
- Get there early. There are about 15 parking spots available. When we got there are 7:30, there were only 3 left.
- Bring water, there is almost no shade, and it can get to be over 100 degrees.
It’s just under 10 miles out and back. (You can see the trail map here). The first 5 miles are up and the second 5 are back down where you came. It’s easier to break it down. I ran up the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail, and I ran up in about 1:02 and back down in about 55. It would be faster, but the first and last mile are very technical, and I ran up at about the same pace I ran down (roughly 14 minutes).
The first mile of the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail is technical. You wonder, how on earth do people do this for 5 miles up. Even with the technical rocks, it climbs the most (around 550 feet). Be careful, it’s narrow, windy, and there are many rocks and boulders to climb. Around mile 2, you get on a fire road, and it’s about like that for the rest of the way up. I averaged around 11-minute miles on the fire road.
The fourth mile has a slight downhill as you continue following the trail. You’ll see a “Y,” and the easiest advice is just to look for the higher peak. The lower peak is the highest peak in Napa Valley, whereas the highest Peak (North Peak) is the highest in Sonoma. It’s also the main and largest peak.
The Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail climbs about 2100 feet. You are climbing from miles 2-5, but you have a view 100% of the time. It makes the miles “fly by,” and it’s hard to “hate it
.”The final .2 gets steeper, and it was the only spot I walked. At the top, I enjoyed the view. We went early in the morning when there were still both clouds and fog. We got to run above the clouds, which made for some fun views. Around 10 am, the fog was already almost gone, so you could see the entire Napa Valley.
The way down was just as beautiful. I told myself to stay smart because the last mile of the Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail would challenge me! The technical downhill makes for tired legs and an easy-to-fall situation! Which I did fall around mile 9.7. Anyway, be careful and don’t be like me.
Mount Saint Helena Summit Trail Conclusion:
I definitely think if you are in the area, the Helena Summit Trail is one of the best trails to hike or run. It’s not easy at all, but it’s one of the easier Bay Area peaks. There are views the entire time, which makes for a great day.
You can see more hikes here.
Questions for you:
What is your favorite trail?
Have you ever summited a peak?