This 5.8 mile loop hike starts near a small RV park, but you'll quickly
leave the trappings of civilization behind on a fire road ascending through
grassland and oaks to shaded woods near Lake Marie. From here a narrow path
skirts sunny slopes above the lake, then you'll follow a series of paths
wandering up and down grassland dotted with oaks and buckeyes.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
5.8 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 1100 feet of elevation
Some pockets of shade, but largely exposed.
Dirt fire road and rocky trails.
Very hot in summer, but good anytime.
From I-80 in Solano County, exit 33 onto CA 37. Drive west on CA 37 2.5
miles to the junction with CA 29. Turn right and drive north on CA 29 7.5
miles, then stay to the right at the junction with CA 221 (signed towards
downtown Napa and Lake Berryessa). Drive north on CA 221 (signed as the
Napa-Vallejo Highway) 3 miles, then turn right onto Imola Avenue. Drive
east 2.3 miles, then turn right into the park.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
There is a campground in the park, with an emphasis on RV's. All services
are available in nearby Napa, and along CA 221.
Restrooms and drinking water available at the parking area. Pick up a trail
map at the entrance kiosk. Pay a $5 fee at the entrance kiosk.
Dogs are not permitted.
The Official Story:
Park information: 707-252-0481
Wilderness Park website
60 Hikes within
60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator
of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Wilderness Park map
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Skyline
Wilderness Park hike.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a map and description of a Skyline Wilderness
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the
Ridge Trail segment though the park.
Wilderness Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
When the Napa State Hospital
decided to unload some
surplus property in 1979, this land on the outskirts of Napa could easily
have been developed. Local residents lobbied to preserve the property
and proposed a unique plan: a volunteer-run park. Volunteers, always a
huge asset to perennially budget-strapped parks and preserves, manage
Skyline Wilderness Park with the assistance of a few paid, part-time employees.
The result is a one-of-a-kind destination with miles of trails, an archery
range, a disk golf course, and a small RV park.
Begin on a trail starting at the edge
of the parking lot, beneath a big coast live oak. A small RV park
is off to the left, but the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden creates
a buffer between the trail and the campground. After passing some fruit
and nut trees and climbing a few stairs, the trail seems to disappear
in the middle of a picnic area. Stay to the right here (if you reach
the Social Hall you're headed the wrong way), passing a row of elevated
On the far side of the picnic area, a wide
trail swings in from the right, reaching a crossroads with a gravel road.
Veer left onto signed Lake Marie Road.
Coast live oaks, snowberry shrubs, and
blackberry vines strain against a fence that closely borders both sides of the broad dirt road. The trail
sweeps left onto pavement briefly, then darts off to the right as the
paved road continues straight into privately held Camp Coombs. At a level
grade, Lake Marie Road skirts at a distance, small lakes to the left and
right, then reaches a junction at 0.3 miles. The road to the right leads
to Buckeye and Skyline trails; continue straight on Lake Marie Road.
With a grassy hillside dotted with blue
oak and buckeye on the right, the fire road begins an easy climb. On a
summer hike, I craned my neck to watch a hummingbird zip past overhead,
then noticed a hawk soaring higher in the sky. Wild turkeys and quail
also live here and are regularly spotted, even on trails and roads around
the RV park. As the fire road ascends, the terrain becomes increasingly
rocky, and views open up to include steep-sided Sugarloaf Mountain, the
park's highest peak (not to be confused with Sugarloaf Ridge State Park,
well north of Skyline Wilderness Park). Near a horse-watering trough on
the left, there's a cave on the right -- this is one of several mysterious
old ruins throughout the park, remnants that may predate Napa State Hospital ownership, which began in the 1870s. Easy-to-miss Lower
Marie Creek Trail begins on the left, slipping down to run along the stream
toward Lake Marie -- continue straight on Lake Marie Road.
Off in the distance to the left, look for
a well-preserved stone fence dropping down the flanks of Sugarloaf Mountain,
one of several stone walls in the park, constructed at an unknown date,
perhaps by Chinese or Italian immigrants. Manzanita shares the hillsides
with chamise and toyon as the fire road dips to a quick series of junctions
at 1.2 miles. Bayleaf Trail is the first to depart on the right. Continue
straight a few more steps, where an immense fig tree on the left,
swollen with fruit in late summer, is barely contained by a fence constructed
to protect it. Here, an unsigned path begins on the left, leading to Lower
and Upper Marie Creek trails, Manzanita Trail, and Rim Rock Trail. Continue
uphill on the Lake Marie Road, past Passini Road on the right and a path
to an outhouse on the left.
At a slight incline, Lake Marie Road ducks
under the shade of California bays, accompanied by varieties of fern,
hazelnut,poison oak, creambush, madrone, and sticky monkeyflower. In July, you
might see red-flowered Indian pink, one of the latest blooming woodland
wildflowers. On the right, the trail passes exposed rock ribs jutting
out from the hillside -- since no written records were kept preserving
the history of the park property, it's difficult to imagine what purpose
these served. At 2 miles, just past a muddy seep beneath a wall of rock
on the right, Lake Marie Road rises, and an unsigned but obvious trail
departs to the left. Follow this connector trail downhill, and when
it climbs to kiss Lake Marie Road goodbye one last time, stay to the left
The trail descends through dense woods
of California bay, passes a few picnic tables on the right, then climbs
to Lake Marie's spillway. Here, a rustic log bench, surrounded by blooming
paintbrush in spring, makes for a good lunch stop with views down to the
water, where there are almost always ducks and birds to watch. This reservoir
was constructed in 1908 to supply water for the hospital. Continue
from the top of the dam, following the sign to the Chaparral Trail,
doubling back parallel to the connector from Lake Marie Road.
The path runs along a thin berm, then dips
to cross a creek bed and reaches a junction with Chaparral and Upper Marie
Creek trails. Turn right.
Chaparral Trail begins in the shade of
coast live oak and California bay, but soon leaves these woods for sunbaked
hillsides dotted with buckeye, sagebrush, sticky monkeyflower, poison
oak, chamise, and coyote brush. Except for one short foray through a pocket
of woods, there are continuous views downhill to the lake. Partly over
exposed rock, Chaparral Trail turns right and begins a descent over a
short series of switchbacks. In July, you might notice jewel-toned berries
on spiny redberry shrubs, a low-growing evergreen bush. Near the far end of the lake, the trail returns to shade
beneath California bay, then reaches a T-junction with Skyline Trail at
2.7 miles. The trail to the left leads to Rim Rock Trail and the park
boundary. Turn right.
a feeder creek to Lake Marie, Skyline Trail begins to rise through California
bay and coast live oak to a sunnier mix of buckeye, sticky monkeyflower,
thimbleberry, and creambush. A connector to Lake Marie Road drops off
to the right at 3.1 miles, but continue straight on Skyline, passing
an old chimney and the remains of a stone house on the right.
At 3.2 miles, another path heading to Lake
Marie Road departs on the right, but again, stay to the left, climbing
slightly to a junction with the Buckeye Trail at 3.3 miles.
Skyline Trail, a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment,
continues uphill, keeping a course parallel to Buckeye but at a higher
elevation. Bear right.
Buckeye Trail quickly climbs into grassland,
then tapers off. If you visit in summer, any last lingering wildflowers, such as yarrow and California poppy,
will be long gone, but colorful
dragonflies and butterflies, including California sister and common buckeye,
are abundant. To the right there are views across Marie Creek to Sugarloaf
Mountain, Napa Valley, and the rugged ridges that encircle Lake Berryessa.
Along the trail, a variety of trees stand in grassland, including buckeye,
Oregon oak, blue oak, and coast live oak. The trail forks at 3.7 miles-- stay to the right and descend through partial shade to a junction
at 3.9 miles. Turn right onto Passini Road briefly, then veer off to the
left, onto the signed continuation of the Buckeye Trail.
Mostly keeping to exposed grassy slopes,
Buckeye Trail climbs easily. The trail's namesake trees begin to shed
their leaves in summer, part of an action-packed life cycle that includes
bare branches and dangling poisonous chestnut-like seedpods in winter,
new leaves in late winter, and sweet-smelling white blossoms in spring.
At 4.3 miles, Buckeye Trail follows a stone fence, then merges into an
unsigned path from the left, connecting to Skyline Trail. Stay to the
right, pass through a break in the fence into a grassy meadow, then reach
a fork with a trail leading left to Skyline Trail. Veer right and descend
a few yards to yet another junction, a roughly elongated X-shaped interchange
with Bayleaf Trail. Turn left, then bear right, remaining on Buckeye Trail.
The trail passes through a pretty meadow,
then ascends slightly to a rocky, rambling route. You may hear noise in
this part of the park from a quarry operation to the west. Deciduous oaks
(blue, Oregon, and black) accompany coast live oak, California bay, and
buckeye, as the trail sweeps across the hillsides above Lake Marie Road.
At a steady descent, Buckeye Trail's final stretch runs parallel to Lake
Marie Road, ending at 5.4 miles. Turn right.
The fire road descends through blue oaks,
passing the River to the Ridge Trail as it heads toward the Napa River
on the left, before returning to the junction with Lake Marie Road at
5.5 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
On the way back, consider a stop at the
Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden. This garden began in 1985 and, carefully
tended by volunteers, has expanded to a small, impeccably maintained oasis
with numerous small fountains and abundant shade. There are all kinds
of native plants, and benches secreted away in leafy alcoves offer perfect
bird-watching spots. I saw about 20 quail and several other birds in one
visit -- if you're interested in providing habitat for birds and animals
in your own garden, this is an inspiring place.
Total distance: 5.8 miles
Last hiked: July 15, 2003