Skyline Wilderness Park,
Napa County
In brief:
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 change.

Exposure:
Some pockets of shade, but largely exposed.

Trail traffic:
Light.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire road and rocky trails.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Season:
Very hot in summer, but good anytime.

Getting there:
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:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/416

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3816'43.99"N
Longitude
12214'58.95"W
(* 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.

Trailhead details:
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.

Rules:
Dogs are not permitted.

The Official Story:
Park information: 707-252-0481
Skyline Wilderness Park website

Map Choices:
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.
Skyline Wilderness Park map
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order 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 Park hike.
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.
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Skyline Wilderness Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.



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. Parking lotLocal 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 concrete stands.
      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. Turkeys
      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). Berries ripening in the summer heatNear 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. Lake Marie Road
      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 again.
      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. Lake Marie
      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.
      After crossing 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. Chaparral Trail
      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. 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