NAPA, Calif. — Here's a wine country secret that can help you raise your glass and your heart rate.
Along with the Napa Valley's famous wine-tasting trails, there are miles of scenic trails of the hiking variety, beckoning visitors who want to exercise more than their palates.
"There are so many great places up here," says John Conover, partner and general manager of Odette Estate winery and an avid hiker.
From the mellow stroll of the Napa Vine Trail on the valley floor to more rugged hauls into the hills, hiking options have expanded in California wine country, and so has interest in wine country walking.
"It used to be people would come to Napa just asking about wine and food," says Conover. Now, tasting-room visitors frequently ask about outdoor options as well, something he attributes to the general interest in staying fit.
Wine country visitors who want a taste of the outdoors have lots of options.
Free, guided hikes are available from the Land Trust of Napa County. The organization, which buys and preserves land as open space, led 32 hikes in 2015 attended by more than 300 people. Many of the participants are local, but there's also interest from visitors, says Megan Lilla, Lands Program Assistant with the group. "I think it's known that the landscape here is special and there are great hiking opportunities," she says.
Meanwhile, the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District has been promoting hiking as a way to diversify valley activities.
"There's been a big push in recent years to advocate, or at least acknowledge, other things besides wine tasting," says the district's Chino Yip.
Here's a sampling of some wine country trails:
VALLEY VINE TRAIL
This is a work in progress supported by the grass-roots Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. Ultimately, the plan is to connect the Bay Area with the entire valley through a walking/biking trail system, 47 miles from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal all the way to Calistoga.Completed sections include the Yountville Bike Trail, a paved trail running beside vineyards parallel to Highway 29 and known as the Yountville mile.(http://www.vinetrail.org )
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON STATE PARK
At the northern tip of the Napa Valley, this is where the author of "Treasure Island" spent his honeymoon in 1880. Nothing remains of the abandoned bunkhouse where Stevenson and his bride, Fanny, stayed. But the site is identified on the trail, which begins with a moderate climb of about 1 mile and then joins a broader fire road that leads the rest of the 5 miles to the summit of Mount St. Helena. On clear days, you get sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay Area and sometimes a glimpse of the top of Mt. Shasta, nearly 200 miles away. (http://napaoutdoors.org/parks/robert-louis-stevenson-state-park/ )
The Land Trust of Napa County offers free hikes most weeks between April and November. Most of the preserves aren't normally open to the public, so this is a way to connect the community with their open spaces. Some hikes are themed — geology, amphibian, birding, etc. — and feature experts in those fields. Go here to register for upcoming hikes: http://community.napalandtrust.org/page.
OAT HILL MINE TRAIL
This trail near Calistoga follows about 8 miles of an old stagecoach route, and the ruts carved by heavy wagons travelling the soft, volcanic rock can still be seen along parts of the middle and upper trail. Rough and rocky in places, the trail has great views of the Napa Valley. A good time to visit is spring when wildflowers burst into bloom. (http://napaoutdoors.org/parks/oat-hill-mine-trail/ )
MOORE CREEK PARK
This a relatively new addition to Napa hiking and includes trails that wind past oaks, Douglas firs and madrones trees. (http://napaoutdoors.org/parks/moore-creek-park )
The park also includes one of Conover's favourite spots, a trail that runs alongside Lake Hennessey, source of Napa's drinking water. Pristine and hidden away from the main thoroughfares, "it makes you think you're a million miles away from the Napa Valley."
Headed for Sonoma wine country? There's ample hiking there, too. Follow this link for some ideas http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Activities/Hiking.aspx .
And if you'd like to combine your sipping and stepping, try Seghesio Family Vineyards, which has guided hikes a few times a year near the winery's Home Ranch property, followed by lunch.