The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park traverses rugged volcanic terrain as it travels southeast from the Mount St. Helena Trailhead across the Table Rock, Palisades and Lower Oat Mine trails. Table Rock includes a pair of natural amphitheaters and a manmade labyrinth. The Palisades Trail runs along the edge of a ridgeline with an often steep slope to one side. From there, the rocky Lower Oat Mine Trail plunges downhill to the edge of Calistoga. This is a difficult trail. Only one of us completed it.
We are hiking the 400-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail. Sign up to follow our progress here.
TRAIL MAP (date hiked)
- Robert Louis Stevenson State Park: Table Rock to Palisades Spur (Nov. 27, 2021)
- Robert Louis Stevenson State Park: Lower Oat Mine to Palisades Spur (Nov. 27, 2021)
This hike is arguably the most difficult on the Ridge Trail – rocky and occasionally steep, difficult to navigate; remote and lightly traveled. It was not an ideal hike for managing symptomatic atrial fibrillation on the trail for the first time.
Truth be told, I began the hike in afib, perhaps triggered by dehydration after a 10-hour drive the previous day. I brought plenty of water for the hike, but my body couldn’t catch up. My pace slowed to a crawl after the first mile or so.
Meanwhile, Dawn had a run-in with a trail washout. (See her journal entry below.)
Fortunately, we inadvertently chose the perfect day to hike this treacherous ridge line. A trail run was in progress, so we had plenty of company; the trail was marked with pink ribbons; and volunteers had set up an aid station at the half way mark. We also were hiking with friends.
The volunteers at the aid station, I was cautioned that the only way off the mountain was 1) to complete the hike or 2) to dangle from a rope beneath a rescue helicopter. As I contemplated those choices, the kind man who owns the land beneath the aid station offered a third option, a ride down a private trail on his ATV. The choice was easy.
Dawn and our friends, meanwhile, returned to the state park trail, completing the hike an hour or so before dusk – just in time to pick me up for pizza and a pitcher of beer in Calistoga.
As I sat in the grass awaiting my ride to the vineyards below, I contemplated a few lessons learned. The primary lesson? If my body isn’t right at the trailhead, don’t do the hike.
The views and terrain on this hike were pretty amazing. The vistas are breathtaking and the surprising field of labyrinths is magical. Had Dan not been having scary heart issues, I would have really enjoyed the day.
The trail made us work for those views though. It is not well marked, is overgrown and has one significant wash-out. At times we had to push through 5-foot laurel bushes growing in the middle of the trail along the steep hillside. The neon pink ribbons marking the trail run event that day were a godsend.
As Dan mentioned, I had the mishap of sliding 10 or 15 feet down a hillside on a section of the trail that had washed away. The sound of cursing filled the air for 10 minutes as I scooted across, slid down further and eventually crawled up the unstable gravel. Thank goodness for hiking poles and a friend that could help pull me the last several feet back onto the trail.
In spite of my slide mishap and a couple of clumsy stumbles, I didn’t find the hike too physically challenging. The elevation gain was not especially steep and the length is completely doable for a day hike. Be aware that the trail is very rocky and mostly exposed. If you venture out, make sure you have a companion, hats, lots of water and hiking poles. The local rescue crew regularly airlifts dehydrated hikers from this trail.
Miles we hiked0
(with returns and connectors)
Our Progress Hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail – 202 out of 400 miles51%