How to get outside and active in Napa
Editor’s note: This is the first story in an occasional series we’ll publish this summer with ideas for local outdoor recreation, from easy walks and bike trips to experiences and sports you may have not tried before. Future stories will focus on activities in other North Bay areas.
On a recent warm Sunday morning in Wine Country, Mike and Eileen Wray glided on the Napa River in kayaks past downtown restaurants and tasting rooms beginning to fill with weekend crowds.
The couple, both retired geologists who live in neighboring Solano County, passed beneath several bridges before navigating the curvy Oxbow section of the river. By then, the city of 80,000 seemed far behind.
Dense forest lined the river banks. Flocks of mallards, Canada geese and other waterfowl provided a pleasing symphony of birdsong.
“We never knew the Napa River looked this beautiful,” Eileen Wray said, dipping an oar into the brackish tidal water.
Just then, the couple’s 30-year-old daughter, Jessie, glided by on a paddleboard. The family planned the river outing so she could try the board out before deciding whether to buy one.
When most people think of Napa, water sports don’t come to mind. But in fact, the city, bisected by the river and ringed by mountains, has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast. And yes, many activities can be paired with wine.
Here are four outdoor offerings in Napa sure to tease any palate:
At the Main Street dock beneath Napa’s Third Street Bridge, Drew Dickson outfitted kayakers and paddleboarders with equipment before sending them off on self-guided adventures.
Dickson, the owner of Napa Valley Paddle, has a unique understanding of the river’s ecology and history. His late father, Dave Dickson, was a county official who helped spearhead an enormous flood control project that reconnected the Napa River to its historic flood plain. Beside reducing the risk of future floods, the project transformed downtown Napa from a sleepy backwater into a thriving tourist destination.
Kayaking or paddleboarding along this stretch is now a breeze, thanks to the river’s easy nature, numerous launch sites and companies offering rental equipment and guided tours. Another option for rentals is Enjoy Napa Valley.
This Sunday morning, Thomas Hopmans and Allison Jacobsen, both recent Napa transplants, floated along the river with their schnoodle, Bernie, tucked in the kayak between them. The couple packed a small cooler and streamed music through a portable speaker.
“It’s been awesome getting to experience nature and a different view of the city,” Jacobsen said.
Farther upriver, Darcy Tunt held aloft a bottle of wine she had packed for an outing with her friend Lisa Pavageau. The pair, both Napa residents, regularly meet on the river.
“We can enjoy this year-round. That’s the beauty of Northern California,” said Pavageau, general manager of Scarecrow Wine.
There are numerous public boat launches along this stretch of the Napa River, according to the city’s website cityofnapa.org/Facilities. Boaters and equipment rental operators recommend hitting the water in the morning, before afternoon winds kick up, and timing the outing with the tides.
Fans of disc golf can head to Skyline Wilderness Park in southeast Napa to enjoy one of the Bay Area’s most beautiful, well-planned and challenging 18-hole courses.
On a recent Saturday morning, Patrick Henry and Bryce Dekker, both veteran disc golf enthusiasts from Rohnert Park, played the Skyline course, which they rank among their favorites in the Bay Area.
The course spans 400 acres of hilly terrain marked by oak and manzanita. Getting to it requires a half-mile hike, but the layout is such that golfers can bail after nine holes if the going gets rough.
Henry, an adventure guide, highlighted the course’s finishing touches, such as framed signs showing alternate pin placements and concrete tees that he said take it “from a course to a destination.”
Walnut Creek’s Emily Rada and her husband, Jake, pointed out other unique features of the course, including brooms to clean tees and long poles to retrieve discs caught in trees.
“Usually you’re climbing trees or shaking them,” Jake Rada said.
The couple played 18 holes in just over two hours and burned 780 calories, according to Emily’s smartwatch. They lost one disc, which given the course’s challenging nature, they considered a success.
Skyline also features a more beginner- and family-friendly 9-hole course near the park entrance.
Parking is $6 per vehicle. More information is available at the park’s website, skylinepark.org.
If you find you like the sport, check out Napa Disc Golf Club’s Facebook page, facebook.com/NapaDiscGolfClub.
Skyline Park also offers miles of trails geared toward intermediate and advanced mountain bike riders.
Wrapping up a morning on the mountainous terrain, Art Laforteza compared Skyline to a “roller coaster,” with uphill bursts, loose rock and narrow, twisting single-track routes.
“It’s a good mix,” Laforteza, of Walnut Creek, said.
Laforteza and his brother covered eight miles and 1,341 feet of elevation gain in nearly two hours this morning, according to their smartwatches.
Pascal Ezaki, of Sonoma, finished his ride raving about the views at Skyline, which he compared favorably to parks in Sonoma County and across the Bay Area.
For a much easier ride, cyclists should check out the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a paved trail that eventually will include a contiguous route from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal to the city of Calistoga.
One popular option is to depart from the Trancas/Redwood Park and Ride lot on Solano Avenue in north Napa and pedal six miles to Yountville, for a 12-mile round-trip journey.
The route, which skirts the railroad tracks, is flat, scenic and shaded in areas. There’s even a station along the way where cyclists can pump air into their tires or make minor repairs with tools provided by trail managers.
More information about the Vine Trail is available at vinetrail.org.
Does a leisurely stroll sound more like your speed?
Napa has that covered, too.
The Napa Art Walk is a curated walking tour program in downtown Napa featuring rotating installation art.
With the online map in hand (find it at bit.ly/3qoCtdW), visitors can canvas downtown checking out the art and stopping along the way at a coffee shop, tasting room or restaurant to refuel.
The artwork is in the process of being changed out. The theme of the new two-year installation, “Play!”, is meant to convey movement, according to event organizers. The show features work from artists from across the West.
The walking route includes a free audio tour. Find more information here.