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Take a hike: Calistoga’s Oat Hill Mine Trail

Looking for a good day hike to work off your holiday calories? Waddle on over to Napa County for a picturesque intermediate level adventure on the Oat Hill Mine Trail. The 8- to 10-mile trip will take your whole day, so get there early to make sure you have enough time. And yes, it is dog friendly so pack up the whole family and the pooch and hit the trail.

The Oat Hill Mine Trail is actually two trails: The Oat Hill Mine portion, managed by Napa County Regional Parks, and the Palisades Trail in Robert Lewis Stevenson Park. Both take in sweeping views of Napa Valley as they traverse striking volcanic formations and cut through chaparral, grasslands and a diverse mixture of oak, Douglas fir, gray pine and cypress forests.

To experience the full breadth of the trails, take two cars and park one near the Calistoga Trailhead and drive the second one up to the upper parking lots, either at the Palisades Trailhead (for a 10-mile, one-way hike) or Aetna Springs Trailhead (for the 8-mile option). Hiking the trails downhill in this direction is easier, but still great exercise. If you don’t have the luxury of taking two vehicles, park at any of the three parking lots and backtrack along the same path.

We chose the Palisades parking lot for our starting point, since portions of the Upper Oat Hill Mine Trail were closed when we hiked. The trail was gorgeous in late fall, with flowers still blooming before winter rains began to fall.

As you begin the hike you will cross a circular stone labyrinth. Continuing down, the trail to the Holms Place fluctuates from shady to exposed, so wear sunscreen and bring lots of water, as you will find none along the way.

At the intersection of the Palisades trail and the Oat Hill path, you will find the foundation of the Karl Gustov Holm homestead. Holm built his first log cabin in 1893 on his 160-acre property. Part of a barn wall and a few old fruit trees are all that remain today.

What about the mine, you may ask? The Oat Hill Mine was an old quicksilver (mercury) mine, which produced one third of the total U.S. production of mercury from its discovery in 1872 until the late 1960s. Unfortunately, you won’t see any remains of a mine structure from the trail, but you may see a few remaining wagon wheel ruts carved into the volcanic rock faces. The trail you will hike down was completed in 1893 to provide transportation between Calistoga and the mines.

From the Holms Place, the rest of the trail down is rocky, so hiking boots are recommended over sneakers. And because portions of the trail cross private land, please be respectful and keep dogs on leash. Check out my video at vimeo.com/139028208 .

You can reach Janet Balicki at janet.balicki@pressdemocrat or visit her blog, “Trailheads,” at trailhead.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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