Poor Mount St. Helena. Put its name into a search engine and even Google is likely to ask you, "Did you mean Mount St. Helens
?" But Helena, a little gem in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
, is well worth the drive (through beautiful wine country, I might add) if you are in the Bay Area and in search of a solid day hike.
The term "hike" may be a bit of a misnomer for some. The first mile or so of the trek could be considered a traditional hike, whereas the vast majority of it is simply a long uphill tromp on a wide fire road. Because this hike is typically ranked as difficult due to the elevation gain and distance (2,000 feet and just over 10 miles round trip, respectively), I was not looking forward to the journey nearly as much as the payoff: a killer view of the surrounding wine country, mountains, and greater Bay Area.
|The trail, gently ascending along forested trail for the first mile, reaches the fire road at this point. It's all discouraging uphill from here, but well worth it!|
I didn't find the hike to be too bad. It was a bit smoggy out, but temperatures were cool; this isn't a hike to attempt in the hot summer months. There was really no relief on the way up, but knowing the challenges of the trail going into it, I found that is was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other...over and over and over again. We encountered rock climbers along the way and a natural rock formation that definitely provides us with reason to return in the future!
|The Bubble, a popular rock climbing area about a half mile up the fire road.|
Near the top you'll come to the summit plateau, which is surrounded by the five summits of Mount St. Helena. The highest of these is North Peak, and you've come this far - so you might as well go for this one!
|View from the top of North Peak.|
We made pretty good time, completing the entire 10.2-mile round trip hike in about four hours. It's a solid Bay Area peak to bag and one that is accessible to anyone in pretty good shape and willing to put forth the effort necessary. Would I do this one again? Probably not all the way to the top, but certainly to some of the rock climbing areas.