Posted By: Tony Blakey | Apr. 19 2011
The Napa Valley has some great cycling but you need a little local knowledge to find the real gems and leave the tourist crowd behind. Here are a couple of great Napa Valley bike rides that will give you a sense of how Napa was some fifty years ago.
But first … “from our sponsors”: We operate bike tours in the California Wine Country. If you tour with us we take care of all the logistical details and provide a support van. However, if you want to do your own thing, that’s cool too. Here are some ideas for bike tours in the Napa Valley.
And now … the rides: The rides start and end in Calistoga – the quieter end of the Napa Valley.
See below for more details of these Napa Valley Rides.
OPTION 1 – Pope Valley Loop
This route takes you over the shoulder of Mount St Helena to Middletown and then on into the Pope Valley. The Pope Valley has only a few acres under vines and is reminiscent of the Napa Valley 100 years ago.
Your ride starts heading north out of Calistoga on Highway 29 but you soon leave the highway and head up a side valley on an Old Toll Road. This road – forgotten by all but the few people that live alongside it – climbs steeply mostly in the shade of tress. The poor surface makes it a better road for ascending than descending.
After a few steep miles, you rejoin Highway 29 to complete the climb up to the shoulder of Mount St Helena – the road summits at the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. [From the Park it is a 5-mile hike to the summit of the mountain, which boasts some of the best views in the area. On a clear day, you can see to the Ocean, back to San Francisco and as far north as Mt Shasta – well, only on an exceeding clear day!]
From the park entrance, it is a clear downhill run to Middletown – so named because it is halfway between Calistoga and Lower Lake. The road levels and the valley widens as you approach the town.
Middletown makes for a pleasant, if unremarkable lunch spot. There is plenty of choice and you will get a friendly welcome in whichever eatery you choose.
After Middletown, you head east along a wide flat valley and past the Langtry Estate & Vineyards. The winery was the home of noted Victorian beauty and actress Lillie Langtry. You then climb up into the arid Butts Canyon. From here, you descend into Pope Valley – a world of flower-filled meadows and rickety old farms. This is Seventh Day Adventist country so shops are closed Saturday. A steep climb up Howell Mountain Rd brings you to the Seventh Day Adventists college town of Angwin. From here it’s a long, fast descent back down to the Napa Valley.
OPTION 2 – Culinary Cruising
For something that’s rewarding but not too strenuous we suggest you head south down the Silverado Trail to the charming town of St Helena. There are several places to lunch here.
After lunch, loop back to Calistoga along Hwy 29 or burn off some of those lunch excesses with a challenging 10-mile circuit up Howell Mountain. Your reward (apart from burning calories) is enjoying stunning views down into the Napa Valley and a righteous sense that you now deserve an indulgent dinner.
For a casual lunch, collect a picnic in St Helena and head up to Rutherford Winery for lunch in the olive groves with sweeping views over the valley. Alternatively, reserve a table on the terrace at the Culinary Institute of America and enjoy a relaxed lunch in this impressive mansion built in 1889. The Institute is conveniently located next door to the Beringer Winery (tours on the hour) – another impressive mansion constructed in the 1880s at the southern end of St Helena. The Culinary Institute also has cooking demonstrations!