Rick Fessenden and Ryan Ayers recently hiked a Trail to Nowhere targeted to become a Trail to Somewhere Special — the top of landmark Mount Veeder, among Napa County’s highest mountains.
When finished, the trail will run through a historic visitor draw. People more than a century ago came to Napa County not only for Wine Country, but also Redwood Country, with its peace-and-quiet, scenery and views.
Mount Veeder at about 2,677 feet isn’t as tall as 4,340-foot Mount St. Helena, but has an impressive height for the south county. It rises amid Mayacamas Mountains forests a few miles west of the city of Napa and offers sweeping vistas of Napa Valley and the Bay Area.
“You really have 360-degree views … you can see forever when it’s clear,” Ayers said.
The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District owns the 160-acre property called The Cove that includes the top of Mount Veeder. As a public agency, it doesn't want this area to be a secret.
Ayers and Fessenden work for the Open Space District. The district's goal is to someday open this trail-to-be to the public, perhaps once a month when a ranger is present so hikers can enjoy the Mount Veeder experience.
And what an experience it is. The 2017 Nuns fire burned to a crisp much of the forest that once covered The Cove. Some redwoods and Douglas firs remain, but the fires only accentuated a vast hillside that is rocky and rugged.
“People come here and see it and they say, ‘Oh, it’s a volcano,’” Fessenden said.
In fact, The Cove received its name decades ago because some thought it to be the crater of an extinct volcano. Fessenden called its rocky face “a big slide.”
Fessenden on this day showed work done to date on the Mount Veeder trail. He led a hike of about a half-mile to where the trail now ends amid a sea of loose stones on the Veeder slope, perhaps less than halfway finished.
That’s how things will stand for a while. Fessenden said the hot summer has hardened the soils, making it difficult for trail-building volunteers to work. He’s uncertain when the trail will be completed.
All of this is part of a bigger rebirth for the fire-scarred The Cove. Plans are to once again make the area a place where people hike and camp amid forests that seem a world away from the vineyards and cities on the Napa Valley floor.
These types of uses would be just more of the same for the Mount Veeder area historically known as Napa Redwoods.
A historic redwoods resort getaway
Tourists from the late 1800s to early 1900s came to Napa Redwoods from San Francisco and other places to spend a week or longer there. They’d travel to such rustic resorts as Johannisberg, Solid Comfort Home and Lokoya Mountain Lodge on the Mount Veeder slopes, in the early days taking a stagecoach.
“It was quite the journey for folks to get up here for the holidays,” Ayers said.
Solid Comfort Home advertised itself as being located on the side of Mount Veeder. A Mount Veeder hike was among the selling points.
“From the summit of Mount Veeder, which is 3,003 feet high (sic) and not very difficult to climb, the view is unsurpassed,” wrote A. F. Allen in some advertising copy.
Allen, who apparently had an eagle eye or strong binoculars, described seeing the Pacific Ocean to the west and boats traveling in San Francisco Bay to the south. He mentioned the Capitol at Sacramento, rivers in the Sacramento Valley and the garden-like crops of the San Joaquin Valley.
“The view, in short, equals any in the world,” Allen wrote, ratcheting up the salesmanship.
One of the first times the Napa Daily Register used the Mount Veeder name was in its July 11, 1879 edition. Rev. P.V. Veeder was formerly pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Napa City and then relocated to Japan, it said.
A big event for this area happened in 1927. The July 2 Mill Valley Record reported that Napa County opened Mount Veeder Drive, a 24-mile route going from the valley floor through the Napa Redwoods with its “unrivaled scenic beauty."
The Record proclaimed that “Mount Veeder Drive will open to the motoring public a virgin district with which even many of the ‘Napanees’ are unfamiliar.”
Likely, Mount Veeder Drive is today's Mount Veeder Road. Mount Veeder Road, Redwood Road and Dry Creek Road create a long, looping drive through what was once called Napa Redwoods.
The Girl Scouts bought The Cove property in 1964 for a camp, starting with an 80-acre purchase funded by cookie sales. The group sold the property to the Open Space District in 2017.
Before the sale was completed, the 2017 Nuns fire burned intensely in The Cove. The Open Space District went through with the purchase anyway, then had the property logged to remove hundreds of blackened trees that could fall and posed a safety hazard.
Rebirth of The Cove
Now the district is working on The Cove's rebirth. That means virtually starting from scratch, since the water system, camping areas and other facilities were destroyed by the fire.
“It’s not going to be a carbon copy, but we’re going to do our best and it’s going to be nice,” Fessenden said.
Volunteers in 2019 planted a few thousand tree plugs and saplings, among them redwoods and Douglas firs. Fessenden estimated maybe 15% will survive. Despite two years of drought, some green trees-to-be can be seen sprouting.
“The idea is a more diverse and fire-resistant forest,” Ayers said.
The Cove of the future is to once again have campsites for group camping events. And, of course, it will be the trailhead for that trail-in-the-making to the Mount Veeder summit.
Before the Nuns Fire of 2017, The Cove had a trail to the top of Mount Veeder used by the Girl Scouts and other campers. But Fessenden said that now-closed trail was steep, with 25% grades. The new one will be more meandering, with switchbacks.
Still, hikers starting in The Cove will have to climb some 800-feet-plus to reach the peak of Mount Veeder.
If that’s not enough, a more challenging Mount Veeder trail experience is planned. The Open Space District would like to have a trail start on its Mayacamas Preserve property along Dry Creek Road near the valley floor and extend through another property to The Cove and on to the peak.
“It would take a while and you’d have to be very fit,” Fessenden said.
Those hardy hikers would get a good look a region described at length in the July 11, 1879 Napa Daily Register by a writer identified only as A.W. R.
“Given clear skies, soft, balmy, dry air, pure mountain water, grand rugged scenery that at times reaches the sublime ... all these in abundance are found in the Napa Redwood hills,” A.W.R. wrote.
Today, visitors to the Mount Veeder area can already enjoy several wineries. When the Mount Veeder trail is completed and The Cove reopens, they'll be able to add a hike with stunning views to their to-do lists.