Solano County isn’t known for being a hot bed for hiking. When there’s world class scenery right in our own backyard in the Bay Area and Sierra Nevada, it’s often easy to see why hikers might overlook Solano. Don’t, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Solano County boasts a variety of terrain that ranges from sweeping mountain vistas, to gently rolling hills and flat tidal marshes. Without further ado, should you make Solano County your adventure destination, here are a few hikes to try out.
1. Green Valley Falls
When one thinks of Solano County, I doubt the image of lush green canyons and waterfalls would come to mind. Yet that is exactly what exists here in this small little canyon located in the hills between Fairfield and Napa. I’ve been hiking a lot of places in California but this one is one of my favorite hikes simply because of how unusual it is for the location. It’s an easy 2.2 mile hike with a little bit of elevation gain. At one point there’s a flight of stairs to climb. Along the way you’re treated to a rushing creek and a smaller falls flowing off a small dam. Once you approach the falls, you’ll see that the canyon surrounding it is lined with moss, ferns, and dripping with water. Suddenly, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Hawaii! It’s a pretty amazing place. The hardest part about the hike is gaining access. The property is owned by the City of Vallejo Lakes System and is only opened to hikers four times a year with a guide. Generally the four hikes are on Saturdays in April, May, and June and are limited to the first 30 people. Plus there is a fee is $25 and you must pre-register a week in advance and bring a photo ID with you to the hike. However, if you’re willing to jump through all the hoops I promise the hike is well worth the effort.
Register online through the Bay Area Ridge Trail council. Signups usually begin in mid to late winter.
If you’ve spent any time around Vacaville or Fairfield, you’ve probably seen Mt. Vaca but not realized it. It sits high on the ridge of the coast range to the west of Vacaville but is only an inundation above the rest of the ridge. Look for the communication towers and you’ll find it. Nonetheless, this little inundation is Solano County’s highest point at 2,819 feet in elevation. I hesitate to even call this a hike because technically, you can drive all the way to the top. However, you can also park farther down the road and make it a short 1 mile round trip from the top of Mix Canyon, or a slightly longer 3.5 miles round trip from the top of Gates Canyon. However you get here, you will be rewarded with million dollar views on all sides of the Sacramento Valley, Coast Range, Sutter Buttes, Mt. Diablo, Sierra snow caps (in the winter and spring), most of the North Bay and parts of the East Bay. I’ve even seen the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and some San Francisco skyscrapers on clear days. On exceptionally clear days, I’ve even seen Mt. Lassen, 150 miles away. It’s truly a feast for the eyes, and all within a 30 minute drive from Vacaville. I assure you that after your first time you’ll be back for more.
Directions: From I-80 East, take the Cherry Glen exit, make a left. Turn left onto Pleasants Valley Road and follow it for about 5 miles. Turn left onto Mix Canyon Road and follow it all the way to the top where the pavement ends. Begin your hike through the gate to your left (always open when I’ve been up). It’s about .5 miles to the top from here. For a longer hike, turn left onto Gates Canyon Road from Pleasants Valley and follow it all the way until you reach the top of the ridge and pavement ends where the road turns to the right. It’s about 5 miles to the parking area in either case. From the top of Gates Canyon Road it’s about a 3.5 mile round trip hike with about 500 feet in elevation gain. In both cases, stay on the road as the land on either side is private property. As I understand it there is a public easement on the road though, just not on the adjoining property.
Of course you could forgo the hiking and just drive up the gravel road to the top, but what fun would that be?
Stebbins/Cold Canyon Reserve
If you’re looking for a challenging hike with great ridge line views and cool, shaded canyons with a good flowing stream, look no further than the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, located off of Highway 128 west of Winters. You might be thinking that this is in Yolo County, and while you do have to cross through Yolo to get here, most of the reserve is in Solano County (along the ridge line you’ll actually walk along the Napa/Solano border). While there are a couple of trails here, the most popular is the Blue Ridge Loop. You can either start by hiking up the Blue Ridge Trail up the ridge and following it, or following the Homestead Trail up the canyon before climbing the ridge to the Blue Ridge Trail. You can also extend your hike by doing the Annie’s Rock loop, and I’ve heard the views are amazing from there (though I haven’t personally done this part). Along the Blue Ridge you’ll get great views of Lake Berryessa and the surrounding mountains. Even better if it’s spring and everything is green! Avoid doing this in the dog days of summer though, because temperatures can be extreme here. Bring lots of water, you’ll need it!
Directions: From Winters, take State Highway 128 west until you cross over Putah Creek at the foot of Monticello Dam. Less than a mile later you’ll see a parking area and a trailhead to your left. If you reach the top of the dam, you’ve gone too far. Come early on weekends when the weather is nice because parking fills up fast here. Hike ranges from 5-7 miles depending on what trails you use. Moderate to strenuous
NOTE: At the time of writing the Stebbins/Cold Canyon Reserve is currently closed due to the Wragg Fire that severely burned the park last summer. It is scheduled to reopen on May 15, 2016 so please respect the closure and wait until then to do this hike. I know I’m eagerly awaiting the re-opening!
Rockville Hills Regional Park
I’ve been coming to Rockville since I was a small little Cub Scout, and I still enjoy coming here years later. It’s a little (not so) hidden gem tucked in the hills north of Cordelia that consists of varied terrain from rolling grasslands to oak forests. In the middle of the park there’s a sizable lake that makes a nice place for a picnic or to stroll around. In other parts of the park you can get great views of Fairfield/Suisun and the valley beyond, explore a small cave, and view the remnants of a small quarry. There’s also parts of the park where evidence of the Green Valley Fault can be viewed, so it’s a pretty geologically rich area. The best time to do this hike is in the spring when the hills are green, but can be done year round. Just watch out for the heat in the summer. Trails criss cross the park so the best way is to just print out a map and wander around the park. It’s pretty hard to get lost and trails are easy to navigate.
Directions: From I-80 West, take the Suisun Valley Road exit and make a left towards Solano College. Turn left onto Rockville Road and the park will be on your left a couple miles up. Parking can be an issue on weekends when the weather is good. $3 per person entry fee, payable at a kiosk next to the entrance.
Lynch Canyon Open Space
Lynch Canyon, located in the hills between Fairfield and Vallejo, is a great place to go if you want good views of the North Bay and the surrounding area. There are a variety of trails within the park, ranging from hilltop vistas to creekside canyons, but for the best views of Vallejo and surrounds you’ll want the South Valley Trail and Kestrel Trail. The above picture was taken of a lonely little house on top of a hill off the Kestrel Trail (you can’t go in the house, it’s outside park boundaries, but you can admire from afar). Like most area hikes, it’s best done in the spring to take advantage of the green hillsides while still having mostly favorable weather. Watch out for cows (and their droppings) as they roam freely in most parts of the park. Guided hikes are also offered occasionally at this park through the Solano Land Trust if you want to learn more about its flora and fauna.
Directions: From I-80 in either direction, take the Red Top exit (westbound from Fairfield) or the Hiddenbrooke exit (eastbound from Vallejo) and get on McGary Road. You’ll know it because it parallels 80 between these two exits. Follow McGary Road until you see a sign to turn off for Lynch Canyon. Go under the freeway and through the gate to the parking area. Fee is $6 per car. Also note that Lynch Canyon is only open on weekends. For guided hikes, check the events schedule on the Solano Land Trust website. http://www.solanolandtrust.org
Of course, there are so many other hikes that I didn’t mention that are great places to hike and explore. Some I have done and others I haven’t but look forward to. Other great trails/parks to check out include:
- Lagoon Valley Park near Vacaville
- Hiddenbrooke Trail near Vallejo (great views of Vallejo and the Bay Area)
- Rockville Trails Preserve (access only through guided hikes with the Solano Land Trust, so check their events calendar. I highly recommend though, it’s a beautiful property)
- Rush Ranch near Suisun (mostly flat trails through that gives you a taste of the largest brackish water marsh on the west coast. Unique plants and landscape)
I hope this inspires you to get outside and explore, even right in your own backyard! There’s so much to see if all you do is look.
What are your favorite places to hike in Solano County? (or beyond?)