With summer in full swing and with a brand new bike prime for exploring new terrain, I decided to embark on a new adventure this past weekend! My cousin and I decided to tackle the entire Napa Valley Vine Trail, or what’s been completed thus far, at least.
For those of you who are hearing about this for the first time, The Napa Valley Vine Trail will be a 47-mile walking, running, and biking trail system that connects the entire Napa Valley together, from Calistoga to the Vallejo Ferry and the greater Bay Area.
In this post, I’ll be outlining what the Napa Valley Vine Trail is, as well as documenting my experience of actually biking the Napa Valley Vine Trail.
WHAT IS THE NAPA VALLEY VINE TRAIL?
The Napa Valley Vine Trail has been something I’ve been really excited about since I first heard of it. But, what’s so special about a bike path? Well, this isn’t just any old bike path–this is a paved trail reserved solely for bikers, walkers, and runners. Yes, no cars–no fearing for your life if you’re a novice biker! You can really live out your European countryside biking dreams on the Napa Valley Vine Trail.
Currently, the Vine Trail is a work in progress, only spanning 12.5 miles. It currently runs from Kennedy Park in South Napa up to Yountville, CA. Once the trail is complete, it will stretch a whopping 47 miles, from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal through the world-renowned vineyards and towns of Napa Valley, to its northern gateway in Calistoga at the foot of Mount St. Helena.
More than 300 trees have been planted that will eventually shade trail users. Interpretive signs call out special areas of interest. There are shelters for rest stops with bike racks and bike work stations, maps, and other information. There are also mileage markers that serve to indicate your progress.
But until all of that’s complete, we get to enjoy the existing 12.5 miles! A roundtrip ride equates to 25 miles, which is plenty long for a day ride. You can find a map of the completed 12.5 miles from Kennedy Park to Yountville here.
But wait I haven’t mentioned the best part yet! There are a handful of wineries situated right off the Vine Trail, meaning you could literally go winery-hopping by bike! And if you’re not drinking, it’ll still be very nice to walk around each of the property’s grounds. You will have to exit the bike path and ride some distance along local roads to access the wineries, but it’s easy, leisurely, and avoids the busier roadways.
THE NAPA VALLEY VINE TRAIL: WHAT’S IT ACTUALLY LIKE?
So what will you actually see when you get on this trail? Well, the vine trail follows along the existing Napa Valley Wine Train tracks and Hwy 29 North. The ride is pretty straightforward, except for 2 portions of the trail in Napa, where the trail “disappears”, requiring you to take surface streets and pass through traffic lights to reconnect with the trail.
A bit more information on that–there are two “gaps” in Napa where the Vine Trail has not yet been constructed. This means you will need to ride in a Class II bike lane alongside cars for just a little bit.
The sound of that may make you nervous, especially when riding with kids, but don’t be. Once you get to the spot where you need to hop off the trail, there will be clear instructions posted on where you need to go and which streets you need to hit. There are also signs with arrows pointing you in the right direction to get back on the Napa Valley Vine Trail. These signs were absolute lifesavers, so keep an eye out for them if you ever get confused about your whereabouts.
And if you are still confused, just follow the other bikers around you. There’s no shame in not knowing where to go (especially because it can be so confusing for first-timers)!
Before starting, I did a bit of research on these “gaps”. I’m not a directions person, so reading about all the street names made absolutely no sense to me. My recommendation is to just worry about when you’re there. Using the directions on the signage, my maps below, and your trusty Google Maps app, you’ll find your way eventually.
We started at the official starting point, Kennedy Park. The path here was wide open, flat and enjoyable. You will meander through the park and then alongside a railroad for a few miles. The old, run-down Napa Valley Wine Trains were quite interesting to see.
From there, you’ll ride 2.5 miles north on the trail to Oxbow Public Market, a bustling food hall that features restaurants, vendors, local produce, and a riverside deck overlooking the Napa River.
Okay, so getting to Oxbow Public Market can be confusing for first-timers. Once you begin to see the Napa Riverfront buildings (the pretty buildings across the river), continue straight to cross the traffic light while riding on the sidewalk. Once you get to the end of the street, you’ll be turning left. But do not cross the river via the pedestrian overpass! You will want to take the underpass that brings you alongside the river (there are a few switchbacks that you’ll take to get down to river level. From there, ride along the path until it opens up to a large open space with lots of cement. To your right of that area is Oxbow Public Market.
Take a look at this map, I hope this makes it more clear:
Now, spend some time eating at some of the different restaurants and perusing the little shops inside the public market. Hog Island Oyster Co. is a popular option.
Wonder what else there is to see, do, and eat at Oxbow Market? Check out this post here where I showcase the complete Oxbow Public Market experience.
Once you finish exploring Oxbow Public Market, head onto nearby McKinstry St. Ride all the way down until you reach Soscol Ave. Cross the large crosswalk to get to Vallejo St., where you will find the entrance to the Napa Valley Vine Trail again.
See the map below for a better illustration:
From here, you’ll be riding alongside the train tracks. The view here isn’t the best or most interesting. There are art murals speckled here and there, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re riding on the backroads next to some unappealing train tracks. In fact, it was probably the most boring stint of the ride.
Be mindful that there aren’t benches, lawns, or water fountains during this whole section, so if you’ve picked up sandwiches from Oxbow Public Market, you’ll need to ride quite a few miles further or head off the bike trail entirely in order to find a place to sit and eat.
Once you get to Union and begin seeing sights of Highway 29, the views definitely open up and get better. Still, there are no benches to sit on (and not very much shade), so keep riding. With no benches or picnic tables in sight, we were afraid our sandwiches would get soggy, so during one of our rest breaks between Union and the Oak Knoll bike station, we took a ‘standing break’ and devoured our sandwiches.
WINERY STOP: If you are looking for a winery to stop at, consider Laird Family Estates (tastings by appointment only) or Silenus Winery. Both Laird and Silenus wineries are accustomed to serving bicyclists dressed in super casual garb, so there is no need to be self-conscious. They’re also relatively close to each other.
At this point, you’ll be riding parallel to Highway 29 through the center of the vineyard-covered valley floor. As you continue riding, you’ll start to see more grapevines to your left and right. You’ll be crossing over a bridge or two, and also start to notice more trees (which means more shade too!), as well as a bench and some signage at the bike stations. After what seems like forever, you’ll finally approach Yountville!
When you get to Yountville, park your bike and get ready to explore on foot! Downtown Yountville is small but packed with wineries, restaurants, and shopping.
WINERY STOP: For some wine tasting, try Girard Winery, Stewart Cellars, Priest Ranch Wines, Handwritten Wines, or Hill Family Estate.
And if a bite to eat is what you’re looking for, I hope you have reservations! Yountville is a foodie mecca, boasting popular restaurants such as French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Ad Hoc, and more. (Ever heard of Thomas Keller? Yeah, he has like 5 famous restaurants in Yountville, CA.)
Pro Tip: Make dining reservations early, especially if you’re heading to Napa Valley on a warm summer weekend. If you don’t have lunch reservations, you can try La Calenda, Coqueta, or Ottimo (takes walk-ins) or stand in line for Bouchon Bakery for takeaway lunch and some astounding pastries.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed roughly 13-15 miles of road and experienced a slice of Napa Valley’s wineries, shops, and local attractions.
After refueling on food, grabbing an ice-cold coffee or tea, and shopping in Yountville, it’s time to make the trip back to where you started.
Alternatively, if there are kids in your group, Yountville Park is a great finale.
For us, it meant loading up on fancy tacos at La Calenda, then riding all the way back to Kennedy Park, 12.5 miles away. We totally underestimated how long this ride actually was, because our butts and mid-backs really started hurting midway through our entire ride. (I had on thin leggings and a bulky backpack for the entire duration of the ride!)
Pro Tip: Learn from our mistakes! If you’re a novice biker planning on doing the whole 25-mile ride, wear the right biking gear or upgrade to a more comfortable bike seat.
The full 25 miles might be too much for many people, so I’d recommend starting in Yountville and riding to the Oak Knoll bike station. From there, turn around and ride back (this ride equates to about 6 miles round trip). Or if you have more energy, you can ride further to Napa.
All in all, the Napa Valley Vine Trail was a super fun experience. I’m sure as they make more development progress, the less beautiful parts of the trail will improve (add more art murals, more trees for shade, more benches for rest stops). Even still, this day-long adventure was incredibly unique and is definitely one of the top things to do in Napa other than drink wine.
NAPA VALLEY VINE TRAIL: BIKE RENTALS AND BIKE TOURS
When all 47 miles of the Napa Valley Vine Trail are completed and operational, there will be multiple places along the route to rent bicycles. Right now, with only 12.5 miles of the trail complete, there are limited options. If you’re itching to get out on the road but in need of a bike, you have a few options.
For do-it-yourself-ers, you can rent a bike from Napa Valley Bike Tours, one of the most popular bike rental spots out in the Napa area. They have locations in both Downtown Napa and Yountville, which means you can start at either end and enjoy a round trip ride around the valley! You can also rent from one location and return it to the other. The ride between their two shops is 9 miles, plus whatever detours you make to visit wineries. Please note that for all point-to-point rentals there is a 2-hr minimum rental charge, plus a $20 per bike Relocation Fee.
If you’d rather take a bike tour and pair it with some wine tastings, check out their Napa Valley Wine Tasting Bike Tour. The biking tour takes you to two wineries where you’ll taste and learn about each winery’s production methods, and finishes by the early afternoon, leaving you free to explore Napa on your own.
Looking for more options? Check out these additional bike tours by Napa Valley Bike Tours (bike and picnic, electric bike wine tasting, etc).
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR THE NAPA VALLEY VINE TRAIL
- You will find that delis and markets are few and far between. I recommend packing a lunch or grabbing a sandwich (or something portable) at Oxbow Public Market before continuing your bike ride to Yountville.
- If you’re bringing your own bike and riding point-to-point, your options for getting back to your starting point are riding all the way back, or calling a taxi or Uber/Lyft.
- If you are a novice biker and decide to ride the full 25 miles, get some padded biking shorts or make sure your seat is cushioned enough. Oh boy were we not prepared for the butt pain we endured halfway through!
- If you’re planning on eating in Yountville, be sure to make reservations ahead of time (days ahead of time, if possible). Yountville, CA is renowned for its restaurants, and a lot of them require reservations and might not have enough seating to take walk-ins. If you find yourself heading to Yountville without reservations, try La Calenda (takes walk-ins).
- Bring water with you! A great majority of this ride is unshaded, so you’ll want to stay hydrated during your ride.
- Bring a hat and wear sunscreen on your ears, neck, arms, and legs at the very least. Again, the Napa Valley Vine Trail is quite unshaded and you don’t want to get sunburned.
- Be sure to follow bike etiquette:
- Keep right, pass left
- Be vocal & alert others of your presence (Just say “On your left!” when passing to the left of someone)
- Slow down & ride single-file when approaching other trail users
- Obey stop signs & traffic signals