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Berryessa Snow Mountain

Check out a new national monument in Napa and Lake Counties.

  • hiker atop Berryessa Peak, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Andrew Fulks
    Photo caption
    A visitor surveys a rolling landscape from the vantage point of Berryessa Peak in Northern California.
  • a meadow with spring poppies at Berryessa Snow Mountain, image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Andrew Fulks
    Photo caption
    A carpet of brilliant spring poppies covers a meadow at Berryessa Snow Mountain.

Say "Berryessa" and most Northern Californians think of Napa Valley's largest reservoir. But the recently designated Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument has expanded that name in a big way. Established with a presidential pen stroke in July 2015, the new preserve encompasses a 330,780-acre corridor of wilderness areas that starts near Lake Berryessa and stretches up into Lake County and the Mendocino National Forest. The vast region contains oak woodlands, wildflower-covered meadows, and old-growth forests. Roads are few and narrow―and the sights they lead to are sublime.

The monument is an undiscovered landscape rich with rare and endemic species. The endangered Pacific fisher, a member of the weasel family, resides here, along with northern spotted owls and herds of tule elk. "We want people to come and see the monument's biological diversity," says Sara Husby, executive director of Tuleyome, a group that campaigned for the area's protection. "The recreation opportunities are outstanding."

Wildlife watchers head for the monument's Lake County region, where bald eagles put on an annual show at Cache Creek. "It's the second-largest habitat of wintering bald eagles in California," Husby says. From November to March, hikers on the Redbud Trail can view eagles soaring above the waterway's sheer volcanic canyon. Visitors can get expert knowledge on one of the ranger-led bald eagle hikes organized by the BLM's Ukiah Field Office.

To go up a notch on the adrenaline scale, sign up for a do-it-yourself rafting trip on Upper Cache Creek, the closest white water to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. The river's Class II and Class III rapids offer plenty of thrills but are mild enough during the right flow that beginners can pilot their own boats. (Check the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District website for water levels.) In June and July, local rafting companies provide equipment, instruction, and shuttles from county parks and BLM land near Rumsey along Highway 16.

Husby's favorite region of the monument is the Snow Mountain Wilderness. "The views are gorgeous and the smell of the pines connects me to the land," Husby says. Equestrian and hiking trails near 7,056-foot Snow Mountain wend through dense forests of red fir, Jeffrey pines, and incense cedars. First-time visitors should make the hike (five miles out and back) from West Crockett Trailhead to 35-foot Stony Creek Falls, which flows all season. For a longer excursion, a 5.4-mile loop to Milk Ranch Meadows offers views of surrounding peaks. In winter, Snow Mountain lives up to its name, offering a snowy playground for backcountry skiers and snowshoers.

This article was first published in December 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.