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Packing the Perfect Picnic

No matter where you are, picnicking after hiking up a hunger is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Choose a route in your area which is appropriate for your hiking companions — small children will need a path with few hills, for example — and ideally, one that will provide a clear destination for your picnic, such as a waterfall, viewpoint, or a meadow with shady dining spots. Keep the hike to the picnic spot under two hours, as food safety is something you’ll need to think about.

These days, there are several companies that are making insulated backpacks specifically for this kind of outing. If you don’t have an insulated backpack, don’t worry, you can use your regular knapsack as well. Most ready-to-eat foods are fine at room temperature for up to two hours, though that time period will shorten as the temperature increases. If you’re worried about spoilage, bring frozen icepacks. Their purpose will double when they cool you, too, as you start gaining elevation. For extra security, wrap the foods with the icepacks in newspaper to insulate them from the heat of the sun (and your back).

Wine, cured meats, cheese, bread, and fruit are classic picnic pairings. If you have no icepack, stick to firmer cheeses, such as Humboldt Fog goat cheese from Cypress Grove, or Andante Dairy’s goat’s milk-based Minuet cheese. The time you spend hiking will be just enough time for either of these tangy cheeses to loosen up in texture and flavor. If you have a means of keeping goodies cool, bring a compact, triple-cream Pavé D’Affinois, or even a tub of Sonoma Naturals’ Cilantro and Serrano Pepper Cream Cheese Spread. Crackers, flatbreads, or a rustic loaf of bread from one of your local producers will accompany any cheese nicely.
Beaujolais, the light-bodied rosé from Burgundy, France, is the ultimate picnic wine. Light, fruity, but not overly sweet, it will counter the flavors of salty cheeses and cured meats, and marry well with fruits and nuts. Bring plenty of water for keeping each hiker hydrated. Pack up some thinly sliced, cured meats such as the spicy Italian Capocollo, toss in some olives or roasted Spanish Marcona almonds, the fruit of your choice, and you’re almost ready to hit the trails.

Your picnic will be no fun if you find you’ve forgotten an essential tool, such as a corkscrew! Be sure to include the following items in your picnic packing: a blanket, plastic garbage sacks (multiple- purpose ziplocks are best), utensils, a paper bag for cutting on, a corkscrew, a pocket utility knife, paper napkins and plates, plastic cups, S&P, condiment packets, sunscreen, bug spray and wet-naps.

With this information in mind, you should be prepared for perfect picnicking no matter where you choose to go. Please remember to leave the wilderness the way you found it, and always pack out what you packed in. And one more time: don’t forget your corkscrew!


Autumn Outings
The Ultimate Hiking and Picnic Spots Above Wine Country


When visiting Napa and Sonoma in autumn, brilliant reds, rosés and oaky, golden tones aren’t only found in your glass. Leaves on every vine and tree are changing into some of the most vivid displays of fall foliage this side of New England. As Indian summer stretches on, adjacent vineyards will change hues independent of their neighbors, creating an ever-shifting shimmer of color. The higher you can get above the valley floors, the more the landscape reveals itself in all of its seasonal glory.

The bounty of harvest and the (finally) moderate temperatures make this the best season to explore the many hiking trails in Napa and Sonoma Counties, where you’re guaranteed a brilliantly satisfying autumn experience from on high.

Of course, you’ll need some food and drink when you’ve reached your roost, so bring a backpack to fill with delicacies from the following shops mentioned. The walking time of these hikes are less than two hours round trip. How long you choose to stay picnicking is up to you.

THE FOOD: Oliver’s Market
THE HIKE/PICNIC: The Vista Trail in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Sonoma
Oliver’s Market in Santa Rosa is a locally owned, neighborly grocery store with an array of organic fruits, artisanal breads, and locally produced cheeses to fill up your picnic pack. Their innovative deli is stocked with whole grain salads and ready-to-eat dishes. Choose your food, pick up a bottle of your favorite picnic beverage (and some water), and head south on Highway 12 to the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park turnoff.

Find your way to the Vista trail for the perfect picnic perch. Begin at the trailhead of Lower Bald Mountain, and wind your way through golden-grassy meadows, under shady glens of oak and chaparral and join up with Upper Bald Mountain Trail. Trudge up the paved trail until you see the turnoff onto the Vista Trail. Halfway along this hill-hugging route, before you reach the Headwaters Trail, you’ll come across a rocky domed outcrop. Climb up and have a rest. Heck, have your lunch! Enjoy the 180 view from Napa to the Pacific with the Mayacamas in between. If you prefer to display your feast on a blanket and lunch while leisurely lounging, head to the next knoll, which is level and yielding to your seat. When you’re ready to start moving again, continue on the Vista Trail until it meets the Gray Pine Trail. Follow that to the dusty, wide Meadow Trail, around the astronomical observatory and back into the meadow where you began the hike.

THE FOOD: Jimtown Store
THE HIKE/PICNIC: Mt. St. Helena/ Robert Louis & Stevenson State Park
Take a detour into Sonoma County and swing past the countrified Jimtown Store. Surrounded by Alexander Valley grapevines, this little wooden building is as welcoming as your grandmother’s pantry. Here you’ll collect housemade olive spreads, cheeses, and freshly baked sweets as your made-to-order sandwich is prepared. Enticing suggestions from the chalkboard include the packed-with-fuel Chile Jam, Apple-Smoked Bacon and Peanut Butter sandwich, a Hobb’s Prosciutto, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and Fig and Olive Spread sandwich, and as a vegetarian option, Grilled Brie, Green Apple and Mendocino Apple Butter sandwich. Behind sliding glass doors chills a large selection of beverages, ready to be loaded into your packs. The store carries a small selection of local wines, mostly under $30.

Once in the car, head south on 121 towards Calistoga, take a left on Tubbs Lane to Highway 29. Take left on Highway 29 for seven miles to the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Park in the west lot under the redwoods, follow the stairs up the side of the mountain and begin the hike towards commanding views of Napa and Sonoma. The first mile is a shaded path in the woods which leads to a gravel road. Follow the road to the left. The summit of Mt. St. Helena is five miles away, but in only a few steps you’ll get to the edge of the hillside and the tremendous view down Napa Valley, up Knight’s Valley, and out through Sonoma toward the ocean fog. You’ll see a spectrum of autumn colors from the many visible vineyards.

The easy grade of the wide gravel road and the promise of even greater views cajole you onward; you can picnic anywhere. An early spot to eat on this road is at the first major switchback, just under Bubble Rock, where a road barrier built of railroad ties creates a nice seat, table, or both. Fuel up, drink in the views, and decide whether to continue your day on the trail or at the wineries.

THE FOOD: Nonna’s Eastside Market
THE HIKE/PICNIC: Bartholomew Park, Sonoma
The eastern edge of the city of Sonoma is home to Nonna’s, which offers every picnic need, reflecting flavors of the Mediterranean climate that Sonoma county emulates. This newly-opened general store offers fresh local produce, sandwiches, breads, cheeses, specialty meats, and boxed salads to take on the trail. Order the salad with fig, Gorgonzola, arugula and walnuts and see how flavors hold up when your jostling backpack tosses the salad. If you call ahead, owners Tom and Gayle Jenkins will set aside a selection of fresh, local picnic supplies and make a recommendation for an inexpensive, accompanying wine.

When your packs are sufficiently stuffed, head back towards downtown Sonoma, turn right on East 7th Street, and follow the white signs to Bartholomew Park/Winery. Ditch your car next to the winery and stroll through the wine garden, past the last picnic table to the gate that marks the start of two trails. Take the longer, outside loop in order to achieve the best views of the hills and valleys around you. Narrow walkways on dry, rocky ground wind you up and down through low brush and short trees. Wooden benches, some with views, appear sporadically by the path, just in time for water breaks. You’ll cross a cool, shady creek before reaching the lookout point that faces northwest over the Sonoma Valley floor. Wind your way down to the second gate. As you walk towards the winery from the opposite side, a green and inviting lawn opens to your left. Find your own soft patch, open your wine, and spend the afternoon dining under the trees. n n


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