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Silverado Trail — Napa Valley Wine Tours
Few western roads possess the dramatic history, stunning beauty, and elegant opportunities for wine-tasting that you’ll find along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail.
Napa Valley & Sonoma Wine Tasting Tours
Located on the valley’s eastern side and extending northward from the town of Napa to Calistoga, the Silverado Trail runs parallel to the region’s main thoroughfare, Highway 29.
At their widest distance the two roads are separated by only about 3.5 miles. Yet each seems a world—and at times a century—apart.
Highway 29 travels straight down the middle of Napa Valley before hugging the western side, offering broad and beautiful vistas of vineyards, wineries, and mountains.
Justly known for the large and famous wineries, superb restaurants, and luxurious resorts found along its length, the highway also affords easy access to museums, an outlet shopping mall, art galleries, boutique hotels, and much more. It’s not surprising that, with its charming towns and many amenities, Highway 29 is busy enough in certain areas to require four lanes of traffic.
The Silverado Trail, on the other hand, is quiet and serene, a winding, two-lane highway running at a slightly elevated position and nestled against mountains on the valley’s eastern side.
Silverado Trail Wineries
More than 40 wineries reside on the Trail, but they blend into, rather than dominate, the landscape.
Wineries here tend to be small and well dispersed, separated by meadows, ancient farm buildings, stone outcroppings, and patches of forest. Visitors traveling along this road find themselves immersed in the region’s timeless and rather awesome beauty, making it easy to imagine life along the Trail in earlier centuries.
Our winery write-ups will help you decide where to spend your time along the Silverado Trail.
For your convenience, we’ve divided the Trail’s wineries into three geographic categories: North End, Trail Center, and South End. Each group of wineries is identified on an interactive winery map.
Silverado Wine Country
Wine production began along the Silverado Trail as early as 1858, when a European with winemaking knowledge was employed by a local farmer to produce wine on an old cider press.
These days the Silverado Trail not only produces some of the nation’s finest wines; it also passes through some of the nation’s premier appellations, including St. Helena, Rutherford, Yountville, Stag’s Leap, and Oak Knoll.
Wineries along the trail sport a breathtaking range of architectural styles, ranging from European castles to an ancient Persian city, French chateaux to Post-Modernist assemblages, and much more.
Just as the architecture of the Trail’s wineries varies, so does the visitor experience. The first stop of your day’s tasting may bring you to a palatial chateau straight out of France’s Loire Valley, where you’ll be dazzled by pomp and elegance.
Just down the road you might be having the time of your life while tasting on a wooden plank inside a cave, surrounded by endless rows of oak barrels. Vive la difference!
Colorful History of the Silverado Trail
A simple Wappo Indian path for centuries, in 1852 the Trail became a route for horse-drawn wagons carting brick-red crystal cinnabar (a source of mercury) from Mount St. Helena mining operations to Napa River docks. An 1858 silver discovery brought more traffic, and in 1862, when resorts began to grow up around Calistoga’s hot springs, stage coaches filled with vacationers became a common sight.
Another silver discovery in the 1870s created a short-lived boom town, Silverado, on the slopes of Mount St. Helena. With mining payrolls and well-heeled visitors journeying back and forth, the Trail attracted highway bandits. The most famous of all was the “gentleman bandit,” Black Bart. Dressed in black from head to toe, always polite and soft-spoken, Black Bart particularly enjoyed holding up Wells Fargo stagecoaches. He was known for always leaving poetry behind at the scene of his robberies.
Another famous visitor to the Silverado Trail was Robert Louis Stevenson. The author of Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many other adventure tales, Stevenson spent his 1880 honeymoon in an abandoned shack in Silverado, which by then had become a ghost town. From this experience he penned the novel The Silverado Squatters. You can learn more about Stevenson’s time here by visiting the Silverado Museum at St. Helena. You can also take a fairly rigorous hike to the site of Stevenson’s honeymoon cabin in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.
For years this colorful byway was known simply as “the old back road,” but in 1921 it was officially named for Silverado, the silver mining town that thrived on the slopes of Mount St. Helena for a few brief years in the 1870s.
The passing years brought many changes, but the name stuck. Today, however, the words Silverado Trail bring to mind thoughts of world-class wines rather than silver mines.
Follow the link below for individual Silverado Trail winery (from north to south) or click a winery name on the interactive map or sidebar above to jump to a specific winery or section of the trail.
Slideshow—all photos on this page
Suzie Rodriguez writes about travel, food, and wine from her home in the wine-country town of Sonoma, California. You can follow her travels and musings at The Culinary Gadabout.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2014 Lee W. Nelson