The Meadowood Loop offers varying degrees of difficulty. Proper sports or hiking shoes are required. Water bottles are recommended for guests embarking on the resort's entire 4.5 mile hike.
Long before Meadowood became a haven for discerning travelers, this sheltered stretch of Napa Valley ringed by rugged, wooded hillsides served as farmland. In many ways, little has changed in the bucolic landscape over the years. Nature here is still respected—not tamed. The resort's buildings are designed to harmonize with the native terrain, and indigenous trees and flowers still grow wild. Rather than engineer paths or plantings, Meadowood's grounds staff lets nature be the creative director.
"We see ourselves as stewards of the land," explains Grounds Manager Bob Wiggin, a 21-year veteran of the estate. "We help the long-range health of the forest through pruning and cleaning out [the underbrush] for fire prevention, but we don't have a lot of manicured plants and flowers around the lodges. It gives us a natural park look with lots of indigenous animals running around. Every morning I look out my office door and see ducks, wild turkeys and other woodland animals. There's always something different, something interesting." Among the wildlife that makes a home at Meadowood are deer, raccoons, gray squirrels and jackrabbits.
The crown jewel of the grounds is the Meadowood Loop, 4.5 miles of scenic hiking trails that wind through the woods, rising to heights of more than 600 feet and culminating in breathtaking views of Napa Valley. "Deer always take the easiest walk they can through the woods, so we basically followed their trails when we created the Meadowood Loop," Wiggin explains. "It's one of our most cherished assets."
Aside from a few water bottle stations and benches placed at strategic locations, the local flora is left to its own ingenious devices. Hikers can admire a multitude of the region's plants and trees as they follow the Loop up its Eastern paths, where California buckeye, coast live oaks, as well as native scrub like chaparral, manzanita and chamise are plentiful. These give way to stately Douglas fir trees as the trail ascends to reveal panoramas of the neighboring Mayacamas Mountains, the city of St. Helena and Napa Valley's ever-present vineyards at its crest. The trail meanders gradually back down toward gentler terrain on the western slopes of the resort, which are dominated by black oak and more Douglas firs with a tangle of wild rose and bracken fern at their bases.
Robin on Apple Tree
The woods along the Loop are a birdwatcher's paradise. More than 106 species have been identified, and observant hikers are apt to spot a variety of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, finches and orioles. Lucky guests may even enjoy the luxury of sighting a golden or bald eagle.
Though the majority of guests find the trail's highest elevations with their bird's-eye vistas most impressive, according to Wiggin, "it's a beautiful setting no matter what part of it you're on. There are hidden treasures everywhere if you take the time to walk slowly and observe."
And though the Meadowood Loop is lovely at any hour of the day, it is at its most pristine and peaceful early in the morning. "People can't believe how quiet it is," Wiggin says. What a way to start the day.