Duff is a small volcanic dome anchoring the eastern end of the Palisades formation in California’s Napa Valley. Though not nearly as impressive as the Palisades or Table Rock, its counterpart on the west end of the Palisades, Duff is nonetheless an excellent summit in its own right. Not only does the peak provide great views of the entire length of the Napa Valley and the region around the northern end of San Francisco Bay, but it also is one of the better vantage points from which to observe the Palisades. Moreover, for those who make the journey up the historic Oat Hill Mine Road and do not want to venture westward on the Palisades trail, it is a top-notch destination in its own right.
The northern end of the Napa Valley exhibits evidence of substantial volcanic activity. Not only is the Geysers Geothermal Field located nearby, but also peaks such as Mount Saint Helena were the result of a massive volcanic uplift. There is even an active geyser, unoriginally called “Old Faithful” amidst the vineyards far below Duff. The geyser is not as large as its Yellowstone namesake, but it is consistent and exciting in its own right. The Palisades are a result of all the volcanic activity, produced by a series of massive lava flows and then subjected to the forces of wind and water erosion. Duff is the result of the same process.
Although the summit is rounded, unlike the peaks of the Palisades, Duff’s lower flanks are cluttered with volcanic crags. The southern face is particularly craggy, with an impressive rampart rising above the Oat Hill Mine Road. The eastern side of the mountain drops precipitously into drainages leading down to the Napa Valley. Beneath the southern ramparts, a long ridge extends from Duff all the way to the outskirts of downtown Calistoga. Oat Hill Mine Road climbs up this ridge, traversing the southern and western slopes of Duff before continuing to Maple Spring, in the Palisades backcountry. Oat Hill Mine Road is popular with hikers but is also a very popular single-track route for mountain bikers.
As previously noted, Duff tends to be overshadowed by its more spectacular neighbors. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy for its astounding views, its interesting crags and its ease of access from Oat Hill Mine Road. For those who want to sample the Palisades without committing to an extended daylong trek, Duff is an excellent destination. In addition, while Oat Hill Mine Road does have a certain amount of traffic, particularly of the wheeled kind, Duff is rarely visited and offers views with solitude.
Either the Palisades trail of Oat Hill Mine Road accesses Duff, though the preponderance of visitation (meager as it is) reaches the peak via the latter. Nonetheless, those making the trek along the Palisades trail via Table Rock might still consider a quick assent up Duff.
Little in the way of human history has taken place around Duff. Native Americans, particularly the Wappo, lived in the region and must have frequented the Palisades area. Oat Hill Mine Road was constructed in the 19th century to provide access to a mine in the Palisades backcountry. The road passed beneath Duff on its southern and western sides. A small homestead, known as Holm’s Place is located in the saddle between Duff and the Palisades. The settlement has several stone buildings, including one with a large stone hearth that still remains. The buildings were all made of large blocks of stone quarried from the nearby crags. One must respect the people who hauled and stacked these rocks in order to build their domiciles. None of the buildings are standing, but their substantial foundations remain and make an interesting addition to an ascent up Duff.
Oat Hill Mine Road Trailhead
From downtown Calistoga, simply drive north on the main street, which is Highway 29. At a stop sign on the outskirts of town, the highway intersects the Silverado Trail. The trailhead is located on the northeast side of the intersection. Parking is located in the dirt lot in the southwest corner of the intersection.
Red TapeDuff is located in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. The park is closed from Sunset to Sunrise. There is no backcountry camping. The backcountry around Table Rock is a checkerboard of public and private land. Although it is a wilderness for all intents and purposes, care should be taken not to intrude on any obviously private property.
Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
CampingThere is no camping at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Moreover, there the park is closed from sunset to sunrise. This precludes any backcountry camping. The nearest public campgrounds are at Clear Lake State Park and Bothe-Napa State Park. Both these options are at least a 0.5 hour drive from the trailhead.
The Napa Land Trust owns the land east of the Palisades and they are negotiating the sale of 3,000 acres of land to the California State Parks for inclusion in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Once this transaction is completed (pending funding from the state, of course) the State Park intends to construct a few backcountry campsites.