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Outdoor Yountville: Small Town, Big Action

Outdoor Yountville: Small Town, Big Action

Covering 1.5 square miles, with fewer than 3,000 residents, Yountville is a mere postage-stamp on the Napa Valley floor. Yet here you can hike, walk, golf, bike and even fly to your heart’s content, depending on how much you want to spend and how far in advance you want to plan. Here’s our insider guide to the best fun under the Yountville sun.

Ambitious plan-ahead visitors yearning to soar have chosen the only activity requiring an overnight stay and a gamble on weather. Reserve your spot in a hot air balloon – fingers crossed for good skies – and feel the excitement of an adventure that gets you out of bed when it’s still dark, and then launches you with the sunrise. Napa Valley Aloft, one of three air balloon companies operating out of Yountville, claims the distinction of offering 5-star service, including caffeinated beverages and pastries during the wee-hour launch preparations (30 minutes meet-and-greet with paperwork). Launch from a paved lot downtown, and share your adventure with a dozen others, often including international travelers. Winds will determine whether you soar for 40 minutes or an hour and 30. Either way, you’ll float in a cozy basket, gazing on unparalleled views and enjoying an historic narrative of the landscape below. Descend to Champaign brunch shared with your basket buddies. Start to finish: 4 hours. But skip the brunch and wrap up in 2.5 hours. $220 for the ride and $20 for brunch.

Walkers can spend little or nothing strolling Yountville, where over a dozen tasting rooms offer more generous business hours than wineries to accommodate your schedule. Stroll the Art Walk (maps: Visitor’s Bureau, 6484 Washington St. # F) and the culinary garden of the world-renowned French Laundry restaurant. A stop at Bouchon Bakery for coffee and pastries will provide shade and a park-bench rest (expect birds begging at your feet). Then cross the street to the V Marketplace for intriguing shops including Kollar Chocolates. Explore the tiny park with the hefty name: Van De Leur. And in the historic graveyard, search for the name George Yount to find the town founder’s resting place.
If you have more energy than a stroll will burn, you can fit in a few hours of golf. Easy to find on the gently sloped lawns below the historic Veteran’s Home of California, Vintners Golf Club is a championship course with three sets of tees. Course fees for non-residents are a mere $40 for 18 holes on weekend days. Throw in a cart for an extra $13. Rates drop on weekdays. While epicures will much prefer to seek their pre- or post-game meals in town, a hamburger or hotdog can always be found on the menu of the Lakeside Grill, which boasts views of the ornamental lake with its geyser-like fountain. A note to golfers: since you will have the good fortune of sharing this golf course with military veterans, practice local etiquette of waving and smiling when you encounter vets on the course.

Biking is popular here, though cycling an agricultural preserve is a unique, sometimes tricky experience. To have fun and stay safe, get some guidance from local experts. Napa Valley Bike Tours and Rentals, operating since 1987, can provide you with not only a bike but also some sound advice about where to ride that bike. You have three service options. For $45, you get a rental bike for the day, plus brochures, maps and coaching before you peddle off; for $108, you get all that plus a box lunch and wine pick-up service; and for $124 to $164, add a fully guided tour with a local. Their newest option is to start from Napa at their sister store, bike 7 miles north for a day of Yountville attractions, leave the bike, and Uber back to Napa. Or bypass the $10 bike return fee and simply ride back.

Hiking is not a first thought when you hit the flat streets of Yountville. But hikers will discover a gem hidden among the vineyards here: the Napa River Ecological Preserve. From Yount Street, the main artery through downtown, drive north and turn right (heading east) on the Yountville Cross Road. In just under a mile, on your left, you’ll find a dirt parking lot and the trailhead. Without dramatic inclines, this 73-acre preserve still provides an exercise in amazement. Immerse yourself in riparian beauty for the 1-mile round-trip trail, consider that you’re meandering the ecological past of the Napa Valley, the forest it was before farming and housing created the patchwork landscape of today. You may get your feet wet during the easy river crossing. And all birders: bring your scopes.

Yountville is a celebrated for food and wine. But outdoors, the menu offers activities ranging from serene to exhilarating.

By Juliane Poirier

Juliane Poirier is a Napa-based writer and artist. Contact her at juliane1@sbcglobal.net

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