A Hike at Cold Canyon

One of the most popular spring hikes in Yolo County is a trail that starts near the base of  Monticello Dam, on Putah Creek. It enters the Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve (managed by the University of California) and offers the choice of a zig-zag route up to Blue Ridge, a straighter path along the creek, or a loop that encompasses both trails. Last weekend, to brush up on some Coast Range botany and get some exercise, I hiked to the crest of Blue Ridge (1,240 feet in 2.0 miles on a very good trail).

Cold Canyon

Near the start of the trail, if the water isn’t too high, the safest way to cross Highway 128  is to go under it, through one of two large culverts.

Cold Canyon

Much of Cold Canyon burned in the Wragg Fire of late July, 2015. Many trees in the area are still blackened skeletons.

Cold Canyon

But the vegetation here evolved with fire and is well adapted to recover quickly, especially after a winter with well-above-average rainfall. The shrubs will take some years to regrow, and the trees will take longer, but the herbaceous plants are now well-fed, well-watered, and freed from much competition and shading, so their growth is exuberant!


Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Cold Canyon

Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii)

Cold Canyon

Purple nightshade (Solanum xanti)

Cold Canyon

Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum var. achillaeoides)

Cold Canyon

Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Cold Canyon

Golden fairy lantern (Calochortus amabilis)

Cold Canyon

A pleasant view of Lake Berryessa from the crest of the ridge. The reservoir is completely full now and draining through its spillway. Typically, there’s a barren drawdown zone visible above the water.

Cold CanyonLooking north along the ridge. That gap in the middle distance is the narrowest part of Putah Creek canyon—and the location of Monticello Dam.

Cold Canyon

Looking north along the ridge.

Cold Canyon

Western morning glory (Calystegia occidentalis subsp. occidentalis)

Cold Canyon

Looking south along Blue Ridge Trail.

Cold Canyon

Looking into Cold Canyon from Blue Ridge.


It seems remarkable to find a fern (Polypodium californicum), sheltered under rocks on the very crest of this ridge — a place that is extremely hot and dry all through the summer and fall.

Cold Canyon

Large lace parsnip (Lomatium macrocarpum)

Cold Canyon

And finally, an unusually robust, net-like dodder (Cuscuta sp.) entwined among plants, right along the trail . . . .


Copyright © 2017 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.
See also Tim Messick Photography and the Bodie Hills Plants blog.

About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
This entry was posted in Botany, Nature, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Hike at Cold Canyon

  1. Durnan, John says:

    Hi Tim,

    That is a hike we are definitely going to do this year. Thanks for sharing – beautiful.


    John Durnan
    Senior Graphic Artist
    2365 Iron Point Road
    Suite 300
    Folsom, CA 95630
    D 916.817.4938
    No trees were harmed in the sending of this message, however a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

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