View of the highway and the lake from the loop trail. Trail sign showing the Homestead/ridge loop and Pleasants Ridge trails
Stebbins Cold Canyon is a UC Davis Nature Reserve located in Solano County near the outlet of Lake Berryessa, named for botanist and evolutionary biologist G. Ledyard Stebbins (1906-2000). See the map to the trailhead.
Cold Canyon is a popular place to hike and explore because it has some amazing views and is an all-around nice place to get back to nature. It contains the closest hiking trails to Davis with any significant elevation. Dogs are not allowed on the reserve itself, but there are adjoining trails on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land where dogs are allowed, on leash. See the Yolo hiker website linked below for details.
If you're coming from Davis—about a 30-minute drive—and you get as far as the Monticello Dam at the Lake, you've gone too far. There is a small dirt parking lot on the right side of the road shortly after you pass Canyon Creek Resort. The trailhead is across the street (where there are a few additional parking spaces). The road is curvy and cars sometimes drive fast, so cross carefully. The parking area also serves the Pleasants Ridge trailhead (see map).
Frequent visitors to Cold Canyon may wish to consider donating to the nonprofit organization Tuleyome, which is seeking to buy land at the headwaters of the canyon that would permit the building of additional hiking trails.
See the website above for a listing of presentations and guided hikes in the reserve and along the loop trail. For more detailed information about this reserve, find the book by Correigh Greene and Mikaela Huntzinger, called The Natural History of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.
Warning: Poison Oak is rampant in the canyon. It's avoidable if you know what you're looking for, but it's everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
If you follow the trail through the valley (there are trails that go into the hills) it eventually ends at the homestead. There are rumors of covered shafts that connect to a system of caves. Just before reaching the homestead, one will go through a clearing. On the left, the slope was landscaped decades ago. There are mysterious mounds with grates. These could be the shafts that lead to the caves.
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I have hiked up into the region numerous times, but do not know anything much about the specific area. Though i was an undergraduate in Geology and a caver and I know the general region pretty well as i did my senior thesis nearby. Most of that area is known as the knoxville formations, a sandstone/siltsone formation. It is extremely brittle and fractured, as you witness right by the dam. Most of caves of California are found in limestone formations, which i do not believe are found in that area. I would guess that chance of caves is almost nil. —BrianSolecki
2007-04-05 22:24:22 Amazingly gorgeous canyon hike (although a little tricky to find the beginning of the trail at first). I took the Homestead Trail- which, in total, is about 2 miles round-trip. Some parts of the hike were a little steeper than I had expected, but not overly difficult by any means. I definitely plan on coming out again for another hike. —StacieTownsend
2007-09-06 23:04:46 This place has ticks (duh)! Watch out because they fall from above... I found a big one in my friend's hair. —DanielWorthington
The tick certainly could have fallen from above, but they're also well known to walk up a body until they find a nice spot to rest after they've landed on someone that's brushed against a branch or something. —WesHardaker
2008-11-30 16:20:35 I found some little scorpions under an old railroad tie just off of the Homestead trail once, so hikers be advised! There are definitely abundant ticks, but I've heard that they don't carry Lyme disease...something to do with feeding on the Fence Swifts (those blue-bellied lizards) and the lizard blood killing the Lyme's in the ticks themselves? Can anybody confirm or deny that? Once, late in the spring, I saw a trout trapped in a pool way, way up the canyon. It was weeks after the creek had started to break up and ceased to flow. The trout was still jumping for flies. Amazing. Cold Canyon is one of the prettiest and most underrated/hidden nature spots in the area. Bring a camera. —K.C.STAUBACH
2009-08-21 01:24:20 Stebbins is awesome, but if you're planning on doing the Loop Trail make sure you're prepared. When they say strenuous they really mean it. I would also advise against doing it backwards. Start at the trailhead with the sign that says UC Davis on it. If you start at the other end you have to climb about a 900 foot elevation gain in the first hour, whereas if you go the other way the elevation gain is a lot more gradual. —jsogul
2010-05-23 20:17:08 The closest (and best IMO) hiking from Davis. I highly recommend the loop trail. I use it for a workout but it makes an awesome leisure hike too with lots to see! —ARWENNHOLD
2011-09-25 22:01:04 Hiking at Cold Canyon on a cool, drizzly fall day was a delightful change from being too hot all summer. It was a challenging day for photography, but I got a few good photos along the way. —BruceThomas
2011-10-11 14:40:44 Anyone else think that "Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve" would make a great name for a beer? —JimStewart
2012-11-24 16:48:58 Went here for a hike today and had a great time, but when we left we noticed that two of the cars in the lot had their windows smashed in. The cars were on opposite ends of the parking lot. There was glass on the ground. —RobertaMIllstein
2013-01-20 03:00:38 Probably the closest REAL hike to Davis. The trails offer some nice steep climbs, interesting flora and fauna, and gorgeous views of Lake Berryessa, the river canyons, and even the Sierras.
Warning - there are always vultures circling hopefully over the trails. Maybe they're just there for the updrafts created by the steep canyon walls, but I think they're eyeing the hikers. —Otter