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 was a popular place to hike and explore because it has some amazing views and was an all-around nice place to get back to nature. It also It contained the closest hiking trails to Davis with any significant elevation. Sadly, the Cold Canyon area was devastated by the Wragg Fire in the summer of 2015, (see below). The trails have been closed for the remainder of 2015.
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).
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.
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.
The Cold Canyon area was severely burned by the Wragg Fire in July of 2015. The fire burned almost the entire hiking area, with only the southern most portions surviving. The cabin and lengths of the long stair section on the south end of the ridge loop trail did not burn, as well as the entire Tuleyome trail to Annies Rock. Along the Ridge Loop trail, large areas along the valley floor were badly burned, and many areas along the top of the ridge were completely decimated.
The fire produced a number of hazards along the trails, and UC Davis suspended recreational access to the canyon between July 2015 and May 2016. A number of trees had fallen across the trail, many of the wooden steps had burned, and newly exposed landscape was at risk of mudslides during the wet season. Tuleyome coordinated volunteers during the weeks that followed to help clear debris, repair damage to the trails, and control erosion. A few new improvements were installed as well, including a new approach through the culverts below HWY 128. A new trail was added from the lower parking lot that follows along the creek. A short connector to the upper parking lot was also constructed. On the canyon side of the culverts, a second new connector trail was added to allow access to the ridge loop. The new approach allows hikers to access Stebbins Canyon while avoiding cars on a dangerous curve in the highway. The lower parking log as also been improved, and includes a new portable toilet to replace the older toilet that was destroyed in the fire. The upper parking lot was also regarded under a separate Caltrans project, but signs have been posted there that the lot will be closed in the future. UC Davis reopened the ridge loop trail on May 15, 2016.
As of June 2016, the Tuleyome leg to Annies Rock was mostly clear, but heavy with poison oak in some spots The Pleasant Valley Trail along the east ridge was still closed.
Pics from July 24, 2015:
Pics from two weeks after the fire:
- Take A Trip: Blue Ridge Trail at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve - MegaVegHead 19jan2013
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve hiking - People + Places + Things 28nov2012
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Putah Creek Wildlife Area - hikethis 02oct2011.
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve hiking - BRT Insights 25sept2011.
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve - Red Tail Trails 25aug2010.
- Bay Area Hiker Discussion Board - Cold Canyon Loop 7X - 13april2010.
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve hiking and wildflowers - BRT Insights 11april2010.
- Tea and Kate: Spring Hike in Stebbins Cold Canyon 03jan2010.
- geno's blog: Stebbins Cold Canyon Hike 03feb2009.
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve - Solano County - NorCal Explorer 02jan2007.
- Gambolin' Man: Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve 29may2005.
- Stebbbins Cold Canyon driving map, topographic map, hiking map
- Blue Ridge Loop Trail - Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve - Sierra Club Online Communities
- UC Davis Natural Reserve System - Stebbins Cold Canyon
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Field Trip - Putah-Cache Bioregion Project
- Cold Canyon - Local Herping Spots - Northern CA Herpetological Society
- Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve - Putah and Cache Guide to the Watershed
- Cold Canyon District - Blue Ridge Berryessa Natural Area
- UCD NRS Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve
- Yolo Hiker's guide to the trails
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
2015-06-20 21:43:17 Hikers should bring PLENTY of water in the summer. I was flagged down today by a hiker with sever dehydration and a dog who was refusing to walk. It was 95 degrees out and they had brought one bottle of water between them. He had called 911, who sent out Animal Control, but it took them over an hour to arrive. THE DOG ENDED UP DYING.. Both the hiker and the dog were young and healthy, and the guy lost his dog by simply not bringing enough water. It was very sad for everyone. Bring water. —jefftolentino