July 9, 2015 by Joe Kukura

Quilt barn trails are a fixture in the American Midwest, but the quilts have now unfolded to northern California. Scenic Lake County, just north of Sonoma and Napa in California’s legendary wine country, boasts the first quilt trail established in the state of California. More than 50 large-scale quilts are on display along the Lake County Quilt Trail, a new public art project that turns a Sunday drive into an elegant trip back to the 1800s.

Lake County Quilt Trail

Square in a Square was the very first quilt block. You’ll find it at Hill Creek Ranch in Kelseyville, where it was installed in 2010. Painted by Annette Higday.

Quilts are a uniquely American folk art tradition that preserve a rustic and timeless 19th century spirit. But quilt trails are actually a relatively new phenomenon. The first quilt trail was established in 2001, in Adams County, Ohio. That quilt trail gained immediate popularity, and more new additional quilt trails quickly popped up in neighboring Kentucky and Pennsylvania. There are now quilt trails in 43 US states and two Canadian provinces, and the Lake County Quilt Trail adds a California flair to the fabric of quilt trail culture.

Lake County Quilt Trail organizers

Creators hard at work on another Quilt Trail square.

The “quilts” on quilt trails are not actually quilts. They’re large-scale paintings or metal sculptures inspired by traditional quilts, creating the appearance of a quilt. These “barn quilts” are erected onto the sides of barns, houses or businesses, often in places of historic or community significance. Each quilt is a collaboration between quilters, graphic artists, painters and carpenters. This Lake County Quilt Trail video shows the arduous but lovingly performed process of creating the large versions of the quilts, then forklifting and securing them to the sides of barns for the enjoyment of the community and passersby.

The quilts along the Lake County Quilt Trail are often accompanied by “vignettes,” auxiliary sculptures or artworks that complement the quilts themselves. The trail is also complemented nicely by scenic Clear Lake, California’s largest natural lake. The trail itself circles around Clear Lake and into the surrounding towns of Middletown and Kelseyville, making for an ideal, picturesque afternoon drive.

This Lake County Quilt Trail map details the locations of each quilt to help plan your trip. The Lake County Quilt Trail list provides additional reference and the precise street addresses of each quilt. Complete histories and detailed descriptions of the quilts’ backstories are available at the Lake County Quilt Trail Block List.

Lake County is already a magnificent place to visit, with its incomparable wineries, hot spring resorts and cleanest air in America. But the Lake County Quilt Trail stitches a new scenic element into the region’s gorgeous lake and mountain views, blanketing the spirit of yesteryear on today’s wine country backdrop.