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Grab a pack, head to the back country

  • Ari Castaneda, 8, and his dad, Paul, hike toward an overnight campground where they will be spending the night at Hood Mountain Regional Park in Kenwood on Monday, July 28, 2014. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

The phone. The text messages. The traffic. TVs blaring everywhere you go. Life is full of distractions and hassles. It seems like you’re never alone. If only you had the time to get away from it all.

The good news is it doesn’t necessarily take all that much time to find peace, quiet and seclusion, and you don’t need to go very far. Just pack all you need on your back and spend a day or two outdoors.

For example, it’s a short drive down Highway 12 from Santa Rosa to the Los Alamos Road entrance of the Hood Mountain Regional Park, then a two-mile hike to the newly reopened Azalea Creek camping sites, where the busy world seems far away.

“It’s way easier than people might think to have a completely different experience from camping around other people,” said Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “It opens up your mind. A couple of days of backpacking can be transformative.”

The convenience and relative ease of backpacking and camping at a place like Hood Mountain makes it possible for a veteran backpacker like Paul Castaneda to introduce his 9-year-old son, Ari, to the fun of venturing beyond the conventional campgrounds.

“It’s close to home, but not your normal car-camping sort of thing,” said Castaneda, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, who hiked with his son into Hood Mountain Regional Park earlier this week from its Pythian Road entrance to another of the park’s backpack camping sites.

Once introduced to the joys of getting away from the road, adventurous souls will find the county, state and national park systems offer plenty of choices.

The Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Guerneville, operated for the past two years by the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, has three back-country camping sites reachable by hikes of four to five miles from the parking lot, said the park’s executive director, Michele Luna.

“There are year-round fresh streams. It’s beautiful. It’s pretty idyllic. There’s nothing around you but nature, and there some great views. You can see low-lying clouds that look like islands in the sky,” Luna said.

Those who feel ready for a longer drive, followed by a slightly more ambitious hike, might opt for the Point Reyes National Seashore, which offers four backpacking campgrounds, with a dozen campsites at each one. Hikes range from two to seven miles, and some trails have beach access.


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