Eight Sonoma County parks with easy, accessible trails
Editor’s note: With recent wildfires, including the Glass fire, regional air quality has been poor and some locations have sustained fire damage. Research current conditions before heading out by visiting websites such as Sonoma County Regional Parks (parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov) and purpleair.com, which provides up-to-date information on air quality. For information about restrictions related to COVID-19, visit bit.ly/3lnYtll
With a world in turmoil and even familiar surroundings in chaos, many of us turn to nature for solace. We’re stressed in these extraordinary times, and COVID-19 has us looking for safe outdoor activities. And after a long workday, especially one spent inside in front of a computer, by late afternoon you may be itching to be outside. For that, here are some suggestions for nearby trails in Sonoma County Regional Parks.
This nearby coastal gem on Highway 1 in Bodega Bay is ideal for walks, playing in the sand, flying kites and spotting sea life, including shorebirds like godwits, willets, sandpipers, sanderlings and gulls.
The shoreline is an easy 2-mile walk one way (1 hour or less), from the west end’s rock jetty to the east end’s (at low tide) rock formations by the Pinnacle Gulch Coastal Access Trail. The access trail is a half-mile unpaved path that leads to its own parking lot (with restrooms) in the Bodega Harbour development. The gulch is fed by a seasonal stream, flanked by cypress, willow and coastal scrub. You could also walk a 1.9-mile loop at low tide by heading south on the beach from Pinnacle Gulch, up the Shorttail Gulch Coastal Access Trail and back to the parking area. Always check tide tables before going, at tideschart.com
With high numbers of visitors, especially on hot weekends, Doran’s entrance closes when day-use parking is full. Arrive before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. for the best chance of finding parking. If the park is full, consider other destinations, like the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail parking lot off Highway 1. This easy 1.3-mile moderately wheelchair-accessible gravel trail winds through grassy dunes on the beach’s northern edge, connecting to an ADA-accessible boardwalk with benches and viewing areas. All-terrain wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served. Onsite park staff assists with check-out/check-in. Restrooms are also available.
This haven on west Sebastopol’s Ragle Road offers 3.6 miles of trails with excellent bird watching and wildlife-spotting along Atascadero Creek; in seasonal wetlands and in woodlands of oak, willow and ash. Red-tailed hawks soar above as you take in expansive views of bucolic vineyards and orchards in the rolling hills to the south and west, from the veterans’ memorial amphitheater and redwood grove. A peace garden under an ancient chestnut tree affords rare moments of relaxation amidst the “waka-waka” calls of acorn woodpeckers.
An hour gives you several choices: two paved, wheelchair-accessible paths are by the entrance and the dog park parking lots. The Towhee hiking trail offers the opportunity to walk easy loops with the Blackberry (1.9 miles total) or Hilltop (0.8 miles total) trails. Restrooms are available.
Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail
This easy, mostly flat 1.8-mile trail is a perfect hour-long hike close to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. Visitors can experience some of the biodiversity of Sonoma County’s largest freshwater wetland, including vernal pools, valley oak savannah and riparian woodland and oak and eucalyptus grasslands. These habitats support an astonishing array of wildlife, including birds such as red-tailed hawk, kite, western bluebird and white-crowned sparrow.
Heading north, visitors have sweeping views of surrounding vineyards and Mount Saint Helena in the distance. Frogs and red-winged blackbirds inhabit Kelly Pond, each making their distinct calls. An additional 0.6-mile unpaved pedestrian-only segment loops off the main trail toward riparian cover along the Laguna channel, connecting with Sebastopol’s Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetland Preserve Trail. The wheelchair-accessible main trail is paved with crushed stone. Each parking lot includes one ADA space. Parking is free; chemical toilets are available. Entrances are on Highway 12 (south end) or Occidental Road (north end).
Located on Eastside Road along the Russian River, this park is minutes from Windsor and Healdsburg. Visitors are rewarded with some of the best landscapes of Wine Country, including river access, two scenic lakes and shaded groves of coast redwoods. Deciduous trees showcase fall foliage colors, and native trees like creek dogwood, box elders, Oregon ash, walnuts and willows line the trail and shorelines.