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Eight Sonoma County parks with easy, accessible trails

Visiting the parks

Fees: Unless otherwise noted, for all Sonoma County Regional Parks, parking is $7 (or get an annual pass $69/$49 for seniors)

Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset.

Check before you go: Before visiting, check online for updates on closures, fire and air quality.

COVID-19 rules: Social distancing of 6 feet from people not part of your household is required, as are face coverings. Drinking fountains and group areas are closed. No large gatherings.

More info: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Find-a-Park

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.

Doran Beach

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.

Ragle Ranch

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).

Riverfront

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.

Visiting the parks

Fees: Unless otherwise noted, for all Sonoma County Regional Parks, parking is $7 (or get an annual pass $69/$49 for seniors)

Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset.

Check before you go: Before visiting, check online for updates on closures, fire and air quality.

COVID-19 rules: Social distancing of 6 feet from people not part of your household is required, as are face coverings. Drinking fountains and group areas are closed. No large gatherings.

More info: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Find-a-Park

If you want to spend a leisurely hour, you can choose from over 3 miles of trails, including gravel wheelchair-accessible trails. The 2-mile Lake Trail loops around larger Lake Benoist, with a short spur to a small gravel beach on the River. The half-mile Redwood Hill Trail climbs through a peaceful redwood grove. Restrooms are available.

Taylor Mountain

On Santa Rosa’s southeastern edges, this 1,100-acre park boasts over 6 miles of trails, with vistas of the Mayacamas Mountains to the north, the Coast Range to the west and Petaluma and beyond to the south.

If you’re looking for a great cardiovascular workout climbing hills, in an hour you can make a 3-mile loop by gradually climbing the Western Route and then descending the steep Eastern Route trail, past creeks, vast grasslands and grazing pastures with docile cows seeking shade in serene oak woodlands. These diverse habitats host puma, deer, fox, California red-legged frog and red-shouldered hawks, among other species. You also can reverse your direction, starting up the steep eastern side and gradually making your way down the western slope.

Want even more of a cardio workout? Continue farther up the Eastern Trail to Taylor’s 1,380-foot summit on a moderately strenuous hike with 1,100 feet of elevation gain (adding 1.5 miles, about an hour’s climb). Easier hikes are found on the Todd Creek (0.7 miles) and Redtail (1.2-mile gentle loop) trails. There are accessible sitting areas, but no trails. Future trail development is planned. Enter via the southern entrance on Petaluma Hill Road or northern entrance on Kawana Terrace; chemical toilets available.

Spring Lake

Santa Rosa’s beloved park provides an urban oasis that feels like wilderness. Nearly 10 miles of trails on 320 acres are centered around a 72-acre reservoir. Trails connect to Trione-Annadel State Park and the City’s Howarth Park.

The easy 2.3-mile Spring Lake Loop takes about an hour on a flat, paved wheelchair-accessible trail. Visitors pass through meadows, grasslands and oak woodlands, where opportunities abound for watching ducks, geese and other birds. Restrooms are available. All-terrain wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis; contact park staff if you need one. Enter from the north on Violetti Road or south on Newanga Avenue.

Shiloh Ranch

This rugged 850-acre park in Windsor’s Mayacamas foothills boasts nearly 8 miles of hiking trails through oak woodlands, mixed evergreen forests, canyons and rolling hills. Trails lead up ridges with panoramic views of north-central Sonoma County and past a shaded creek and a pond where bullfrogs sing if you stay quiet long enough.The trail network offers moderate hikes on unpaved trails, allowing visitors to create routes and loops of different lengths and difficulty.

The habitats support bobcat, coyote, quail, hawks and many other wildlife species. Previous wildfires scorched the park, giving visitors the chance to see the landscape regenerating. Burned trees and other impacts like fire-following fungi and plants are spread throughout the park.

For an extensive hike of about 5 miles (2 or more hours on sometimes steep slopes), take the Ridge Trail to the Creekside Trail, then take the Pond Trail up to connect back to the Ridge Trail. Follow that for about a mile, taking in vistas of the Santa Rosa Plain, then take the Big Leaf Trail back to the parking lot. Restrooms are available. On Faught Road, off Shiloh Road near Highway 101.

Foothill

This 211-acre wilderness park in east Windsor’s Mayacamas foothills features oak woodlands, rolling hills, ridgetop views of northern Sonoma County, ponds and grassy meadows.

Burned in the 2019 Kincade fire, much of Foothill’s east side remains closed. For your safety, confirm updated conditions before visiting, and follow all posted closure notices. The park is partially open, with access to approximately 5 miles of trails: Three Lakes, Westside, Soap Plant, Lower Oakwood and Meadow trails. Hikers can combine these to create 0.8-mile to 2.5-mile loops.

The trails cover varied terrain, offering easy to challenging options for hikers. Three Lakes Trail is a wheelchair-accessible gravel trail with a gated parking area (gate cards are available at Regional Parks Santa Rosa office; 707-565-2041). Enter at Arata Lane.

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