Editor’s Note: “Trail of the Week” debuts today, highlighting individual hiking, biking, running and equestrian trails throughout Sonoma County and beyond. Descriptions are excerpted from “Day Hikes of Sonoma County, 2nd Edition,” with permission from author Robert Stone.
The West County Trail is a lovely, easy 4-mile route that runs between from Graton and Forestville.
We started in Graton at the old firehouse and wound our way past Manzana Products Co., where the strong smell of apple cider vinegar was unavoidable.
During a weekday morning run, we passed many walkers and groups of bikers who were taking in the views of vineyards, pastures and the Atascadero Marsh Ecological Reserve, a prime spot for bird-watching. We spent a lot of time pondering the moss that grows thickly on the trees that line the forested path, trying to remember which compass direction corresponds to the mossy side of the trunk.
We followed the trail into Forestville, where it ended across the street from a coffee shop. The mostly-paved trail is wheelchair accessible and is popular among bike riders and dog walkers.
It should be noted that the trail is not fluid, and on a few occasions it ends, requiring walkers to take a brief trip down a county highway or a residential lane before rejoining the trail.
The path follows the original track laid by the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad Co., which began rail construction in 1904. That same year, train service began between Petaluma and Sebastopol.
According to the Sonoma County Park District, the rail system was originally intended to bring agricultural products south from Santa Rosa to Petaluma, where they were taken via steamboat to San Francisco. Once automobiles were introduced, the railroad gradually lost its prominence, and starting in 1947, sections were abandoned.
In 1984, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors decided to buy the abandoned railroad and convert it into a trail system, which is what people can walk today.
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or email@example.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.
West County Regional Trail, Forestville to Graton
Hiking distance: 4 miles round trip
Hiking time: 1.5 hours
Elevation gain: level
Exposure: mostly exposed with forested pockets
Maps: U.S.G.S. Camp Meeker and Sebastopol; West County and Rodota Trails map
A rails-to-trails system has been developed on the old Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad line, which connects Petaluma and Santa Rosa with Sebastopol and Forestville. The West County Regional Trail, a 5.5-mile segment of that system, runs from Forestville to Sebastopol. This hike follows the first section of the trail in a tree-lined corridor from Forestville to the small town of Graton, following a water channel, meandering alongside pastures and vineyards, and passing through the Fish and Game’s Atascadero Marsh Ecological Reserve. The mostly paved path is a popular hiking, biking and dog-walking route.
From Graton, the walk can be extended another 1.75 miles south to Occidental Road and another 3.5 miles to Sebastopol. From Sebastopol, the trail continues west to Santa Rosa along the Joe Rodota Trail. The entire rails-to-trails system is 14 miles, from Forestville to Sebastopol to Santa Rosa.
Trailhead: Hwy. 116/Second Street, Forestville
From downtown Forestville on Highway 116, park along the south side of the street between Second Street and Mirabel Road, or pull into the open area off the road.
The hike: Walk down the gravel road alongside houses and buildings on the left. As the road curves left, leave the road to the right. Walk toward the tree grove to the posted trailhead.
Take the paved path through a tunnel of trees alongside a stream and a vineyard on the right. Follow the tree-lined corridor, cross a bridge over the creek and cross Kay Lane, a private road. Cross a second bridge over a stream.
Continue south to Ross Branch Road at 0.8 miles. Bear left 30 yards to Ross Station Road. Walk 40 yards to the right, and pick up the posted trail on the left.
Stroll between vineyards and a few farm houses, gradually descending past horse stables and corrals. Pass the Graton Sanitation Pond on the right, then cross a bridge over the creek and another bridge over a wetland pond.
Curve right, where the pavement ends, and follow the dirt path between a pond and a vineyard. Curve left through the Atascadero Marsh Ecological Reserve. Cross the wetland on a 160-yard boardwalk to Green Valley Road. This is the turn-around spot.
To extend the hike, walk a quarter mile to the left on Green Valley Road, picking up the trail again on the right. The path continues south 1.5 miles through the town of Graton to Occidental Road in Sebastopol.
Source: Robert Stone, “Day Hikes Around Sonoma” Second Edition (Day Hike Books, 2016)