Best spots to (still) see wildflowers in Sonoma County

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Where The Wildflowers Are

Sonoma County’s parks and preserves offer many opportunities for hiking; below is a sampling of upcoming guided events. Check park websites for trail closures; call for wildflower and weather updates, as flower displays change rapidly in the heat.

Pepperwood Preserve

Butterflies of Pepperwood: May 18, 2019, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., $30/$25 members

Conscious Nature Photography: May 19, 2019, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $30/$25 members

More information: www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/get-involved/classes-events

Sonoma County Regional Parks

(Also, for those unable to make a guided event, or who just prefer to explore on their own, Sonoma County Regional Parks has a handy downloadable wildflower guide on their website:)

https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

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

Spring Lake (Environmental Discovery Center): Science Saturday: May 4, 2019, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Family Hike: May 18, 2019, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Hood Mountain: Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge), May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Shiloh Ranch: Wildfire Recovery and Rebirth Hike: May 4, 2019, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

North Sonoma Mountain: Sunset Mindfulness Walk: May 5, 2019, 6:30-8 p.m.

Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between North Sonoma Mountain and Jack London State Park), May 11, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Tolay Lake Regional Park: Bill and Dave Tolay Lake Hike: May 11, 2019, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

California State Parks

Trione-Annadel State Park: Hike with a Naturalist: Fire Recovery Hike, May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=480

Jack London State Park: Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between North Sonoma Mountain and Jack London State Park), May 11, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

ParkRx: Beginning Hiking for Fitness, May 4, 2019, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.

Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge), May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

https://sugarloafpark.org

Sonoma Land Trust

https://sonomalandtrust.org/outings

Jenner Headlands: Little Black Mountain: May 4, 2019, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Winter’s weeks of rainfall can give anyone cabin fever. The best remedy for cold-weather blues is a spring hike at one of Sonoma County’s parks and preserves. In Sonoma County, we’re fortunate to have a wildflower season starting as early as January, extending into summer. The fragrant blooms, birdsongs, and magnificent views remind us that life’s challenges may also pass with the seasons.

-Pepperwood is a 3,200-acre nature preserve on a Mayacamas ridgeline 25 minutes northeast of Santa Rosa. Focused on conservation research and science education, it hosts over 900 species of plants and animals—including bears, pumas, and coyotes. California newt eggs hatch in Pepperwood’s ponds, where small Sierran tree frogs catch insects and dive beneath the surface.

In March and April, morning mist shrouding the preserve and valley below soon gives way to an unparalleled array of wildflowers. Oak woodlands shade miner’s lettuce (an edible native), invigorated by ash from 2017’s wildfires burning much of the preserve. Such plants thrive on disturbance “like cows tramping the landscape,” helping scatter seeds, says naturalist and preserve steward David Self.

The diminutive dwarf plantain, its translucent ivory petals splashed with maroon, feeds caterpillars of the native Bay checkerspot butterfly. Preserve plants support entire ecosystems. Blue dicks and fool’s onion also thrive on disturbance, as does slender butter-and-eggs—a toadflax species. It serves long-tongued pollinators like sphinx moth, and strong pollinators like some of California’s 1600 bee species.

Spectacular must-sees, enchanting bird’s eye gilia—pale violet-tipped petals with powder-blue anthers—sprinkle the hillsides. Blue-eyed grass—an iris relative—blanket the hillsides, and native cream sac grows in fuzzy clusters. And vast fields of creamcups glow alongside ghostly burned trees and brilliant green grasses.

-At Sonoma Valley Regional Park, near Glen Ellen, flora thrives, despite or partly due to our extended wildfire season. Spring brings colorful feasts of wildflowers.

The park’s 200+ acres provide loop options on paved and unpaved trails. Animal residents use its important wildlife corridor to cross the valley safely. The main Valley of the Moon Trail, handicap-accessible, runs alongside Black Canyon Creek through peaceful oak woodland. Surrounding ridges offer gorgeous views of the valley and the Mayacamas.

Sprays of native goldwire bloom near the trailhead. Climbing a gentle incline, the Woodland Star Trail passes oaks and grassy hillsides in various states of regeneration. Meadows and fields form rich carpets of California poppies, lupine, buttercups, and pink woodland star. Wildly fragrant buckeye flower clusters drape over branches. Frilly yarrow peek out from boulders, by native rattlesnake grass. The park remains a unique vantage point to witness the landscape’s changes over the coming years.

-Hood Mountain Regional Park and Preserve encompasses 1,750 acres bordering Sonoma Valley, with 19 miles of often steep trails. The highest peak in the Mayacamas, at 2,730 feet, it affords visitors extraordinary valley views—on clear days, even to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Lower Johnson Ridge Trail ascends, traversing meadows, creeks rushing after rains, and forests of conifers like Douglas fir. These trees are scarred by fire—a large, southwest section burned in 2017—and multitudes of woodpecker holes. “Fire beetles, the first fauna to enter after wildfires, lead to woodpecker incursion,” says environmental educator Katja Svendsen, who leads ecology hikes. The threatened Sargent’s cypress grows mainly in serpentine soil (too mineral-rich to support most plants).

Diverse wildflowers have key relationships to this soil: blue-violet hound’s tongue, fragrant fritillary, and rare Sonoma penstemon. From late spring into summer bloom acrid purple vinegar weed, and scarlet columbine. Svendsen says, “California’s native plants have adapted to serpentine soil, and thrive in it—abundant wildflowers offer proof.”

-Shiloh Ranch Regional Park in east Windsor, just 10 minutes from Santa Rosa, features landscapes of chaparral, oak woodlands, and bay laurel, madrone, and coast redwood forests. The shaded Creekside Trail follows seasonal creeks to a frog pond; wildlife includes fox, bobcat, and quail. Nestled in the Mayacamas foothills, the park’s 860 acres include an 8-mile looped trail system at elevations up to 850 feet, with stunning vistas of the Santa Rosa Plain to the Coast Range—and in late winter, county high point Mount St. Helena capped with snow.

Self-guided interpretive signs show how nature heals from wildfire, in ash, fungi, and “fire follower” species like delicate white milkmaids poking up trailsides. Spring wildflowers include vibrant blue Ithuriel’s spear, mottled checker lilies, toxic white death camas, and bright yellow mule’s ears.

Where The Wildflowers Are

Sonoma County’s parks and preserves offer many opportunities for hiking; below is a sampling of upcoming guided events. Check park websites for trail closures; call for wildflower and weather updates, as flower displays change rapidly in the heat.

Pepperwood Preserve

Butterflies of Pepperwood: May 18, 2019, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., $30/$25 members

Conscious Nature Photography: May 19, 2019, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $30/$25 members

More information: www.pepperwoodpreserve.org/get-involved/classes-events

Sonoma County Regional Parks

(Also, for those unable to make a guided event, or who just prefer to explore on their own, Sonoma County Regional Parks has a handy downloadable wildflower guide on their website:)

https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

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

Spring Lake (Environmental Discovery Center): Science Saturday: May 4, 2019, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Family Hike: May 18, 2019, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Hood Mountain: Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge), May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Shiloh Ranch: Wildfire Recovery and Rebirth Hike: May 4, 2019, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

North Sonoma Mountain: Sunset Mindfulness Walk: May 5, 2019, 6:30-8 p.m.

Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between North Sonoma Mountain and Jack London State Park), May 11, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Tolay Lake Regional Park: Bill and Dave Tolay Lake Hike: May 11, 2019, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

California State Parks

Trione-Annadel State Park: Hike with a Naturalist: Fire Recovery Hike, May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=480

Jack London State Park: Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between North Sonoma Mountain and Jack London State Park), May 11, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

ParkRx: Beginning Hiking for Fitness, May 4, 2019, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.

Sugar Shuttle (for those wishing to thru-hike between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge), May 4, 2019, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

https://sugarloafpark.org

Sonoma Land Trust

https://sonomalandtrust.org/outings

Jenner Headlands: Little Black Mountain: May 4, 2019, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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