Sonoma County parks, beaches and trails to visit

Andy Gallagher of Sacramento adds some details to the sandcastle he is building near his campsite at Doran Beach Campgrounds in Bodega Bay, Calif., on May 22, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)


Sonoma County’s regional parks, beaches and trails reflect the diversity of our landscape, with destinations for every season of the year and appeal for all types of visitors. From the Sonoma Coast to the Russian River and the valleys that cover our interior, here are places to put on your list for a first visit or return trip.

Most popular: Doran Beach Regional Park

This beloved spit separating Bodega Bay from the harbor is the county’s first park, and it comes alive especially on weekends with picnics, kite-flying and bathers toeing the relatively tamer surf. More than 120 campsites and 2 miles of sand give overnight and day visitors room to roam, but summer weekends and holidays can be crowded.

Hidden gem: Redwood Canyon Trail at Stillwater Cove Regional Park

Most visitors are focused on the beach, a sheltered stretch of sand along an otherwise rough coast. But this 1.2-mile hike casts its own allure. It follows Stockhoff Creek, with ferns and towering redwoods that make the setting feel primeval. Off a spur is the little Fort Ross schoolhouse, relocated here in the 1970s.

Hike the headlands: Bluff Top Trail

One of six county trails in The Sea Ranch, this 3-mile path (one-way) runs from Walk On Beach to Gualala Point Regional Park, winding through windswept woods and coastal prairie. See the surf pound against cliffs and surge into hidden inlets. Bird- and whale-watching opportunities abound.

Most popular: Steelhead Beach

The first county park you reach heading west on River Road, this destination on the Russian River is busiest in summer, with swimming, tubing and paddling. Anglers stake out the riverbanks from fall through spring, and many launch their drift boats here for forays downriver.

Hidden gem: Riverfront Regional Park

Most visitors know the trail around Lake Benoist, one of the former gravel pits where you now can paddle and fish. A spur trail from the north side of the lake leads down to a beach on the Russian River, a great spot to enjoy some solitude. The redwood grove at the entrance is a prime picnic spot, with a volleyball net strung among the trees for summer games.

Get on the water: Russian River beaches

The river is Sonoma County’s summer playground, and six regional park sites offer public access for tube floaters and paddlers: at Cloverdale River Park, in Healdsburg (Veterans Memorial Beach and Del Rio Woods), and downriver at Steelhead, Forestville River Access (Mom’s Beach) and Sunset Beach.

Most popular: Spring Lake Regional Park

Tucked between Santa Rosa’s Howarth Park and Trione-Annadel State Park, Spring Lake, a converted flood basin, is looped by trails to walk, jog and bike. Cool off in the summer at the swimming lagoon, fish or paddle on Spring Lake year-round, or stay overnight in one of the oak-shaded campsites, including three that now feature sleeping cabins.

Hidden gem: Helen Putnam Regional Park

This largely undeveloped park is a view-lover’s dream, with 6 miles of trails across the iconic grass hillsides that spread west from Petaluma. It is splendid in spring, when the hills are emerald green and dotted with wildflowers. Horse riders and bikers are welcome on the trails, as well.

Hike to Gunsight Rock: Hood Mountain Regional Park

The wildest of county parks, Hood Mountain offers 1,700 acres and 17 miles of trails traversing the Mayacmas Mountains, including the only public backpacking sites in Sonoma Valley. Its rocky face is a landmark in the Valley of the Moon, with summit views of San Francisco Bay on a clear day.