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Napa Sonoma Magazine
Summer / Fall 2006

Great Hikes for the Great Outdoors

Wandering through a park taking in nature is the perfect way to spend a beautiful afternoon, and wine country HAS fabulous trails for every hiker’s interest. Here are some of the best.

By Heather Irwin

Best Views

Sonoma County

You’ll never tire of watching the powerful Pacific. We promise. Sonoma Coast State Beach recently added the 3,373-acre Willow Creek watershed area to its vast array of public coastal access. In this parkland, the Islands in the Sky Vista Loop Trail offers hikers the chance to see one of the most spectacular vistas overlooking the mouth of the Russian River where it empties into the Pacific. The 3.5-mile loop trail takes you through mighty Douglas firs and redwood stands, climbing about one mile to the grassy ridgetop to a view of tree-covered knolls jutting from the surrounding grasslands. A clear day affords hikers spectacular views of the Pacific. Access from Freezeout Road, near Highway 116 in Duncan’s Mills; visitors need to apply for a free permit. 

Napa County

For the best view in Napa, take the 5-mile hike (and don’t forget the 5 miles back!) up Mount St. Helena in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. The mountain straddles three counties (Sonoma, Lake, and Napa) and climbs 2,093 feet to the tallest peak in the North Bay (at 4,343 feet). If it’s clear, you’re treated to a dramatic, bird’s-eye view of the Pacific Ocean, Sierra summits, and even Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. Access from Calistoga, seven miles north on Highway 29.

Hiking for Families

Sonoma County

Bodega Head, the rocky bluff that forms the entrance into Bodega Bay’s harbor from the Pacific Ocean, offers stunning views, spring wildflowers, and exciting hiking with breathtaking proximity to coastal whales (in winter), resting seals, and sea otters (year-round). On clear, calm days you can hear the barks of the lounging seals, which blend into craggy ocean rocks, and, on rare occasions, you can see the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes Peninsula, and the mouth of Tomales Bay. You get all this on one of the easier hikes along the magnificent Sonoma Coast, a 1.5-mile loop with small elevation gain on well-marked grassy and dirt paths. Astonishing sunsets reward those who take this windy walk (remember, stay back from the steep cliffs), which boasts a stately grove of grand cypress trees. Access Bodega Head from Highway 1 to Bay Flat Road, four miles up the road. 

Napa County

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park provides a welcome respite in the heart of wine country, with redwood and fir trees and more than 10 miles of hiking trails, along with delightful history lessons and wonderful picnic grounds. Families can stroll the easy, 1-mile, tree-shrouded hike along the History Trail that leads to the Grist Mill, a restored and still-working 19th-century waterwheel flour mill. The 4-mile Ritchey Canyon Trail meanders alongside a creek popular for stone-skipping, wading, and crawdad-hunting. The Coyote Peak Trail is about a 2-mile hike (there’s a 4.5-mile version as well, whose loop combines with other trails) through tan oak, dogwood, redwoods, and maples that offers a glimpse of Mount St. Helena and opens up to a great view of the Napa Valley and the Ritchey Canyon watershed. Access Bothe-Napa Valley from Highway 29 between Calistoga and St. Helena.

Hikes for Wildflowers

Sonoma County

The 5,000-acre Annadel State Park, which sits on lands that once supported the Southern Pomo and Southern Wappo Indians, is located on Sonoma County’s eastern edge. This fabulous urban retreat boasts rolling hills, streams, meadows, woodland, more than 40 miles of interconnecting trails, and a lake. It’s one of the best places in the county to discover wildflowers such as Douglas iris, woodland star, Henderson’s shooting star, blue larkspur, red delphiniums, scarlet fritillaries, blue dicks, and Sonoma sage. Hike the Warren Richardson Trail and around Lake Ilsanjo for abundant wildflower viewing feasts. Access the main entrance at Channel Drive off Montgomery Drive, in Santa Rosa.

Napa County

It’s difficult for some old-timers to believe their eyes when they see Skyline Wilderness Park, with its 850 acres of wildflowers, native trees, views, and lakes, because it sits on the original site of Napa State Hospital. Today we can enjoy the oasis and its 12 hiking trails. A moderate, 3-mile hike to Lake Marie, just past the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden (a treat itself) along the Buckeye Trail, leads through a serenade of Ithuriel’s spears, blue-eyed grass, California poppies, yellow Mariposa lilies, and lupine. The heartiest of hikers should continue on the 8-mile loop up toward Sugarloaf Mountain. Watch for yellow johnnytuck and purple-tipped owls clover. Climb Rim Rock Trail for stunning views of the valley, Mount Tamalpais, and San Francisco Bay. Access Skyline from Imola Avenue off of Highway 221 or 29.

No-Sweat Hikes

Sonoma County

The Canyon and Ridge loop trails in Sonoma Valley Regional Park provide
a gentle walk through a wooded canyon and along an old railroad grade lined with spring poppies, lilies, and coast and Oregon oaks. It eventually winds up at a small, seasonal creek and picnic tables. The 2.6-mile loop meanders through a dense thicket of madrones in erstwhile ranch land that was the site of Sonoma Valley’s San Francisco and Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s stops. Sonoma County acquired the 162 acres for public access in 1974. The connecting and easy dirt Ridge Trail at the top of the park opens up to views of Glen Ellen, the Valley of the Moon, and the Mayacamas and Sonoma mountain ranges. Access from Highway 12 in Glen Ellen.

Napa County

The breezy, 1-mile hike on the Nature Trail in the 73-acre Napa River Ecological Preserve can be completed in about an hour. It affords visitors quick access to a lovely and peaceful trail situated between the Napa River and Conn Creek in this small reserve near Yountville. Signs posted by the Napa-Solano Audubon Society helps hikers identify the birds that flourish in this old-growth habitat, which boasts large valley oaks and wildflowers. The Wildlife Conservation Board purchased the property in 1974, and the hills are alive with more than 100 species of birds, including wood ducks, swallows, woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, and Wilson’s warblers. Access to this trail is a few miles from Highway 29 in Yountville.

Other great view hikes include Hood Mountain Regional Park in Santa Rosa and The Palisades Trail, at the entrance to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Other family hikes include Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen (history) and Armstrong Redwoods State Preserve  in Guerneville (beautiful, old-growth redwoods). Find rich wildflowers at the Woodland Ridge loop trail at Lake Sonoma north of Healdsburg and at Lake Hennessey Recreation Area, off Highway 128 outside Napa. More no-sweat hikes include the Kortum Trail at the Sonoma Coast State Beach (off Goat Rock Road from Highway 1 near Jenner) and Alston Park in Napa (Dry Creek Road, off Highway 29). For more information, check out,,

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