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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
The Canyon and Ridge loop trails in Sonoma Valley Regional Park
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.
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 www.parks.ca.gov, www.landpaths.org, www.bahiker.com.