As the largest freshwater wetlands complex on the northern California coast, the Laguna de Santa Rosa offers excellent opportunities for fresh air and reflection, all year round.
Covering more than 30,000 acres, the Laguna is a unique ecological system. Its mosaic of creeks, open water, perennial marshes, seasonal wetlands, riparian forests, oak woodland, and grassland provides habitat for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.
The Laguna's 22-mile main channel is the largest tributary to the Russian River, draining a 254-square-mile watershed. The Laguna also provides an important overflow area for the river during winter rains, serving as a natural holding basin for floodwaters.
In the town of Sebastopol, access to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve is an easy seven-minute walk from the downtown Plaza. If arriving by car, park in the Sebastopol Community Center lot at 390 Morris St.
A trail map shows the two-mile accesible gravel path that takes you past ponds, marshes, and the main Laguna channel. In the summer there's even a pontoon bridge so you can bounce your way across the channel and walk on the east side in Meadowlark Field.
The Laguna quite readily becomes a large lake after even a fairly small amount of rain. As with any wetland terrain, the Laguna not only reduces flooding along the populated Russian River, its natural filtration action helps to keep pollution and toxins out of the water system.
As an important stopover on the Pacific Flyway, the Laguna attracts a wide variety birds as they migrate from the north.
Many water fowl rest here on their way south, with several different kinds of ducks making the Laguna their winter home.
When the rains do come, isolated ponds typically become deeper and eventually join together. The trails can get muddy if there's been a recent rain, so bring shoes that can handle the gooshy terrain.
And as ground-dwelling mammals move to higher ground, carnivorous birds such as herons and egrets grace the waterways, and are frequently seen peering intently into the water with their slow and steady gaze. Their patient stillness is a lesson in the virtue of silence and reflection.
In addition to birds, a wide variety of animals call the Laguna home, including grey fox, coyotes, bald eagles, river otters, endangered salmon, and an occasional bobcat or mountain lion.
To view wildlife, take a cue from the herons. Pick a spot that is downwind and sit or stand very still. Silence is best. You may hear more than your eyes can see. Dawn or dusk are the optimal times for sighting wildlife. Wear neutral colored clothing and unscented lotions. And do not bring dogs. (If you do bring dogs, they must stay on a leash at all times.)
From the city of Santa Rosa, a multi-use Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail lies along the east side of the main water channel. Developed by Sonoma County Regional Parks, this 1.8-mile trail gives you a chance to wander beside vineyards and through the open oak savannah, as well as exploring the tree-lined waterway. Look for herons perched in the trees, hunting for fish from on high.
Open to hikers, horse-riders, and bicyclists, this wide, relatively flat, crushed-stone trail is also fully wheelchair accessible. Amenities include benches with spacious vistas across vineyards and Meadowlark Field to the hills in the distance. In late winter and early spring, expect to see a riot of yellow when the brightly colored mustard flowers are in bloom.
To access this trail, there is a parking lot on Highway 12 with bike racks, twelve parking spots, and room for three horse trailers. You can also enter from Occidental Road at the north, where there are eight parking spaces.
Lastly, the Environmental Center of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is located just north of Sebastopol, a short distance from the Laguna Trail parking lot off of Occidental Road at 900 Sanford Road.
Housed in an old stone farmhouse dating from 1872, the foundation offers classes, talks and art exhibits pertaining to the Laguna's ecology and its cultural history as a gathering place for both the Coast Miwok and Pomo tribes.
The environmental center also hosts films, hikes, and lectures throughout the month. Check its calendar for current exhibits and activities.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.