5 Fun Hikes in Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is a great base for exploring the bounty of Sonoma County. A thriving modern city, it’s filled with top-notch restaurants (including 12 in the Michelin Guide), excellent museums and galleries, and diverse cultural venues. Many architectural masterpieces grace the city’s five historic neighborhoods, and shopping here includes antique stores, modern boutiques, outlet malls, and three major shopping districts. Also, basing yourself in this centrally-located city makes it easy to take off for a day to one of the county’s nearby gems or captivating wonders of our northern coast.
Santa Rosa offers all of that – and, to boot, a wealth of opportunities for outdoor activities. Name your sport: hiking, bicycling, swimming, horseback riding, kayaking, paddle boarding, climbing a wall? All can be found within this versatile city.
One of the best ways to get familiar with Santa Rosa’s outdoors is to slip into a pair of good hiking boots or walking shoes, top off your water bottle, grab a sunhat, and head out on a trail. Here are five suggestions that will suit most visitors:
Easy: The Loop at Spring Lake Regional Park
Tucked away amidst the rising hills on Santa Rosa's eastern edge, beautiful Spring Lake Regional Park is a 320-acre urban oasis with a captivating wilderness feel. It's home to a 72-acre lake, ponds, a spring-fed swimming lagoon, oak woodlands, meadows, and grasslands. From spring into summer, wildflowers are everywhere.
Spring Lake's flat, paved 2.3-mile loop trail circles the lake and can be enjoyed by everyone, including parents pushing baby strollers or outdoor-lovers in wheelchairs. From the parking lot at the Violetti Road entrance, follow the paved path to the right and head counterclockwise around the lake. You'll pass the Swimming Lagoon, lakefront picnic areas, and benches inviting you to sit for a spell to watch life on the lake: ducks and other waterfowl cavorting in the water, people strolling about or fishing from banks, kayakers, and paddleboarders and peddle-boaters just having fun.
Up for more hiking or family fun? Spring Lake connects directly to two other parks: Santa Rosa's 152-acre Howarth Park, a kiddie paradise with a miniature train, pony rides, a carousel, and a small lake of its own; and 5,500-acre Trione-Annadel State Park, which offers miles of challenging trails.
Spring Lake Regional Park, 393 Violetti Rd., Santa Rosa. The entry/parking fee is $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
Easy: Joe Rodota Regional Trail
The 8.5-mile Joe Rodota Regional Trail is often praised for its bucolic views, runs from the edge of downtown Santa Rosa to Sebastopol, partly along the abandoned Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad line. You’ll encounter old train trestles and bridges, views of farmland, surrounding mountains, and the beautiful Laguna de Santa Rosa — the county's largest freshwater wetland complex.
The trail is flat and paved, making for an easy out-and-back, long-as-you-like hike. It's perfect for families hiking with, or stroller-pushing, small children (it's also popular with runners and cyclists). A toddlers' play area and some fitness equipment are located along the trail at Roseland Village, accessible via a wooden footbridge (see the map).
The trail starts in Santa Rosa between West 3rd Street and Railroad Street at the pedestrian/bicycle bridge that intersects with Prince Memorial Greenway, just southwest of the Marriott Courtyard Hotel.
You might consider adding a stroll on the creekside Prince Memorial Greenway to your outing, either before or after the Joe Rodota Trail (the two trails connect). Running for one-half mile along Santa Rosa Creek, it's filled with outdoor sculpture and other artwork, native plants, terraces, bridges, tiled steps, painted benches, and views of downtown's historic buildings. Consider stopping off at historic Railroad Square, a charming area of boutiques, antique stores, and restaurants housed in 19th-century buildings.
Joe Rodota Trail, 4211 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa. The entry/parking fee is $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
Moderate-Strenuous: The Western Trail at Taylor Mountain
Located in southeast Santa Rosa, Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve offers far-reaching views as you climb trails leading to the 1,380-foot summit. From the top, you'll be able to see central Sonoma County, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the Mayacamas Mountains, the Coast Range, and many landmarks of the North Bay. It’s a stunning sight.
Despite being near a large city, Taylor Mountain is home to a diversity of natural habitats — including creeks, grasslands, and woodlands — that support mountain lion, deer, fox, the California red-legged frog, red-shouldered hawks, acorn woodpeckers and many more species. The mountain is also known for many species of wildflowers that bloom from late winter well into spring.
Taylor Mountain currently has 6.4 miles of trails (it will eventually offer 17 miles of trails). The park also contains an 18-hole disc golf course.
For a moderately strenuous, approximately 4.5-mile hike, park at the north entrance on Kawana Terrace and head out on the Western Trail. It climbs steadily but gradually up the mountain until intersecting with the more rigorous Eastern Trail.
At this point you have three choices: turn right, climbing to the summit on the Eastern Trail's steep last leg; move straight ahead onto the more gradual Sky Lupine Trail (it will switch back and forth over the Eastern Trail four times before permanently joining it near the top); or return to your starting point via Western or Eastern trail. Whichever way you choose will be glorious.
Taylor Mountain Regional Park, 2080 Kawana Terrace, Santa Rosa. The entry/parking fee is $7, or free for Regional Parks members.
Moderate-Strenuous: The North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail
On the southeast edge of Santa Rosa, North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve is an 820-acre park that offers sweeping views of the county and beyond. It’s a particularly beautiful sight in autumn when the far-ranging landscape of trees and vineyards blazes with color. In late winter and spring, expect to see rare vernal pools and lots of wildflowers.
A great hike here is the 3.7-mile North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, situated on the north slope of 2,463-foot Sonoma Mountain. It's part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which, when completed, will run along 550 miles of ridgelines encircling the entire Bay Area.
The North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail begins at Matanzas Creek amidst ferns and redwoods. It then climbs about 2,000 feet, through oak and bay forests and past amazing views, to ultimately connect with the extensive trail network at Jack London State Historic Park.
If you're after a moderately strenuous hike, the intersection is an excellent place to return to your starting point, ending up with a nearly 8-mile workout for the day.
Another idea: instead of retracing your steps, continue via the Hayfields Trail into Jack London Park, which offers many trails and historic diversions. If you do this, plan to leave a second car in Jack London’s parking lot to drive your party back to the hike’s starting point.
North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, 5297 Sonoma Mountain Road, Santa Rosa. The entry/parking fee is $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
Advanced: Gunsight Rock at Hood Mountain Regional Park
Visitors to 1,750-acre Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve have access to 19 miles of trails. Most Hood Mountain trails are challenging, steep, and geared to experienced hikers. However, the payoff is worth the sweat, thanks to sensational views from the top that encompasses the Santa Rosa Plain and Mount St. Helena, reaching as far north as San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
To experience these views yourself, make the round-trip trek to Gunsight Rock, a majestic promontory situated 300 feet below the mountain's 2,730-foot summit. The 8-mile round-trip trail has an impressive 2,000-foot elevation gain. Start from the Pythian Road trailhead, located about two miles off Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley.
Follow Lower Johnson Ridge Trail to Panorama Ranch Trail, to Hood Mountain Trail to Summit Trail and on to Gunsight Rock. You'll climb steadily, with steep ascents at the beginning and near the top. From the summit, a short trail leads to Gunsight Rock – and that glorious view.
Santa Rosa Accommodations
Santa Rosa offers a wide variety of hotels, inns, B&Bs and other places to stay, from budget-friendly to luxurious. Here are four solid choices to base yourself for hiking excursions:
Vintners Resort, 4350 Barnes Rd., Santa Rosa 95403; 800-421-2584.
Four-Diamond luxury hotel with an award-winning in-house restaurant (John Ash & Co.) and an on-site spa. Bocce ball court, in-room fireplaces, pool, fitness facility, business center.
Hotel La Rose, 308 Wilson St., Santa Rosa 95401; 707-579-3200.
This historic property has anchored charming Railroad Square since 1907. Moderate prices. Individually decorated rooms, business center, complimentary breakfast, family-friendly, free wifi.
Sandman Hotel, 3421 Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa 95403; 707-293-2100.
Budget-friendly, free continental breakfast, heated swimming pool and jacuzzi, workout room, free wifi, pet-friendly.
Best Western Garden Inn, 1500 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa 95404; 707-546-4031.
Budget-friendly, tranquil setting, two pools, pet-friendly, in-room microwave and fridge, on-site restaurant.
Want more choices? Filter for Santa Rosa accommodations by type of lodging, price, and amenities at SonomaCounty.com.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez