10 Gorgeous Fall Color Walks in Wine Country
Autumn is such a vibrant time in Sonoma Wine Country, with endless opportunities to savor hikes in the colorful parks and vineyards showcasing the golden fall season. Even the windswept Sonoma Coast shows off fall color, its bluff sides carpeted in flowers and grasses.
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Spring Lake Regional Park, Santa Rosa
Every second Saturday of the month throughout the year, the Environmental Discovery Center Science Saturday walks through this sprawling park. These naturalist-led family hikes explore the landscape and wildlife of the park's mountains, sharing secrets of the Earth and atmosphere, exposing biodiversity in action, and illuminating how humans can help protect the planet. In fall these hikes are a special treat, as the park is home to a few kinds of deciduous trees that really show off their colors.
Bodega Head, Bodega Bay
Work up an appetite for a great local seafood lunch on this easy hiking trail that edges three miles around the headlands, or the even easier one-mile path to and from the overlook. You'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Harbor, and the town itself. It's a popular spot for whale watching during the migration season. To get there: Take coastal Highway 1, just past the town of Bodega Bay. Turn left on Eastshore Road, then right on Bay Flat Road. Go around the harbor and turn right at Campbell Cove, then head uphill, bearing right at the fork for the free parking lot by the cliff.
Sonoma Overlook Trail, Sonoma
Downtown Sonoma is framed against a beautiful hillside backdrop, and you can explore that hillside on the Sonoma Overlook Trail, a gently graded path that winds its way up the hill. At the top it loops around a meadow, providing spectacular views of the town of Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley, and (on a clear day) the Bay Area. The main trail is slightly less than three miles round trip. (Dog, bikes, and horses are not allowed on the trail.) There's an offshoot trail that leads to the adjacent Montini Open Space Preserve, which also offers relatively easy trails with beautiful views.
Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen
The surrounding Preserve boasts 1,750 acres of wilderness, with the tallest peak in the Southern Mayacamas Mountain Range, plus trails lined with creeks, wildflowers and meadows. If you're in good shape, trek to the top vista, where, on a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from Gunsight Rock and Valley View Trail.
Opened in 2015, this 820-acre park and preserve is a newer addition to Sonoma County's park system, offering sweeping views of the county and unveiling autumn vineyards and trees ablaze in color as far as the eye can see. Take the 3.7-mile section of the Sonoma Mountain Bay Area Ridge Trail, which begins in the ferns and redwoods on the south fork of Matanzas Creek, then winding through dense groves of oaks and bay laurels.
Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, Windsor
Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, an 850-acre park in East Windsor, is full of winding trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Visitors can take any number of short trails up to great overlooks of Windsor, Santa Rosa, and beyond, or take meandering trails alongside shaded creek beds and past a pond where you'll often see geese, deer, turkeys, and other wildlife. During the fall months, the trails throughout the park are shimmering with color, while the vineyards bordering the park burst with iconic autumn hues.
Taylor Mountain Regional Park, Santa Rosa
Some two decades of planning and $21 million in spending paid off in early 2013, as the 1,100-acre Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve finally opened to the public. Debuting with four miles of trails for hikers and dogs plus a three-mile network for equestrians and cyclists, trails are being expanded to 17 miles. It joins the 820-acres of preserves that have been open since 2010, capped by a peak soaring 1,400 feet-high for dramatic views of downtown Santa Rosa, plus Bennett Valley, Trione-Annadel State Park, the Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the whole of the Santa Rosa Plain viewable from the trails.
Goat Rock Beach, Jenner
You'll thrill to this spectacular stretch of Jenner just north of Bodega Bay. As one of the most easily accessible sandy beaches tucked amid the towering bluffs and crashing waves, the partial cove is also a superb area for wildlife watching, where the Russian River meets the sea. Hike the trails around the high surrounding cliffs to watch migrating gray whales, or claim a prime perch on the beach, which is home to a colony of frolicking harbor seals.
Free Vineyard Walking Tours, all across Sonoma County
The Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures program, operated by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, provides free, no-appointment needed, self-guided vineyard tours available year-round. Not only do you get to stroll among the vines, but you'll see up-close how they're pruned and what the different varietals look like. When you visit one of the participating wineries, start by stopping in the tasting room to pick up a detailed walking-tour guide to the vineyard. The trails are no more than a mile long and relatively easy to walk, and points of interest will be clearly marked along the route. You can always finish up with a nice wine tasting afterwards, too.
Vineyard Hike and Picnic, wineries throughout Sonoma County
Across Sonoma County, wineries offer exclusive vineyard hike experiences, most of which include a wine tasting and picnic or lunch. Alexander Valley Vineyards, for example, offers daily hikes of their vineyards and property (reservations required), concluding with a delicious wine country boxed lunch. At Bartholomew, explore the winery's 3-mile trail that takes you past a duck pond, windmills, and beautiful oak and redwood trees. Or, at La Crema, take a guided walk of Saralee’s Vineyard.
Find more info about outdoor activities in Sonoma County here.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.