3 Unusual Hikes in Sonoma County

Laguna de Santa Rosa

Want to try a hike in Sonoma County that’s a bit (metaphorically speaking) off the beaten path? Here are three distinct hikes that each offer wonderful new things to discover.

Together, we can protect and preserve the beauty and natural resources of Sonoma County for generations to come. Check out our page on Sustainable Travel, and look over the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

Hike the Solar System

Sugarloaf state park and Rober Ferguson observatory at night
Robert Ferguson Observatory

Located within Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, the Robert Ferguson Observatory is surrounded by a protective ring of hills that reduces light pollution from surrounding cities.

As the western U.S.’s largest observatory dedicated to public viewing and education, it’s a superb destination for anyone who wants to explore the heavens through powerful telescopes.

For hikers, Ferguson offers the extraordinary opportunity of traversing PlanetWalk, a 4.5-mile trail through a scale model of the solar system displaying both relative planet size and relative distances between planets.

The actual solar system has been shrunk more than 2,360,000,000 times, small enough to include the orbit of distant Pluto (officially reclassified as a ‘dwarf planet’), and large enough that the smallest planets can still be seen.

Each step represents about one million miles of empty space; if you take one step every five seconds, you’ll be walking at the speed of light.

Hike a Pygmy Forest

hiker at Salt Point State State Park in Sonoma County
Salt Point State Park

In the northern reaches of Sonoma County’s Pacific Coast lies one of the world’s oddities: a pygmy forest. Acidic soils and other environmental factors deprive the trees here of the nutrients they need to grow normally. The result? When fully mature, they’re miniature versions of their species—just a few feet tall.

Situated at the highest elevation within Salt Point State Park, the pygmy forest is populated with stands of mature-but-tiny Bishop pine, Bolander pine, Mendocino cypress, and even the usually-gigantic redwood tree. You can observe them up close by following the looping 3.8-mile Pygmy Forest Trail.

Hike the Wetlands

People walk along a trail in the wetlands
Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail

At 254 square miles, the Laguna de Santa Rosa is the largest tributary in the Russian River, as well as Sonoma County’s largest freshwater wetland complex.

Consequently, it’s an important stopover destination for migrating birds, and home to a large number of bird, mammal, fish, and plant species. A hike here offers plenty of opportunity for wildlife viewing, as well as the rare wonder of being close to a thriving wetland filled with marshes, vernal pools, riparian woodland, and other rich habitat.

You can hike the 1.8-mile multi-use Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail or follow two miles of loop trails through the Laguna Wetlands Preserve in Sebastopol. Kayakers can choose between three put-in spots, two in Santa Rosa and one in Forestville.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.

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