Cross-country running — distance running over natural terrain — is easy to find in Sonoma County. With 11 California State Parks and 55 Sonoma County Regional Parks, you can run as often and as long as you like without ever hitting the same trail twice.
Here are just a few cross-country trails to get you started:
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve & Austin Creek State Recreation Area:
These two magnificent parks, Armstrong Redwoods SNR and Austin Creek SRA, directly connect. The result? You can create a run that can range from short, flat, and redwood-surrounded to a long-distance challenge through varied and often steep terrain.
At 805 acres Armstrong Redwoods might be small, but its dirt trail system takes you past awesome giants of the earth (the tallest redwood tree here is 310 feet high — about as tall as the Statue of Liberty). You can string together the park's trails to create a five- to six-mile run through all this splendor.
If you want to keep running, hook onto a trail into 6,000-acre Austin Creek Park. Austin elevations range from 150 to 1,500 feet, and there are 20 miles of trails through meadows and woodlands, across rolling hills (heavy with wildflowers from spring into summer), and past seasonal streams.
Armstrong Redwoods SNR, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville
Austin Creek SRA, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville
Gualala Point Regional Park & Sea Ranch's Public Access Walk on Beach Trail
Sonoma County Regional Parks manages six public access trails in privately-owned The Sea Ranch, allowing you to create an unforgettably beautiful run along the county's far northern coastal bluffs. You'll enjoy amazing ocean views, sea stack rock formations, the sound of crashing waves, and all the sights and sounds of a wild coast.
Access the Walk on Beach Trail at 40101 Highway 1. It leads directly to the Bluff Top Trail, which runs three miles south before connecting to 2.9 miles of trails in Gualala Point Regional Park. In Gualala, the trail travels past significant sand dunes facing the Pacific Ocean. You can also run along portions of the Gualala River, which ends its journey to the sea within the park.
Goat Rock Beach
Part of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park and situated near the mouth of the Russian River, Goat Rock Beach is home to tide pools, sea birds, and waves crashing on rocks. It’s also near a colony of harbor seals that rest and cavort at the river's flowout. Goat Rock has spectacular sea views, and it's a favorite whale-watching spot
On the bluffs above the beach you can access the always-gorgeous Kortum Trail. It’s particularly lovely in summer, when the surrounding seagrass has turned pale and is dotted with pink pennyroyal, golden California poppy, and stark red paintbrush. To Wright's Beach and back is a 4.6-mile run — among the most beautiful you’ll ever experience.
Highway 1 and Goat Rock Road, Jenner, CA 95450; 707-875-3483
On the bucolic eastern edge of Santa Rosa, Trione-Annadel offers 5,092 acres of wild and hilly terrain. The park supports seasonal streams, meadows, redwoods, grasslands, a 26-acre lake, dense chaparral, volcanic rock formations, and what many biologists consider to be a prime example of undisturbed northern oak woodlands.
And with more than 50 miles of multi-use trails, runners can get away from the world, running as far as they like. Try the 7.5-mile Small Lake Loop, which has a 1000-foot elevation gain; or—for a bit more challenge—the 11.6-mile Big Lake Loop with a 1600-foot elevation.
6201 Channel Drive, Santa Rosa 95409; 707-539-3911
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Nestled into the majestic Mayacamas Mountains between Sonoma and Napa valleys, 4,000-acre Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is home to the headwaters of 33-mile-long Sonoma Creek, a 25-foot seasonal waterfall, and 2,729-foot Bald Mountain. The park’s unusual name is derived from the 19th-century practice of molding sugar into cone-shaped loaves (many of the park’s hills have that shape).
With 25 miles of trails in elevations ranging from 600 feet to the top of Bald Mountain, running at Sugarloaf Ridge is challenging, challenging, and beautiful. Up for a challenge? Set out for the top of Bald Mountain, from which — on a clear day — you’ll view the Golden Gate Bridge and a lot more. The Bald Mountain Summit Loop is 7.4 miles, with a 1529-foot elevation gain. For an easier but fascinating run, travel through outer space — a 4.5-mile trail (1100-foot elevation gain) through a scale model of our solar system (it's part of Robert Ferguson Observatory, located in the park).
2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, CA 95452; 707-833-5712
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriquez.