Sonoma County is home to more than 50 regional parks and 11 state parks, from Gualala in the north to Bodega Bay in the south, and from the Pacific Ocean in the west to Sonoma Valley in the east. They’re all exceptionally beautiful and most offer plenty to do, so it’s often difficult to choose one park to visit.
But ask yourself this: Do you prefer a dirt trail to a paved path, and an isolated cove to a groomed beach? Do you smile rather than scowl when a wave crashing on a nearby rock covers you with salt spray? Does your heart leap at the sight of nature untrammeled?
If so, you’d probably be happiest visiting one of the county’s “wild parks,” where the land has been barely — or even never — touched. In alpha order, a few of our favorite wild parks are:
With nearly 6,000 acres and featuring 20 miles of trails meandering through meadows and woodlands and across rolling hills, Austin Creek SRA is big and beautiful. Trails range from moderate to strenuous (the East Ridge and Austin Creek trails are most challenging).
Drive-in and hike-in campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Austin Creek is also adjacent to 520-acre Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve with its majestic groves of redwood trees. Learn more.
Situated where the Gualala River enters the Pacific Ocean, this stunning park offers wonderful ocean views, a vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, and a summertime sandspit at the river’s mouth. As you walk you can construct driftwood castles, run up and down sand dunes, hunt for sea glass, collect shells, try your hand at fishing (depending on the season), enjoy the views, or just sit and daydream.
The park’s campground nestles under redwood trees beside the river and is within walking distance of the crashing surf; it includes drive-in and walk-to sites, and sites reserved for hikers and cyclists. Learn more.
With nearly 2,000 acres on the northern end of Sonoma Valley, Hood Mountain offers 19 miles of trails geared to fit hikers; they proceed across creeks, through grasslands, into forests, and up peaks, providing challenges and stunning views. Four environmental, tent-only campsites (including one group site) are available in remote settings reached by hiking about two miles from parking areas. Sites include tables, food lockers, and tent pads, with primitive toilets nearby. Note: Hood Mountain closed temporarily after the October 2017 wildfires; a portion of the park reopened in January 2018 and the rest of the park, including the campsites, will reopen sometime in 2018. More info.
This absolutely gorgeous park consists of 6,000 acres of wooded uplands, coastal bluffs and coves. The rhythm of the dramatic, pounding surf punctuates a hike along rocky promontories where you’ll enjoy panoramic views, kelp-dotted coves, open grasslands, forested hills, pristine prairies and a pygmy forest. With 20 miles of hiking trails, over six miles of rugged coastline, and an underwater park, you can enjoy a variety of other activities such as picnics, horseback riding, fishing, skin and scuba diving, and camping (more than 100 reservable sites are available). More info.
This amazing park consists of a series of fabulous beaches separated by rock bluffs and headlands; it extends 17 miles, from Bodega Head to four miles north of Jenner; it features more than a dozen access points along coast Highway 1 that allow you to park and make your way onto a beach.
Shell Beach is a good stop for beachcombing and tide pools. Goat Rock Beach is near a haul-out spot for seals, which are a lot of fun to watch. Salmon Creek Beach attracts surfers. Campsites are available at Wright’s Beach and Bodega Dunes, and seasonal primitive campsites with pit toilets can be found at Willow Creek environmental campground. Learn more.
Located on the Pacific Ocean in Jenner (near Fort Ross State Historic Park), 210-acre Stillwater offers great birding, fishing, fabulous ocean-view hiking, a beach launch suitable for kayaks and other small boats, immensely popular abalone diving, and camping (20 reservable campsites and a hiker/bicyclist group site). One popular activity here: walking the ½-mile trail to the historic one-room schoolhouse at Fort Ross. Learn more.
Sugarloaf contains the headwaters of Sonoma Creek and offers 25 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding (some trails are open to mountain bikers). The Robert Ferguson Observatory is open to the public, and trout fishing is good in Sonoma Creek in late spring and early summer (California fishing license required for anyone over 16). Forty-seven campsites are situated on a large meadow near Sonoma Creek; a group campsite is also located in the Park. More info.
Trione-Annadel is an outdoor lover’s paradise, offering almost 5,000 acres of rolling hills and 35 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Peak months for wildflowers are April and May, but wildflowers bloom from January into September.
A fishing lake is perfect for anglers (those over 16 need a fishing license); sensational views attract photographers; and bird lovers can spend many happy hours here. Trione-Annadel State Park is adjacent to Spring Lake Regional Park, Santa Rosa's most popular recreation area, complete with lake, campround, and hiking trails. Learn more.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodgriguez.