Sonoma County’s rich, diverse landscape is one of the top reasons people visit this Northern California coastal region.
And, with more than 40 state and regional parks, the wild land will be protected for generations to come.
If you ask five different people what their favorite park in Sonoma County is, you’d get five different answers. Then there are also those famous parks Armstrong Woods and Sonoma Coast State Park, which attract many nature loves, hikers and beachgoers.
Here are five unique park picks in no particular order.
3333 Skaggs Springs Rd
Geyserville, CA 95441
Nestled in the beautiful coastal foothills of Sonoma County, Lake Sonoma is surrounded by world-famous vineyards and land that is rich in history.
Created by the construction of Warm Springs Dam in 1983, the lake provides for flood control, irrigation and recreation. When full, the lake has a surface area of more than 2,700 acres and 50 miles of shoreline, forming the perfect setting for a wealth of recreational activities.
Insider tip: Both Geyserville and Cloverdale are great jumping-off points for the lake. In Cloverdale try a root beer float at Pick’s Drive In, while Geyserville’s Catelli’s is the newest kid on the block for dining (again.)
Spring Lake Regional Park
393 Violetti Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95409
Spring Lake is one of Santa Rosa’s insider secrets. Combined with Trione-Annadel State Park, this large preserve on the eastern edge of the city sits at the northern entrance to the Sonoma Valley.
The 320-acre park features camping, fishing, picnic areas with barbecues, and four group picnic areas. Trails are available for walking, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. There is also a 74-acre lake and a three-acre swimming lagoon with an inflatable, floating Water Park. Swimming in the lagoon is free; all-day use of the Water Park is $10 for children, $15 for adults, or $45 for a family of four (children must be at least 6 years old to use the Water Park).
Don’t forget to visit the Environmental Discovery Center at Spring Lake for a wonderful all-age educational experience. (Insider tip: just down the hill from the Discovery Center and bordering the parking lot are some small boulders chock-full of lizards. Watch the kids scramble after their prey, which are far too quick to be caught.)
Crane Creek Regional Park
5000 Pressley Road
Rohnert Park, CA
Best known for its abundant wildflowers in the spring, the 128-acre Crane Creek Regional Park is spectacular.
Tucked in the rolling grassland meadows in the Sonoma Mountain foothills, this gem is open year-round. A seasonal creek comes to life in the winter and spring. The open space is framed with stands of trees, including California buckeye, white alder, black oak, and maple.
Stop by a local deli in nearby Cotati or Rohnert Park and head for the hills with a picnic lunch. Let your eyes feast on the views of Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa below. Picnic tables and restroom facilities are available at the trail head, and more picnic tables are located throughout the park. The park allows dogs; must be on a six-foot leash at all times.
Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve and
Salt Point State Park
Located 20 miles north of Jenner on Highway 1 near milepost 43
These side-by-side state parks offer nature lovers an amazing array of things to do.
In May, Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve is a riot of color when the spectacular flowers burst into bloom. This pristine reserve contains second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, grand firs, tanoaks, and, of course, a plethora of rhododendrons.
There are five miles of hiking trails through the quiet forest with a short loop trail that leads through clusters of rhododendrons. Ferns carpet the canyons where seasonal streams abound. In addition to the rhododendrons, other understory plants include salals, pacific wax myrtle, and California Huckleberry. Hikers and walkers are asked to remain on the trails so that the young plants may flourish. No dogs or bikes are allowed on the trails.
Salt Point State Park consists of 6,000 acres of wooded uplands and coastal bluffs and coves. The rhythm of the dramatic, pounding surf punctuates a hike along rocky promontories. Enjoy panoramic views, kelp-dotted coves, open grasslands, forested hills, pristine prairies, and a pygmy forest.
Hike down to Stump Beach, a deep, steep-sided cove fed by a small creek. From there, more than six miles of rugged coastline and an underwater park await. Then cross the creek and hike along 20 miles of trails along the bluffs. Add in variety of picnicking, horseback riding, fishing, skin and SCUBA diving, and camping for an amazing get-away-from-it-all trip.
The weather can be changeable along the rugged Sonoma Coast. Even summertime can be cool as fog hugs the coastline and ocean winds chill the air. Layered clothing is highly recommended.
Tolay Lake Regional Park
5869 Lakeville Highway
Petaluma, CA 94954
You may not be able to “see forever” from Tolay Lake Regional Park, but you will have magnificent views of the rolling hills that lead to San Pablo Bay. Beyond that, visible are San Francisco, Oakland, Mt. Diablo, Mt. St. Helena, Mt. Tamalpais, and the Petaluma River basin.
While the park shows well in almost any season, the best time to visit is during the Tolay Lake Fall Festival. Visitors and locals alike enjoy hay rides to the huge pumpkin patch, arts and crafts, and a pumpkin-seed spitting contest. The festival features a “creatures” barn full of creepy critters, a straw maze, a petting zoo, lawn games, food stands, a Native American village, and more.
Tolay Lake is a perfect example of a public-private partnership that worked together to purchase and preserve this amazing resource. The result, for visitors, is a great place for hiking, cycling, exploring, or just relaxing and taking in the views.
Important: Sonoma County Regional Parks is pleased to offer expanded public access at Tolay Lake Regional Park with the Interim Plan (IP) Day-Use Permit Program. The IP Day-Use Permit Program allows the public to visit the park during posted hours once they’ve completed an hour-long orientation and obtained a permit. Regional Parks is offering these mandatory one-hour orientations, free of charge, which cover permit procedures, and rules & regulations. Click here for info on how to obtain the day-use permit.