Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County
Comprising 1,768 square miles and stretching for 55 miles along the Pacific Ocean, Sonoma County is big. Also, as anyone knows who has ever stepped foot within the county limits, it's beautiful.
And, let's be honest: this place is also an ecological paradise containing countless micro-climates and immense species diversity.
So, in a county so big, so beautiful, and so incredibly varied … how do you even begin to figure out where to go for a hike? It's easy with this guide.
Sonoma County State Parks
The 11 California State Parks located in Sonoma County cover an extraordinary diversity of geographical terrain that reflects the county's beauty. Our state parks overlook the Pacific Ocean and include many beaches, and they are home to rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, redwood forests and pygmy forests - and even vineyards.
Some state parks not only offer opportunities to explore the beauties of nature-they also tackle history. If you want to learn more about California's exciting and colorful past in a fun way, just visit Petaluma Adobe, Sonoma, Fort Ross, or Jack London state historic parks. Be prepared to be amazed.
With the aforesaid diversity, it's not surprising that these parks offer an ultra-generous range of hiking, biking, horseback riding and other activities. Whether you're looking for flat, short 'n easy trails or x-treme, let's-tough-it-to-the-top punishment-you'll find it in one of Sonoma County's state parks. Want to hike in and spend the night, enjoy a lakeside picnic, get lost in a redwood grove? Yep. All that and so much more.
To learn more, read our Guide to Sonoma County State Parks.
Sonoma County Regional Parks
Sonoma County's thriving regional park system consists of more than 50 parks - including trails and open spaces - and encompasses nearly 60,000 acres. Parks run the length and breadth of the county, stretching from Bodega Bay in the south to The Sea Ranch and Gualala in the far north, and from the Pacific Ocean in the west to Sonoma Valley on the county's eastern edge. The newest regional parks are Taylor Mountain and North Sonoma Mountain.
Regional Park trails cover a vast terrain-and not just in miles. No matter your experience and hiking level, you'll find a hike that's perfect for you.
Perhaps you'll want to approach hiking in our parks from the standpoint of your interests. There are trails to thrill history-lovers, geology mavens, birdwatchers, autumn leaf-peepers, spring wildflower fans, and wildlife lovers.
There are trails for people who like to stand on top of a mountain looking out or deep in a valley looking up. You'll find trails to lakes where you can fish or swim or rent a kayak, and trails that lead to softball fields, ocean beaches, and dog parks. There are plenty of trails geared to families with young children and people with accessibility needs.
For a comprehensive overview of Sonoma County Regional Parks, read our Guide to the Sonoma County Regional Park System.
Tip: If you want to just hike one way on the rugged trails in the state and regional parks in the Sonoma Valley, hop on the Sugar Shuttle, a six-passenger van with routes between North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, Jack London State Historic Park, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and Hood Mountain Regional Park. The shuttle makes hourly loops the second weekend of each month, and every weekend in May and September, with service on one of the routes each weekend. Experienced hikers can park their vehicle at the trail's end and take the shuttle to the starting trailhead. The suggested donation is $10 per person; reservations recommended. Learn more about the Sugar Shuttle.
Guided Hiking Tour Companies
If you're new to the county or just want to explore different terrain with a knowledgeable guide, consider a guided hiking tour with a company that specializes in hiking and walking tours. These companies offer standard tours, but will usually be happy to create a tour to match your interests.
Smart Tours: The Sonoma Redwoods Hiking Tour offers a fantastic three-hour trek through the rolling terrain of a redwood forest, led by a knowledgeable, passionate local guide. Walking among these giant trees is the best way to truly appreciate their majesty. You can also hike the redwoods and kayak at the coast in the same day on the From the Redwoods to the Pacific tour.
Unbeaten Path Tours & Yoga: Located on Sonoma County's far northern coast, Unbeaten Path's local and knowledgeable guide will bring you to unique and beautiful sites, while offering stories that bring the locations alive. Owner Marg Lindgren offers standard tours, but is happy to customize a tour to your requirements.
Guided Tours with Ecological Organizations
The organizations listed here work hard to keep our county land beautiful and protected. They all offer guided hikes, which are often free (but not always-be sure you read the fine print of any hike that interests you).
Sonoma Land Trust: This organization, which has protected nearly 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural, and open land in the county (and continues to do so), offers free public outings throughout the year, usually led by a naturalist. If you join as a member, you'll have access to even more outings. Here's the schedule for public outings.
Sonoma Ecology Center: Sonoma Ecology Center works to enhance and sustain the ecological health of Sonoma Valley, offering classes, undertaking research, restoring habitat, and helping to protect land. At certain times of the year, the Ecology Center offers hikes on protected lands (their springtime hikes at Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve are not to be missed!). The hikes are often free. Check their event calendar to see what's coming up.
LandPaths: LandPaths defines its mission this way: '…to foster love of the land in Sonoma County.' To that end, they organize frequent public outings to open spaces, farms, and parks-in-development that have been protected by the county's Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. Diverse by design and offered at no charge (or for a sliding-scale donation), these excursions are a great way to explore. Check their calendar of outings.
Glen Ellen Green Tour: Focusing on the environmental practices of the three top Glen Ellen attractions, this tour starts with a docent-led tour of the beautiful 25 acres at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, home to 20,000 wild-origin plants and flowers. The tour continues with a picnic lunch and docent-led tour at Jack London State Historic Park, and finishes with a close-up look at the biodynamic vineyards, fermentation facilities, crush pad, and barrel caves at Benziger Family Winery, plus a wine tasting.
Pepperwood Preserve: This 3,120-acre preserve in the mountains northeast of Santa Rosa is rich in biodiversity and serves as a refuge for hundreds of plant and animal species. The Preserve offers an extensive range of activities; many are hikes, and many are free (although donations are appreciated). View Its list of future events.
Self-Guided Hiking Tours
Hiking on your own, at your own pace - what could be better?
Quarryhill Botanical Garden: Located near Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley, 25-acre Quarryhill Botanical Garden is one of the continent's largest and most important collections of temperate-climate Asian plants. You'll encounter mature flowering Asian trees and shrubs, along with waterfalls, ponds, killer views and a good deal more. Many Quarryhill plants are rare and endangered varieties, or threatened with extinction in the wild.
Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures: Take self-guided vineyard tours at participating Sonoma County wineries. Started in 2010 by the Sonoma County Winegrowers association, the Vineyard Adventures program offers free, no-appointment, self-guided vineyard walks. Step in the tasting room at each participating winery to pick up a detailed walking tour guide. Trails are relatively easy and no more than a mile long.
Wine Country Trekking: Hike lodging-to-lodging, with time out for top-notch eateries and wine tasting, on a multi-day, self-guided trek arranged by Wine Country Trekking. Traverse the vineyards and mountains while enjoying wine tasting at world class wineries and private winery estates, with lodging in luxury inns.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.