Discover two quick green getaways in Sonoma County: Helen Putnam & Shiloh Regional Parks. Both parks are great for hiking and walking. Each is just off US-101, conveniently located about 1 hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
All you have to do is pack a sandwich, lace up some sturdy hiking shoes, and hit the trail. Get into the green beauty of nature, take back your heart, and you’re bound to return content and happy to the daily fray.
Helen Putnam Regional Park
Although it’s only a hop and a skip from downtown Petaluma and US-101, a hike at Helen Putnam Regional Park really does feel as if you’ve left the world far behind.
At a compact 216 acres, the nine trails are relatively short but can be combined to make a wonderful two- to three-mile hike offering beautiful panoramic views of steep rolling hills dotted with cattle and clusters of oak. Elevation reaches 558 feet.
Hiking’s not your thing? No problem. One of the trails also accommodates bicycling and horseback riding, there’s a children’s playground, a large fishing pond stocked with bluegill, a picnic area, and a gazebo. Dogs are allowed – but only on a six-foot leash.
The park contains five different kinds of oak (coast live, valley, interior live, California black, and oracle), as well as extensive native grasslands and – beginning in late winter – lots of native wildflowers.
It’s also a great birder’s locale. Typical sightings include mallard, red-winged blackbird, Canada goose, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, white-tailed kite, downy woodpecker, acorn woodpecker, Anna’s hummingbird, western scrub-jay, northern mockingbird, marsh wren, tree swallow, bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadee, bewick’s wren, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, oak titmouse, wrentit, dark-eyed junco, California towhee, Vaux’s swift, California quail, American robin, yellow-rumped warbler, lazuli bunting, song sparrow, house finch, and lesser goldfinch.
The park was dedicated in 1985 and named for former Petaluma mayor and Sonoma County Supervisor Helen Putnam.
Helen Putnam Regional Park is located at 411 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma. More information: Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Shiloh Ranch Regional Park
About a mile and a half from Highway 101, 850-acre Shiloh – a former cattle ranch – contains nearly four miles of easy to moderately-difficult dirt trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
The trails take you through diverse eco-systems, including a mixed conifer forest, oak groves, open grasslands, and creek-side moisture-seeking plants.
On the broad Ridge Trail, elevation rises to more than 700 feet and affords far-ranging Sonoma County views (bring your camera!). You’ll find a bench at the top, a great place to ponder life’s Great Questions. Or maybe to just enjoy a picnic.
The cool and shady Pond Trail, which offers glimpses of Mount St. Helena, is particularly enjoyable on a hot summer day. There is indeed a small pond along the trail; it’s decorated on the edges with a couple of picnic tables.
The Creekside Trail runs along a seasonal stream. It can get low or even become dry in summer, but at certain times of the year it’s alive with dragonflies, frogs, and other creek denizens.
The park provides plenty of opportunity for the spotting of larger wildlife, too. Birding, in particular, is good here. Coyotes are seen in the park from time to time, and deer are plentiful. You may also spot hare, rabbit, fox, and bobcat.
Download a map of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park.
Shiloh Ranch Regional Park is located at 5750 Faught Road, Windsor. More information: Sonoma County Regional Parks.