Award-winning wineries and restaurants might be what Sonoma County is best known for, but living in Wine Country has a long list of perks. One of them is the dozens of parks and open spaces that are scattered throughout the region. From strolling along quiet beaches to hiking in the shade of majestic redwoods, you can do it all here. And if you’re willing to venture a bit off the beaten path, you can avoid the crowds and have nature to yourself — even on a warm and sunny day. Read below for four of our favorite Sonoma County parks off the beaten path.
Soda Springs Reserve, Annapolis
Located about 10 miles east of The Sea Ranch community along Highway 1, Soda Springs Reserve dates back to the 1880s when it was home to the Soda Springs Campground. It became a Sonoma County park in 1994. The 48-acre reserve offers a number of short, easy strolling trails through giant redwoods.
Soda Springs Reserve is also known for birding opportunities, particularly in the woods along Soda Springs Creek. Fishing is permitted and dogs are allowed on leash. There is a restroom and picnic tables not far from the parking area. Open sunrise to sunset. Parking is free. 24550 Kelly Road, Annapolis, 707-785-2377.
Stillwater Cove, Jenner
Located just off Highway 1 in Jenner, the entrance to Stillwater Cove is easy to miss and there’s no visible parking, so most people drive by this hidden gem. Parking is available at the day-use parking lot east of Highway 1, which leads those in the know to more than three miles of trails surrounded by lush ferns and towering redwoods.
A quick detour off of the Canyon Loop Trail leads to the one-room Fort Ross Schoolhouse. Built in 1885, the school was moved to Stillwater Cove Regional Park for preservation. Compact but striking, Stillwater Cove is a popular spot for tide pooling and picnics. The beach is less than a half-mile from the day-use parking area.
Parking is $7; free for Sonoma County Regional Parks members. Restrooms are located near the beach. Dogs are allowed on leash. Stillwater Cove features an inland campground on the east side of Highway 1, with 23 sites. Covid-19 social distancing and safety protocols are in place; reservations are required. First-come, first-served sites are not available and same-day, drop-in camping is not allowed. 22455 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-847-3245.
Encompassing 820 acres, this park is located south of Bennett Valley and runs to the western boundary of Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. The North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail winds through North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, rewarding hikers with views of Bennett Valley. Considered a moderate to strenuous hike, the trail is just shy of four miles and climbs to nearly 2,000 feet before connecting to Jack London State Historic Park.
The Umbrella Tree trail in North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park in Santa Rosa offers a steady one-mile climb to an elevation of about 1,500 feet. Drinking water is not available at the park, so be sure to bring your own. Dogs are not allowed on trails. Parking is $7; free for Sonoma County Regional Parks members. 5297 Sonoma Mountain Road, Santa Rosa, 707-539-8092.
Grove of the Old Trees, Occidental
This 48-acre redwood park is home to 2,000-year-old coast redwoods. Overseen by the nonprofit group LandPaths, there is no charge to enter or park at the Grove. Trails are mostly flat at Grove of the Old Trees, making it accessible to all ages and ability levels. Dogs on leash are welcome on trails.
In the 1990s, there was a plan to log the old redwoods, but residents fought to protect the Grove and the park opened to the public in 2000. There is no running water or bathroom, so plan accordingly. Parking is limited. 17599 Fitzpatrick Ln, Occidental.
By: Dana Rebmann