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Get Outdoors with a First Day Hike in 2016

Start 2016 off on the right foot (so to speak) by lacing up your hiking shoes and hitting the trail on Friday, January 1. Plenty of others will be joining you, on trails around the country, as part of the growing “First Day Hike” movement.

First Day Hikes began modestly more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts. The idea of such hikes slowly spread, and for the past five years all 50 state park systems have joined together to host the hikes. Last January 1 (2015), nearly 28,000 people participated nationwide, hiking a collective 66,000 miles around the nation.

First Day Hikes are sponsored by America’s State Parks. This year, the event’s website host is the National Association of State Park Directors; visit their site to learn more about First Day Hikes, and to find January 1, 2016 hikes in every state. 

Here are a few Sonoma County 2016 First Day Hikes:

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: Climb to the top of Bald Mountain on a  hike ranging from 6.5 to 7.4 miles, depending on trail conditions. The hike, which has a 1,500-foot climb, offers fabulous views of Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley and San Francisco. Bring a lunch, water, and dress sensibly. The hike is free, and you don’t need to RSVP, but be prepared for the $8 vehicle parking fee. Meet at the main day use lot before 10 a.m. For additional details, contact John Roney (707-833-5712).  

Fort Ross State Historic Park, 10:00 a.m.: Greet the New Year by hiking on the beautiful Northern Sonoma County coast. This year’s hike is a moderate and beautiful 3-mile walk along the Fort Ross creek ending at the cemetery, where you’ll enjoy a 20-minute talk about the historic cemetery. Afterward, the walk heads to the beach and over to the Reef Campground, where hikers will relax and enjoy their packed lunches. Along the trail you might see some early spring wild flowers, as well as ocean view vistas and possibly spouting whales. At the beginning of the hike, Kashaya Elder Lorin Smith will offer a blessing to start the New Year. Children of all ages are welcome; however, no dogs allowed. Meet in the Upper Parking Area. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, good hiking shoes. For more info, contact Robin Joy Wellman at 707-847-4777 or email her: [email protected].

Jack London State Historic Park, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: The third annual First Day Hike at Jack London offers two options this year:

  • As in the previous two years, hikers can usher in January 1 with a moderately strenuous 8-mile/four-hour hike that will take you to a summit offering panoramic Sonoma Valley views. This hike remains entirely on Jack London Park territory.
  • A new hike has joined the First Day Fun, thanks to a partnership between Jack London Park and Sonoma County Regional Parks—a one-way 9-mile, moderately-strenuous hike from Jack London Park, over the mountain and into the new North Sonoma Regional Park & Open Space Preserve. This hike will be led by Jim Piercy, an assistant Regional Park manager and expert in California native plants. Important: If you choose this option, please arrange to carpool, as you’ll be responsible for shuttling yourself back to Jack London Park at the end of the hike (Jack London Park passes will be honored at North Sonoma Regional Park parking lot). 

Both hikes meet in the Upper Parking Area/Beauty Ranch parking lot (take a right at the kiosk) before 10 a.m. Dress appropriately, with sturdy hiking boots or shoes; carry sufficient water (and binocs if you have them); hiking poles suggested.

Cost of each hike is $10 and online pre-registration is recommended; an additional $10 per-car parking fee, payable at the entrance kiosk, may be required (Sonoma County Regional Park parking passes will be honored as well State and Jack London Park passes). Hike recommended for children 13 and above; no dogs allowed. Wear sturdy shoes, bring lots of water and snacks; hiking poles suggested. For questions or more information, call 707-938-5216 or visit jacklondonpark.com.

Of course, you needn’t confine yourself to these three hikes. Create your own First Day Hike in a location you love—through the redwoods, along the ocean, deep into a valley, through city streets. Or ride a bike, tackle a zip line, paddle a kayak, climb a rock. The point is, get out there and seize that symbolically important First Day!

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: Climb to the top of Bald Mountain on a  hike ranging from 6.5 to 7.4 miles, depending on trail conditions. The hike, which has a 1,500-foot climb, offers fabulous views of Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley and San Francisco. Bring a lunch, water, and dress sensibly. The hike is free, and you don’t need to RSVP, but be prepared for the $8 vehicle parking fee. Meet at the main day use lot before 10 a.m. For additional details, contact John Roney (707-833-5712 or [email protected]).  

Salt Point State Park, 10:30 a.m.: A moderate 3-mile hike on the oceanside Grace Rock Trail, exploring the less visited northern reaches of Salt Point State Park. Highlights include unique, other-worldly rock formations, wide open ocean vistas, seabirds and possible marine mammals, and good company! Meet at the north end of the Fisk Mill Cove parking lot (with portapotties and Sentinel Rock Viewing Platform nearby). Bring water, bag lunch, binoculars, cameras, hat, sunscreen, layered clothing, hiking sticks and hiking boots. No pets; children 10 and older welcome. Meet at the north end of the Fisk Mill Cove parking lot (with portapotties and Sentinel Rock Viewing Platform nearby). Cancellation information: 707-847-3437.

Here are a some recommendations from Sonoma County Regional Parks that will help you choose the perfect trail for an independent First Day Hike. The folks at Regional Parks consider these destinations to be “especially striking this time of year:”

  • The Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail and Tolay Lake Regional Park both offer expansive views of winter skies and first-rate bird watching.
  • The woodlands at Sonoma Valley and Shiloh Ranch regional parks are both delightful for hikes after a rain. The smells of the forest and colorful fallen leaves will awaken your senses.
  • A trip to the Coast is always memorable in winter. A hike to Pinnacle Gulch may deliver brisk winds and pounding surf or sunny skies and T-shirt temperatures.

And a very Happy New Year!

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