Hiking the Jenner Headlands Preserve
Sonoma County's 55-mile coastline abounds with stunning views, each seemingly more marvelous than the last—and some of the finest views of all can be enjoyed by hikers who make their way high into hills edging the Pacific. From a couple of thousand feet up you'll be glancing down at hawks gliding gracefully through the air and taking take in huge swaths of coast, sea and sky.
One of the finest places for trails like these is at 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands Preserve.
Located 2 miles north of Jenner, a tiny coastal hamlet, the preserve runs for 2.5 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway while extending eastward and upward to encompass forests of redwood and Douglas fir, oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal prairie. It's home to rare and endangered species, including the peregrine falcon, northern spotted owl, and red tree vole, as well as to deer, coyote, mountain lion, bobcat and, in its streams, steelhead trout.
All of this magnificence can be yours, temporarily at least, on a hike (the preserve contains 15 miles of trails). If you're in tip-top shape and ready for a challenge, head out on the Sea to Sky trail. You'll want to get an early start, because it's a steep 7.5-mile climb from the trailhead to the 2,204-foot peak of Pole Mountain, where you'll feel like the King/Queen of the World as you turn in a complete circle and see nothing but glorious nature in all directions. Rest awhile and enjoy the lunch you brought along, and then it's a sharp 7.5-mile descent back to your vehicle, toting a feeling of euphoria that will linger for days.
But not everyone enjoys taking hiking to such extremes, and euphoria is a given anywhere you hike at the preserve. You'll find plenty of other trail options. Half a mile and a minor ascent from the trailhead is an overlook with gorgeous ocean views—perfect for selfies or just daydreaming. In spring, head up the Raptor Ridge trail for about 1.5 miles to the .75-mile Wildflower Loop and become bedazzled by colorful blooms. Stop in the redwood forest about halfway up to Pole Mountain, enjoying the silence and majesty that always surrounds these noble giants.
All in all, the preserve has six trails; most branch off of Sea to Sky, reconnecting (or connecting to a different trail) later. No matter which trail you take, or how high you're willing to climb, the views are unforgettable. For that matter, the entire day will be, too.
What you need to know
Where: Jenner Headlands Preserve, Highway 1, Jenner, CA
Parking: Free parking, 30 spaces.
Hours: Open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Dogs: Leashed dogs allowed except on final one mile of Sea to Sky Trail.
Horses/Bikes: Equestrians and bikers are not allowed on trails at this time.