While Napa and Sonoma counties are synonymous with wine tasting and vineyard tours, the region also teems with opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. With gorgeous settings and easy access from the East Bay, the area offers abundant ways to lift your spirits that don’t call for imbibing anything other than fresh water.
Here, Diablo spotlights some of the region’s glorious natural wonders, from towering forests and cascading waterfalls to shimmering lakes and panoramic vistas.
Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Calistoga
On the edge of the town of Calistoga, trailheads and a small parking area open onto a moderately challenging hike. Start on Table Rock Trail, which winds through forests and chaparral; advanced hikers may want to continue onto Palisades Trail, which connects to Oat Hill Mine Trail. The hike can be rough and rocky in places as it takes you up to 2,446 feet. At that elevation, you’ll have sweeping views of the entire valley, the Palisades, and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Also in the park is a five-mile hike to the top of Mount Saint Helena, the tallest peak in Sonoma County at 4,339 feet. The trail is relatively steep, but the sights are spectacular. From the summit, you can see much of the San Francisco Bay Area; the 360-degree vistas extend across Napa Valley to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, San Francisco and the twin peaks of Mount Diablo to the south, the Vaca Mountains to the east, and the coastal ranges to the west. On an exceptionally clear day, you can even spot snow-topped Mount Shasta, 192 miles in the distance.napaoutdoors.org.
Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Glen Ellen
Located in the center of Sonoma Valley, this 202-acre park sits to the side of quaint Glen Ellen. It’s a smaller, more manicured area with short trails that veer up hillsides and around ridges. The 1.3-mile Valley of the Moon Trail is a highlight, starting in a large, open meadow, then winding through a forest of oaks and passing over a lovely creek. And now is the ideal time to visit, as a host of gorgeous flowers are in bloom, including poppies, lupine, and other wildflowers. Check out the family- friendly programs offered here, too: Kids ages 7 to 11 will especially enjoy the opportunity to become “nature investigators,” during a three-week hands-on science, literacy, and art program that begins on May 5. parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.
Knoxville Wildlife Area, Napa
Part of the Eticuera Creek watershed, the rugged terrain of this 21,500-acre Napa reserve has elevations ranging from 1,000 to 2,200 feet, making it a must-hike site. This tucked-away gem is about 36 miles off the Silverado Trail in Yountville (go east on Sage Canyon Road, then north into the Lake Berryessa area). It’s notable for being an important wildlife corridor for a host of animals, such as mountain lions, bald eagles, and bears. The eight-mile Zim Zim Falls Trail is one of the highlights, snaking along the remote Zim Zim Creek and stretching through meadows situated just southwest of the wildlife reserve. The path—which is mostly level and has about a dozen crossings over the creek—ends at an old abandoned cabin. But the real treasure lies ahead. Keep hiking up the ridge to find the stunning Zim Zim Falls. And if that six-mile round trip isn’t enough, hop onto the Long Canyon Trail, a 3.8-mile loop. The trek takes about two hours and climbs high above Foley Canyon for brilliant panoramas. Bring your furry friends since the parkland allows dogs on the trails. wildlife.ca.gov.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Kenwood
With 25 miles of trails traversing through oak woodlands and alongside babbling brooks, Sugarloaf is a must for nature enthusiasts. The highest peak at this Sonoma County park, Bald Mountain, sits at 2,729 feet. Take in the scene from the top by hiking the 6.6-mile Bald Mountain Loop, with its challenging 1,529-foot ascent; you won’t be sorry. On a clear day, views are just about 360 degrees, with Mount Saint Helena to the north; San Francisco Bay and Mount Diablo to the south; Mount Tamalpais to the southwest; the Coast Ranges and the Sierra to the east; and the Pacific to the west. Another great reward comes with the Canyon-Pony Gate Loop, which culminates in a glorious 25-foot seasonal waterfall. sugarloafpark.org.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Calistoga
This 1,900-acre park, easily accessible off Highway 29 between Calistoga and St. Helena, stretches clear across Napa into Sonoma County. The 10 miles of trails range in levels of difficulty, but all are stunning, surrounded by redwoods, mixed evergreen trees, and ferns along the creek bank. One remarkable hike, the Ritchey Canyon Trail, is an eight-mile out-and-back path that hugs the rocky Ritchey Creek, a tributary of the Napa River. It runs gently, in modest inclines and declines, under big-leaf maples, madrones, oaks, and sky-scraping redwoods.
The Upper Ritchey Canyon Trail begins at the junction of Spring Trail and Ritchey Canyon Trail. After weaving around volcanic rock cliffs and Douglas firs, the trail leads to the upper west end of the park, the site of the Traverso Homestead, which dates back to the 1880s. Coyote Peak Trail is yet another stunning option; a single-track trail that climbs up to the 1,170-foot Coyote Peak, it culminates in expansive views of the forest canopy and surrounding canyons. Parking is ample and close to the trailheads. $8 per day fee, parks.ca.gov.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Guerneville
This sprawling 805-acre redwood grove was badly damaged during last year’s fire season and was still closed as of press time. Crews have been working tirelessly to clear hazards and debris, and repair trails, fencing, and signage so that visitors can soon return to this natural haven, perhaps even as soon as Memorial Day.
For nature lovers, this awe-inspiring reserve can’t reopen fast enough. With trees that reach hundreds of feet high, it is an ideal locale for “forest bathing”—or shinrin-yoku, a practice popularized in Japan that focuses on the healing properties of woodland settings. There are only a handful of trails here, such as the Discovery and Pioneer Nature trails, but they meander along the canyon floor through the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in Sonoma County. A few other trails, like the Pool Ridge Trail and East Ridge Trail, climb through the forest and up into the hills of Austin Creek. East Ridge Trail is remarkable for being almost completely covered by a grove of redwoods, along with occasional Douglas firs, madrones, and California bay trees. When the blooms come out, you might see starflowers, redwood sorrel, and, in early summer, trillium. There are a few challenging spots with strikingly steep descents followed by inevitable ascents, which make for the perfect outdoor workout. parks.ca.gov.
A WALK ALONG THE WATER
Moore Creek Park, Napa
On the north side of Lake Hennessey, Moore Creek Park consists of 673 acres of open spaces and canyon, along with 900 acres of woodlands and more than eight miles of dog-friendly hiking trails. The paths weave through the grassy hillsides of eastern Napa Valley and attract hikers, bird-watchers, and mountain bikers. Signs posted along the main lakeside track point out the many avian species living in the reserve, including bald eagles, ospreys, blue herons, and woodpeckers. There’s plenty of other wildlife to observe as well; keep an eye out for gray foxes and coyotes. Parking is available in the gravel lot off Chiles Pope Valley Road. napaoutdoors.org/parks/moore-creek-park.
Spring Lake Regional Park, Santa Rosa
Spring Lake Regional Park attracts both novice and veteran hikers, with 10 miles of trails linking to Howarth Park and Trione-Annadel State Park. Those looking for a more intense trek should opt for the Annadel trails. Most treks are family-friendly, and there’s plenty of space to end the hike with a picnic at Howarth Park. Spring Lake itself—a 72-acre reservoir—is ideal for canoers, kayakers, and paddleboarders. During certain times of the year, the reflections off the lake provide a stunning mirrored effect, perfect for contemplating the mystery, beauty, and renewal of nature. parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.