Shiloh Ranch burned oak on ground

Hiking in Sonoma County's Burned Parks: What to Expect

By Regional Parks Staff                               

Fall wildfires burned several of Sonoma County’s regional parks in 2017, 2019 and 2020: These parks include Shiloh Ranch southeast of Windsor, Sonoma Valley in Glen Ellen, Foothill in Windsor, Crane Creek east of Rohnert Park, and Hood Mountain above Kenwood. 

Sonoma Valley Regional Park green grass If you haven't yet visited a park that burned, you may wonder what to expect when you do. The good news is that in the first spring following the fire, you'll find bright green grass covering hills and meadows that had burned black. You may see wildflowers brightening some areas. You’ll also notice the leaves of bulbs poking through the ground.

Hood Mountain leaf sprout on burned oak

Changed Landscapes

At the same time, you will be struck by the impact of the fires and the scars they left. In the spring of 2018, this was especially true at Sonoma Valley, Shiloh Ranch and Hood Mountain, where the Tubbs and Nuns fires burned the majority of the parks the previous fall. Many trees - oaks, madrones, bay laurels and others – burned to varying degrees. Some had charred trunks but full limbs of dry leaves. If you looked closely that spring, you noticed patches of green sprouting in upper branches or from the root crowns.

Shiloh Ranch burned madrone and oakSome trees will be bare because they burned more severely (hotter) and take much longer to show signs of regrowth. Some trees will have fallen or split open and lay in pieces. Woodland animals and birds will be busy making their homes in fallen trunks or standing snags.

Sonoma Valley Regional Park burned tree outlineHere and there, you will notice that trees burned so completely they essentially vanished, leaving only holes in the ground. In other places ghostly outlines mark places where downed trees burned so intensely they left ashen silhouettes on the soil. In fact, as you hike through a burned park, you will catch the scent of ash now and again, especially if the ground is moist.

Watch the Transformation

If you frequented a park before a fire, you will find familiar settings have changed.

A favorite old oak may not look the same, at least not for a while, or a regular picnic spot may not be as picturesque.

If you’re new to the park, now is the time to get to know it. Come back regularly to see the landscape evolve.

Nature knows how to heal itself, and wildfire presents a unique opportunity to watch that transformation. We just have to pay attention.

Photos from 2018, top to bottom:

  • A burned oak that split and fell along the Pond Trail at Shiloh Ranch 
  • Oaks and new grass on the Valley of the Moon Trail at Sonoma Valley Regional Park 
  • Oak leaves sprout from charred limbs at Hood Mountain 
  • Bulbs emerge under scorched madrones and oaks on the Canyon Trail at Shiloh Ranch 
  • A hiker examines the burn outline of a fallen tree at Sonoma Valley Regional Park 

Published 2018/Updated October 2020

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