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Doran Beach under a cloudy sky

Cloudy day hikes in Sonoma County

By Suzie Rodriguez

One of the special things about winter hiking is the show often taking place in the sky. Whether a dark storm is approaching, puffy clouds are clearing or the setting sun casts an orange glow, winter skies can be breathtaking in Sonoma County’s parks. Here are three parks to consider for your next big-sky hike. 

Laguna de Santa Rosa

Laguna Trail under cloudy sky

The Laguna de Santa Rosa is beautiful and fascinating in any kind of weather but offers a unique setting for winter walks. The sky is so open here, it's a constant element of your visit. As Sonoma County’s largest freshwater wetlands complex, the Laguna offers plenty of wildlife viewing as well as the wonder of being close to marshes, vernal pools, woodlands and other rich riparian habitat.

As you’d expect, the Laguna is a vital stopover for migrating birds as well as a permanent home to other bird species. The 1.8-mile Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail runs between Highway 12 and Occidental Road, just east of Sebastopol, and offers expansive views that extend far past the wetlands to Mount Saint Helena to the east. Learn more about the Laguna Trail or download the map.

Doran Regional Park

Doran Beach surfer on cloudy day

Situated on Bodega Bay, with views that stretch forever over the Pacific Ocean, Doran Beach is one of Sonoma County’s most popular parks at any time of the year. In winter, the 2-mile stretch of sand is the perfect place for wind-swept beach walks.

As you hike along, you’ll study swift-moving cumulus clouds and watch seabirds dance in and out of waves rolling onto shore. Wander into the grassy dunes, where trails branch off and soak up the magnificent surroundings from a different perspective.

Roll cloud at Doran Beach

Maybe you'll get lucky and see a rare "roll cloud" like this one that appeared over the Doran marsh. Roll clouds are a low, tube-shaped, and infrequent type of arcus cloud. They usually appear to be "rolling" about a horizontal axis, almost like a sideways tornado, though they aren't dangerous. They can be created by downdrafts from thunderstorms or from the outflows of cold air from sea breezes.

Learn more about visiting Doran Beach in winter

Shiloh Ranch Regional Park

A former cattle ranch southeast of Windsor, Shiloh Ranch is home to diverse ecosystems ranging from open grasslands to moisture-loving plants that thrive beside a shaded creek that burbles with winter rains. Nearly 8 miles of multi-use trails lead hikers, bikers and equestrians over hills, through canyons and onto ridges with wide open views.

Shiloh Ranch winter oak against cloudy sky

The Ridge Trail, which rises more than 700 feet and offers a far-ranging western view from the top, makes for an excellent hike on a winter day — or try the  fern-lined Creekside Trail. Wildlife sightings include raptors, rabbit, fox, bobcat and coyote. Learn more about Shiloh Ranch or download the trail map

Plan your trip

Parking at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail is free. Parking at Shiloh Ranch and Doran Beach is $7 or free for Regional Parks members. Dogs on leash are welcome on the Laguna Trail and at Doran Beach.

Suzie Rodriguez is a Sonoma-based writer, editor, lifelong outdoors enthusiast and past president of Bay Area Travel Writers.
Published in November 2016. Updated in 2023.