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Tolay Lake Regional Park in the fall

Perfect Sonoma County fall hikes

By Ariana Reguzzoni

In Sonoma County, fall means saying goodbye to intense summer heat and hello to cool days, dramatic skies and colorful trees and vineyards. It’s a great time of year to explore trails that offer sweeping views of the changing landscape. 

Here are five trails that really shine during fall weather:

Lawson Trail at Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

Lawson Trail at Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

Opened in 2020, this multi-use, rugged trail gradually climbs and zigzags from creek canyons, up through oak, chaparral and cypress woodland and across a ridge. It offers views of the Napa hills on one side and, on the other, the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and even San Francisco Bay. It's a strenuous 6 mile out-and-back trail, including a steep 1-mile climb from the parking lot at the Pythian Rd. entrance. The switchbacks take you up about 1,100 feet through dramatic rock outcroppings, and the trail ends in the recovering native pygmy cypress forest. Hood Mountain has burned twice, by the Nuns Fire in 2017 and the Glass Fire in 2020, so traversing this trail also offers the rare opportunity to see a habitat in active recovery from wildfire.

Tolay Lake Regional Park

West Ridge Trail at Tolay Lake Regional Park

This mostly flat, easy trail will take you across wide, open grassland to panoramic views of the Petaluma River, San Pablo Bay and San Francisco skyline. At 4 miles one way, it’s longer than some other options, but the vista at the end is worth the effort. The softer sunshine and cooler weather of fall make this season a special time to visit this park. You might spot some colorful trees, soaring hawks and or some spectacular cloud displays.

North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

Umbrella Tree Trail at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

Short but steep, this 2-mile (round trip) trail gets its name from its most prominent feature: a large bay tree cluster with a single, umbrella-like canopy that greets visitors at the top of this moderately strenuous out-and-back route. The walk is fairly steep, with a 505-foot elevation gain, but, on a clear fall day at about 1,500 feet, you’ll see an expansive view of Sonoma County, including peaks in Napa and Mendocino counties. Bring a picnic to enjoy at the table at the top. Please note: Dogs are not allowed at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.

Riverfront Regional Park

Lake Trail at Riverfront Regional Park

This easy loop trail is approximately 2 miles long and mostly flat, offering pristine views of Lake Wilson and Lake Benoist, Riverfront’s two largest lakes. The trail is an old gravel quarry road and is multi-user friendly and spacious, a favorite among equestrians. Enjoy the sun on your face and take in the fall colors that pepper the Oregon ash trees and wild grapevine around the lakes. Valley oaks are abundant and the redwood grove is a great picnic spot and offers a cool, covered respite, in case the fall temperatures rise.

Big Leaf Trail at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park

Big Leaf Trail at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park

This 2-mile (round trip) moderately strenuous trail on the west side of this Windsor park, offers views of nearby vineyards changing yellow to red in the crisp air. After climbing up a short but steep hill you’ll be rewarded with a traverse through golden big leaf maple trees as well as madrone and coast live oak trees. You can turn around any time to get back to the parking lot or you can use other trail connections to create loop through the entire park. Please note: Dogs are not allowed at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park.

Sonoma County Regional Parks are open sunrise to sunset. Parking is $7, or free for Regional Park members.

Ariana Reguzzoni is a Marketing Specialist with Sonoma County Regional Parks.