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Cows grazing alongside hikers at Crane Creek Regional Park

Sharing Sonoma County trails with cows

By Regional Parks staff

Cattle graze seasonally at Sonoma County parks and preserves such as Crane Creek, North Sonoma Mountain, Mark West Creek and Taylor Mountain – and year-round at Tolay Lake and Wright Hill regional parks. Grazing in these parks reduces wildfire risk, promotes biodiversity and provides other benefits. Sharing trails with cattle might be a bit intimidating at first, so here are some tips for feeling more comfortable when hiking or biking in parks that have grazing.

Cows at Tolay Lake

What should you do if you see a cow on the trail?

Cattle are not aggressive by nature. In many cases, cattle will keep to themselves and move out of your way when you approach. Livestock, like all wild animals, should be treated with respect – and, yes, watch where you step.

Six things to remember when hiking or biking near cattle

  • Properly latch any gates you pass through on trails.
  • Always keep dogs on leash. Do not let pets chase or harass livestock.
  • If cattle are blocking the trail, approach them slowly, speak normally, and allow them to move away. If they don’t move away on their own, provide a wide berth by walking around them off-trail, if necessary.
  • If you see a stray calf, leave it alone; the mother is often feeding or watering nearby and will return. Do not get between a mother cow and young calves.
  • Give space to any cow that shows signs of aggression. This may mean giving them lots of space and walking off-trail if necessary.
  • If you encounter a cow that is acting in a threatening manner, or appears to be injured, sick or dead, please note the location, the color of the animal, the ear tag number if it's easily visible and report the information to the park staff.

Seasonal grazing and sheep and goats

Seasonal cattle grazing in your parks kicks off with winter rains, so you may begin to see more evidence of cattle in your parks during the winter and spring seasons.

We use sheep and goats for “seasonal targeted grazing” on properties not big enough, or lacking the permanent infrastructure, to support a cattle operation, but where we still want to use animals for vegetation management. Sheep and goats are grazed inside temporary fencing, so you’re not likely to encounter them loose on a trail. These seasonal target grazers are deployed in the spring and summer as part of our wildfire mitigation efforts.

Learn more about the benefits of grazing in our parklands.

Know before you go