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Sea Ranch Headlands

Winter hikes in Sonoma County

By Regional Parks staff 

For outdoor enthusiasts, one of the best things about living in Sonoma County is the moderate weather. Except for days with heavy rains, hiking here can be a year-round pleasure.

In fact, venturing out in winter has its benefits: Seasonal streams flow, hillsides green, the air is crisp, and the sky is brilliantly clear or painted with clouds. So, to keep you moving this winter, here are some of our favorite hikes. 

West Ridge Trail at Tolay Lake Regional Park: This trail leads to the southern reaches of Sonoma County’s largest park and verdant views of the Petaluma River, San Pablo Bay and Cougar Mountain at Sears Point. And at 8 miles round trip, it’s a worthy workout. Difficulty: Approx. 4 miles one way, 340 feet of elevation gain.

Alta Vista Trail at Foothill Regional Park: In English, "alta vista" means “view from above,” and the reason for the trail name becomes clear when you crest the top. Alta Vista is not a long trail, but it is the park’s most challenging, and it's certainly an invigorating climb on a brisk day. Difficulty: Approx. 3 miles, 600 feet of elevation gain. 

Alta Vista Trail view at Foothill Regional Park

Valley of the Moon Trail at Sonoma Valley Regional Park: The paved Valley of the Moon Trail is one of our favorite wet-weather outings. No worries about muddy crossings when wandering along this corridor of blue and black oaks. Difficulty: Approx. 1.2 miles one way, 60 feet of elevation loss.

Creekside Trail at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park: A hike on the Creekside Trail is like a walk through magical Ferngully. This trail is all about forested solitude along a burbling winter creek. It’s easy to imagine fairies living here. Difficulty: Approx. 1.4 miles one way, 260 feet of elevation gain.

Bluff Top Trail at The Sea Ranch: When you want a moody hike, Bluff Top is your trail (pictured at top). Wind-swept headlands, jagged shorelines, pounding waves, and leaning cypress groves await. This is also a prime whale watching venue in late winter, but you'll want to time that hike for a clear day. Difficulty: Approx. 3.6 miles one way, 100 feet of elevation gain.

Bluff Top Trail at The Sea Ranch

Todd Creek Trail to Western Trail at Taylor Mountain Regional Park: When you need a quick wilderness fix, this trail loop lets you escape into the woods on the flank of Santa Rosa’s iconic peak. Start at the Kawana Springs Terrace parking lot. Difficulty: Approx. 1.4-mile loop.

Panorama Trail at Helen Putnam Regional Park: This trail in this park west of Petaluma lives up to its name, offering expansive views of rolling pastureland and sprawling coast live oaks. The winter greenery is so brilliant it looks like a screensaver image. Difficulty: Approx. 2.5 miles one way, 200 feet of elevation gain.

Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail: The Laguna de Santa Rosa comes alive when winter rains fill the wetlands. A hike along this solid-surface trail is sure to provide first-rate birdwatching, and the open sky makes for great cloud-viewing as well. Difficulty: Approx. 2 miles one way, 0 feet of elevation gain.

Raptor hunting above a field at the Laguna de Santa Rosa

These are just a few your regional park trails that shine in the wintertime. For a full list of parks and trails, visit our Find a Parks webpage.

No matter which you choose, be sure to prepare for the adventure: 

  • Unless noted above, these trails are not paved. Some sections can be quite muddy after rains, especially low-lying areas of the Laguna Trail.
  • Know your route ahead of time by checking park maps and updates.
  • Parking is $7 or free for parks members. Parking is free at The Sea Ranch and the Laguna Trail.
  • Note: Dogs are not allowed on Shiloh Ranch Regional Park trails.

Published 2019. Updated 2023.