The 5 Best Short, Easy Hikes in Sonoma County

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The Healdsburg Ridge Open Preserve offers an easy loop hike with several scenic overlooks. (Gabe Meline/KQED)

Easy hikes, especially for kids, are necessary in these times. With a statewide shelter-in-place order due to the coronavirus, chances are you're developing a little bit of cabin fever.

I've spent my entire life in Sonoma County, where there are hiking trails galore. And if you just need to leave the house and see some nature but don't want to break a sweat, or if you want your home-bound kids to get off the iPad and into the outdoor world, Sonoma County has plenty of quick, easy one- to two-hour hikes.

Here are five short, easy hikes to take in Sonoma County, on trails that are generally never crowded.

Taylor Mountain

This is a simple hike that begins partway up a mountain, which means that despite its minimal elevation, it still offers incredible 270-degree views of the Santa Rosa plain below. You’ll also encounter cows wandering the trail with no fences—a favorite for kids. Start at the Kawana Terrace entrance and take the Western Trail for about a mile until you hit a plateau with an open view; on the way back, swing a left turn at the wooden bridge to the Todd Creek Trail for a covered creekside path through the oak trees. About two miles total. Details here.

The Umbrella Tree on Sonoma Mountain serves as a hidden fort for kids.
The Umbrella Tree on Sonoma Mountain serves as a hidden fort for kids. (Sonoma County Parks)

Sonoma Mountain

There’s a fantastic reward for kids at the top of this basic two-mile hike: a giant bay tree cluster, the trunk circle of which offers a hidden fortress perfect for eating lunch and playing make-believe. Adults, meanwhile, can eat at a picnic table and marvel at the view of Bennett Valley. This out-and-back hike with wide paths has a constant yet light uphill climb. But friends, the tree is worth it. From the North Sonoma Mountain parking lot, take the Umbrella Tree Trail to the top. Details here.

Healdsburg Ridge

This is a perfect, scenic beginner’s hike, hidden in plain sight; the trailhead starts at the end of a typical suburban street. Light elevation takes you to a few beautiful overlooks above the Russian River and Mayacamas Valley, and if you look for it, you’ll find melted metal from a burned-down shed along the way. There are only a few places to stop and sit, but the dizzying variety of foliage along the way offers plenty to admire. From the Arabian Way trailhead, take the Ridge Trail to All-the-Oaks Trail, an easy, three-mile loop. Details here.

Lake Ilsanjo at Annadel State Park.
Lake Ilsanjo at Annadel State Park. (WIki Commons)

Annadel State Park

The crown jewel of Santa Rosa’s parks, Annadel offers several combinations of trails for an easy hiking experience. Enter on Parktrail Drive and hike up the Spring Creek Trail to Lake Ilsanjo and back. The journey is three miles total, and a craggy, steep portion is uncovered and in full sun. Another option is driving to the end of Channel Drive for an easier, two-and-a-half-mile woodsy loop on the Warren Richardson and Steve's S trails, full of fern, mushrooms and trees. Details here.

Bodega Head-Salmon Creek

The recent completion of the expansive Kortum Trail along the Sonoma Coast has somewhat overshadowed this modest-yet-beautiful stretch of trail—for decades the go-to coastal hike in Sonoma County. It's the longest one in this roundup at around four miles, but it's an easy, out-and-back hike that takes you past breathtaking views, the occasional whale sighting and all the ice plants anyone could want. From Bodega Head's west parking lot, take the north trail and follow the signs to Salmon Creek and back. This goes without saying for any ocean-adjacent hike: wear layers. Details here.

BONUS HIKE: Armstrong Woods State Park near Guerneville has what's perhaps the most popular easy hike in the Sonoma County: a short, 1.7-mile walk along the Pioneer Trail from the parking lot to a picnic area and back. Majestic redwoods and wide, flat trails are perfect for kids and beginners, though it does get crowded at times. Details here.