Lake Sonoma’s namesake feature is certainly the star attraction and local boaters know it. On any given summer day, the tinted water is buzzing with activity, from anglers to skiers and everything in between. The manmade reservoir is almost 20 years old, having been formed by the construction of the Warm Springs Dam.
Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is not a county, state or federal park, but that’s semantics. It is an all-purpose recreational gem.
Surrounding the 2,700 acres of surface water are 50 miles of shorelines, which means plenty of prime hiking spots. Some are particularly popular with mountain bikers and/or equestrians, so plan your visit accordingly.
Here’s one route that won’t be crowded, but won’t lack for spectacular views. And it’s possible to either do a short segment or turn it into a vigorous half-day hike. Entering Lake Sonoma from Dry Creek Road, take your first left and find the South Lake Trailhead and park there in the spacious lot. It’s a decent vantage spot right there for a photo that shows the breadth of the lake.
Hike inland and around the southeastern edge of the lake for about two miles and emerge at the Skaggs Springs Vista, less than three miles away. From there, you can either wrap up a point-to-point hike or keep on trekking and follow the salamander-like contour of the lake to the south. Loop back at your convenience.
Shady woodlands make this not unbearable in the summer heat. The elevation won’t top 2,000 feet and all ascents and descents are gradual enough. Watch out for poison oak and rattlesnakes, but if you stay on the trail, neither should be an immediate hazard.
And the idea of hiking – and pausing in the middle of the walk for a swim – isn’t a fanciful notion only available to adventurers. At several points, it is more than easy to detour from a trail to a campground (there are 15 hike-in campsites in the park) or beach area and go for a dip in what is the closest thing around to an outdoor bathtub.
You won’t be alone, either on the trails or in the lake, but the property is large enough that finding a secluded alcove or trail spur isn’t a challenge. Probably best to keep the suit on though, given the overall popularity of the place.
There’s no fee to hike at Lake Sonoma, and kiosks and trail maps are in convenient locations throughout the property.