View from Sugarloaf Ridge peak

It’s nice to see the gates open again at Sugarloaf State Ridge State Park. They weren’t closed long, but like other state parks, they battled the perception for the past year that they have either been closed, partially closed or just abandoned. Not quite the case, but in any event, I headed there for a hike last weekend on what turned out to be a very hot, dry day.

It’s not surprising to see why wildfires are proving so problematic across northern California this summer with the blanched-yellow grasses making for a pretty landscape but a dangerous one. Our hike traveled about seven to eight miles, starting at the parking lot just below the park’s main entrance. This used to be a free lot, and a way to skirt the access fees, but it is now a paid lot, which makes sense.

The destination was heading up to the 2,729-feet-high summit peak from which there are broad, panoramic views of most of the North Bay. The clouds of San Francisco were visible in the distance, as were the peaks of Mount Diablo in the East Bay. Closer still were the usual stunning views of both Sonoma and Napa valleys. It’s easy to see why Robin Williams likes having his $35 million home right by the southeastern edge of Sugarloaf Ridge. (The estate is for sale, by the way.)

Our route was on the Canyon Trail to the Bald Mountain Trail and then winding back along the Gray Pine and Brushy Peaks and Meadow trails. I’ve hiked in this park a lot and have never felt lost. It can be slightly disorienting encountering eastbound trails that look like they’re heading west, and so forth, but since so much of the hike is exposed, when I’m unsure where I am, I just look around and spot the familiar topographic landmarks. Sugarloaf, with its mix of short and moderate trails, none of which rise past the moderately-demanding level, offers a great local diversity of oaks, redwoods, chaparrals along with some expansive meadow hiking too. Truly, the park is a local treasure right here in Santa Rosa’s backyard.

Other than some other hikers and a fledgling creek, there was little activity in the park as the wildlife, save for some hawks and vultures, were all keeping a low profile, understandable given the heat of the day. Even the observatory was closed. Although it’s worth checking out. The next special event for the public there will be Saturday, Sept. 15. For what it’s worth, Team Sugarloaf, a group of five local non-profit organizations, is now officially running the park, staffing the parking kiosks and generally keeping the place open.