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The snake-like (more for shape, not habitat, although….) 22-mile water channel running in a vertical strip along the western flank of Santa Rosa is now seeing a lot of visitors. To be more precise, the wetlands surrounding the Laguna de Santa Rosa are the attraction.

After two years in the making, a very accessible new trail by a section of the the Laguna de Santa Rosa recently opened to the public. It allows for a pleasant series of small walks that traverse wetlands and break up what would otherwise be an indistinct section of open space. I headed there for a brief weekend hike, both to see the new network of paths and to see the Laguna itself. I had never seen the waterway up close, other than crossing it on a bike trail or in a car, and the springlike weather provided an excuse to check out this new Santa Rosa recreation spot.

Starting at the Occidental Road trailhead – that’s the northern entry point, the southern is on Highway 12 – we looped around a farm, a pond and a field, and did a few other loops just for fun. (There’s a kayak put-in spot slightly further to the west on Occidental Road. Check the Laguna site below to sign up for events, outings and more.) ¬†For this impromptu hike, our total mileage ended up being 3.5 miles, which was surprising given that the trails only encompass about 2.5 miles. That’s what backtracking and aimlessly meandering will get you, I suppose.

The ground is a bit muddy in places, but the trail is flat and even paved at points. It’s a true multi-use trail and I saw multiple users on multiple forms of transportation throughout the property. One highlight was a tree swing that popped out of nowhere, while another was the water feature itself, which has become popular very quickly.

I can see why. While there wasn’t much clear evidence of the fertile wildlife habitat on this January day, I did see some small red-tailed hawks and some other signs of life. Those who have intently studied the area say that there are more than 200 species of birds alone to be found in the 250-plus acres of wetlands that make up this western Sonoma County landmark.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s informative website has most of what you could want to know about this local treasure. And suffice it to say, this is very much a diamond in the rough. It took two years and a couple of million dollars to get the trail network started, and long-range plans call for up to a dozen miles of trails stretching down and around the Laguna.

(Click here for a recent Press Democrat article on the Laguna project.)