After approximately 200 hikes in the past four years, I get very excited at the prospect of a new one, especially one right here in Sonoma County. Sometimes a new hike can be a combination of some well-known hikes stitched together a different way, or can include a new segment tacked on to an existing one.
My setting last weekend was a point-to-point hike taking me from Willow Creek, located at Duncans Mills, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a nearly 10-mile jaunt. It can be shorter but fortunately I was with a group that meandered a little bit away from the most direct and shortest route. The hike started at the Freezeout Flats parking area of the Willow Creek property which is now managed by LandPaths. I had been there a couple of years ago for a permit orientation session and a short hike, but never fully was able to explore the property. It is worth a trip (permit still required).
One day, the property, all 3,700-plus acres of it, will be part of the full-access state parks system – a section of Sonoma Coast State Beach – but that day is probably far off. Willow Creek covers most of the watersheds of Freezeout and Willow creeks and includes about 15 miles of trails, open to hikers, bikers and equestrians. It borders land owned by the Mendocino Redwood Company, which various signs point out. Stay off that property.
This is wildflower season, although some colors have already come and started to fade as temperatures rise. But still, we saw dozens of different brightly-colored flowers and plant life throughout the ravines and wooded trails that make up the property. I loved the way the cool fog gave way to a warm sunny day as morning faded away. It was a perfect setting to experience the spring Sonoma-like transformation. It’s cooler out toward the coast and that means it’s muddier in places too, so a hike at Willow Creek means solid boots or shoes with good footing. As we hiked, I counted at least a half-dozen other trails sprouting off in different directions, making this a place worth returning to.
Our hike headed to the well-named Islands in the Sky Trail – up about 800 feet in elevation – and then descended down into Pomo Canyon (a very popular state campground site now also shuttered by the state budget woes) and then up again to end at Shell Beach. Pomo Canyon, with its Native American roots, is a special place, with a waterfall and stream worth finding and a small shaded grove that feels otherworldly compared to the rest of the adjacent parkland. It’s possible to drive to the campground’s closed gate and then just walk a few hundred yards to a picnic area, but if you don’t want to trek all the way from Duncans Mills (or lack the permit to do so), a popular route is to park at Shell Beach and then cross Highway 1 and head inland from there. Be forewarned that there is an extremely steep incline right at the start of that route.
More info on the ‘people-powered park’ known as Willow Creek here.