With its abundance of public parkland and open space, the North Coast is too full of gushing streams and cascading creek flows to mention them all, but a short list would include Sonoma Creek Falls in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park; Alamere Falls in the Point Reyes National Seashore; the Fern Canyon falls in Russian Gulch State Park; and Chamberlain Creek Falls in the Jackson State Demonstration Forest.
The Mount Tamalpais Watershed boasts several well-known waterfalls, including Carson Falls and Cataract Falls. Nearby, in the Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, Larkspur Creek produces the Dawn Falls.
There are seasonal tidefalls at Stengal Beach and Salal Creek that flow into the ocean at The Sea Ranch; a creek waterfall deep inside Pomo Canyon State Park near the Sonoma Coast and another at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve; plus a stunning falls of the bluff the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument in Point Arena.
Descriptions of a few favorites follow.
Sonoma Creek Falls
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Sonoma County
For an easy-access, quick fix, there’s no better choice than the sweet canyon waterfall right here in Sonoma County that gushes forth during winter rains amid huge boulders and greenery. The 25-foot waterfall has been popular of late, drawing weekend crowds who revel in the refreshing results of a wet season.
The falls can be reached in as little as a third of a mile via the lower Canyon Trail, if you are able to get one of very few parking spots in pullouts along Adobe Canyon Road beyond the Goodspeed Trailhead. It’s a very level path to and from the falls. More parking is available up top, near the park visitor center, where the upper Canyon Trail offers a 450-foot drop down to the falls. The walk is just under a half-mile in each direction, though the return trip is a fairly steep climb up.
Those who prefer a longer trip through the redwood canyon can take a 2-mile loop that starts down the Pony Gate Trail for a little over a mile before it links up with the Canyon Trail and aligns with Sonoma Creek, taking visitors up into rocky canyon from which the waterfall springs. The hike takes about an hour.
The park is located at 2605 Adobe Canyon Road, off Highway 12, in Kenwood. An $8 day use fee applies ($7 for seniors). Dogs are not allowed on trails.
Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County
The trek to Alamere Falls, a cascading coastal falls that bleeds over a slick, shale bluff onto an ocean beach, is a 14- or 16-mile round-trip, depending on the route. But rewards await in the spectacular finale of Alamere Creek, as it stair-steps to the bluff edge 40 feet above the beach, then pours over the mossy rock face to the ocean below. Alamere is a rare “tidefall” that crests the edge of the continent near the southern end of the national seashore, also offering gorgeous coastal views that, on clear days, take in the Farallon Islands. Inland trails include wooded walks through tree canopies, opening onto more exposed trails along the bluff.
Though countless visitors have accessed the waterfall over the years by scrambling down an unstable cliff alongside, national park personnel ask all hikers to reach the falls via Wildcat Camp, a bluff-top campground about a mile north of the falls. Hikers must traverse a mile of Wildcat Beach to get to the falls and then return to the trail, requiring careful consideration of tide and surf conditions. Do not go at high tide.
For North Coast residents, the most efficient and least crowded route starts inside the park at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station. Head coastward along the Bear Valley Trail to the Coast Trail, and then south to Wildcat Camp, a trip of about 6 1/2 miles. It’s another mile south on the beach to reach the falls.
A second, far more challenging option, starts near Five Brooks Ranch, 8001 Highway 1, Olema, beginning on Stewart Trail, taking hikers 6.7 miles to Wildcat Camp along numerous switchbacks with significant elevation gains.
The trip from the Palomarin Trailhead farther south, at the end of Mesa Road in Bolinas, is also an option, though it’s the most accessible trailhead for residents of the Bay Area and, thus, very popular. Also, as the northbound trail approaches Alamere Falls well before Wildcat Camp, it brings with it the temptation to climb down the unstable bluff along a now-closed trail. To Wildcat Camp, it’s about 5.5 miles, with another mile walk on the beach.
Poison oak is present along some of the trails. Dogs are prohibited on all routes.
Fern Canyon Trail
Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino County
Though a popular Mendocino Coast walk, there is nonetheless something intimate about the hike up Fern Canyon to the 36-foot waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park. Delicate ferns lining the canyon and woodland trees in every shade of green draw visitors onward as they follow meandering Russian Gulch Creek along the canyon floor. You can get right up close to the broad stone face of the waterfall and stand amid fallen trees, or hike above the falls, taking care not to slip on wet rocks.
Russian Gulch State Park is located at 12301 North Highway 1, about 2 miles north of the town of Mendocino. The trail starts at the east end of the campground and follows an old logging road with crumbling asphalt for the first 1.9 miles. A bike rack marks the point where the flat, paved trail starts to incline, offering two alternate, hiker-only routes to the waterfall — one a straight, out-and-back leg 0.8 miles long, for a 5.4-mile round-trip, and the other a 1.7 mile loop, for a total 6.5-mile walk. Day use fee of $8 applies. No dogs permitted.
Chamberlain Creek/Waterfall Grove Trail
Jackson State Demonstration Forest, Mendocino County
This remote, narrow waterfall east of Fort Bragg draws visitors deep into Jackson State Demonstration Forest off Highway 20. Even if there were no waterfall to see here, the short hike into virgin redwood forest is like a trip into an enchanted land, where brilliant green moss coats the rocks and fallen timber amid majestic redwoods have stood tall for centuries. It’s easy to imagine fairies flitting about in the streams of sunlight that break through the overhead canopy, or hiding amid plentiful ferns that blanket the ground and the rock face down which Chamberlain Creek cascades into a small pool.
To reach the trail, turn north from Highway 20 onto Road 200 at Dunlap Conservation Camp, located just over 16 miles east of Fort Bragg. Follow the road, bearing left, past the point where it branches into an unpaved road. At 4.7 miles north of Highway 20, there is a rustic wooden railing and stairway leading down into the woods along switchbacks that open onto the single-track trail. Park here. The waterfall is located about a third of a mile along, but the path continues northward, climbing back up to the road at a point about a half-mile from the steep staircase for a total trip of about 3 miles. Free. Leashed dogs permitted.
–Mary Callahan/ The Press Democrat
CATARACT CANYON – The sound of rushing water floods your ears even before Cataract Creek is fully in view, descending the northern flank of Mount Tamalpais amid a riot of boulders, lush moss, graceful ferns and arching trees.
Prepare to be amazed by this magical place, where each step along the trail reveals some new variation on the blend of rocks and water responsible for a
mile-and-a-half-long series of cascades known collectively as Cataract Falls.
Like coastal creeks around the North Coast that have been replenished by regular rainfall this winter, the popular Marin County falls have been at peak performance in recent weeks, drawing crowds to a remote canyon in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed for the kind of dramatic spectacle only Mother Nature does this well.
Waterfall trails beckon throughout the North Coast, offering effusive rewards to those willing to put their legs and feet to work.
Though singular in their overall configurations, they share an aura of thrill and discovery — fertile incubators rich with life, evident in fern-covered slopes and deep green mosses that spread unchecked up the sides of trees, along downed logs and across rocky jumbles. Most are part of larger trail systems, permitting custom combinations that can make for a few hours of walking or a day-long hike.
A hike up Cataract Trail, beautiful at any time of year, is a little like a trip to some primeval, otherwordly place. This Jurassic Park mere miles from Highway 101 feels fecund and full of potential for surprises.
Part of the Mount Tamalpais Watershed, the area is overseen by the Marin Municipal Water District and open to the public without charge, although land managers hope the public will exercise the restraint necessary to protect the ecosystem and the water supply it provides. Swimming or otherwise entering the water is prohibited, and hikers must stay on the trails to avoid trampling plants and wildlife. Two pit toilets are available only at the junction of several trails near the Laurel Dell Picnic Ground, so plan accordingly. Parking space is limited, as well.
A recent crush of visitors has threatened to overwhelm the region on weekends, with so many cars that some were parked illegally in the roadway, leaving too little space for emergency vehicles to pass, watershed manager Michael Swezy said.
Swezy recommended those interested in exploring the region consider going out on weekdays.
Cataract Falls is accessible from several different starting points, though many people choose to start at the bottom, near Alpine Lake and Fairfax-Bolinas Road.
The beginning of the trail skirts the edge of Alpine Lake for a little more than a quarter-mile, with low branches of trees along the shoreline reflecting off the water of the lake’s East Fork as it narrows toward the outlet of Cataract Creek and the upward climb begins.
The most visually striking part of the waterfall is the first half-mile, when the canyon rises precipitously upward. This is also the most challenging part of the ascent, requiring hikers to scale steep stairs of slippery wood and high rocks, which are helpful — or not, depending upon the length of one’s gait. A giant would do well. Many people use trekking poles to help.
–Mary Callahan/ The Press Democrat]]>
Dramatic coastal views, crisp ocean air, mushroom dotted forest floors, windy sweep prairies and pygmy forests. Salt Point State Park has a lot to offer in its 6,000 acres, including 20 miles of hiking trails, 6 miles of coastline and an underwater park.
We spent the day exploring the woody inland portion of the park surrounding Woodside campground, where late season mushroom hunters are still digging up delicacies to take home for an earthy winter meal. This time of year, the lush bishop pine, Douglas fir, madrone, tanoak and second growth redwood forest is a delight to explore, especially on chilly days when the oceanside trails can be much colder and windy. We decided on the 4.5-mile Prairie loop surrounding Woodside campground.
Starting on paved road at the edge of the park, search for a small, low-to-the-ground arrow that points to the Powerline trail. The trail is narrow and muddy this time of year and crosses the camping area. You will know you are on it because… you guessed it, you will be beneath a power line.
This is a true hiker’s trail with flora and fauna brushing up against your pants. Trees are close enough to touch, but it is short. After 0.5 miles, you will make a left turn onto the South Trail, which is broad and manicured. Alongside decaying branches and fallen pine needles, you may find a few edible mushrooms. Candy caps and black chanterelles are still springing up, but most of the fungi you will find is either inedible or not worth eating. It is best to go out with an expert mycologist to avoid picking up anything poisonous. The Sonoma County Mycological Society leads several outings throughout the year at Salt Point.
The South Trail takes you up a mild hill past sandstone that was used in the construction of San Francisco’s streets and buildings during the mid 1800s. If you are a bit out of shape, you may have to stop for a few breaths along the way.
Where the South trail becomes the Central Trail, the path opens up to a golden prairie. At this intersection, the trail is currently very muddy. Steer clear of it by traversing a small path along the edge, and enjoy the gorgeous rolling grassland. You will notice that it is significantly colder here on overcast days without the tall trees to break the coastal winds. If you pause here for a snack, a few animals may peek their heads above the tall grasses. Black-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, gray foxes, badgers, striped skunks, porcupines and a variety of rodents can be found in the park. Bears and mountain lions have been known to visit, though infrequently. Just northwest of the prairie, you will notice a trail marker for the North Trail, which intersects a Pygmy Forest. If you have a few extra minutes, it is worth a visit. A combination of nutrient poor acidic soils and a hard pan layer just below the surface prevent the cypress, pine and redwood here from achieving normal heights. These unique stunted forests can be found scattered along the Pacific coast from Monterey County to Mendocino County. They are unique and will add an additional layer of interest to your hike. After hiking this 1.0 mile spur, I recommend that you rejoin the Central Trail by taking a turn down the Water Tank Trail. After this point, the central route becomes a great educational nature hike. Signs mark the various types of ferns and trees you have enjoyed throughout the hike.
When you are done, put on a few layers, hop in your car and head north for a quick stop at Gerstle Cove. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to take in the smell of the sea as you catch a quick glimpse of the pounding surf and possibly a few migrating gray whales heading north from their breeding grounds in Baja.
SALT POINT STATE PARK
Central Trail –
South Trail Loop
Hiking distance: 4-mile loop
Hiking time: 2 hours
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Exposure: mix of shaded forest and grassland meadow
Dogs: not allowed
Maps: U.S.G.S. Plantation • Salt Point State Park map
Fifteen years ago, I was a bicycle commuter in Seattle. My old pink Bianchi was decked out with black fenders and I wore rain gear to protect myself from the elements. Come rain or come shine, I rode to work, 11 miles uphill, along a popular urban bike path, the Burke-Gillman Trail.
This week I thought of Seattle fondly as I took a wet spin on the Joe Rodota Trail. Approximately 6 miles of paved trail run from Railroad square in Santa Rosa to downtown Sebastopol. The former railroad line is a great opportunity to explore a little bit of nature, without having to put on muck boots and slog around a muddy trail.
Leaving the office on a lunch break, I entered the trail at the pedestrian/bicycle bridge intersection with the Prince Memorial Greenway (between West Third Street and Railroad Street), southwest of the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. From there it was a somewhat slippery ride to the trail’s terminus at Mill Station Road and Highway 116 in Sebastopol.
If you don’t work downtown, several parking spots are available. In Santa Rosa, street parking can be found along Olive Park on Hazel Street or Orange Street.
There is also a trailhead lot at the west end of Sebastopol road, with spaces for the disabled. Starting from the other end, a parking lot can be found in Sebastopol off Burnett Street between Gravenstein Highway South and Petaluma Avenue.
The path crosses industrial areas, ranches and the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It is very flat, and despite the distance (round-trip it is approximately 12 miles) it is an easy bike ride for beginners of all ages.
Along the way you will cross three bridges sitting atop former railroad trestles. These are remnants of the old Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad, an electric freight and passenger line which started in 1904, hauling eggs, poultry and various agricultural products between west county and Petaluma. After passing hands through the years, it slowly was abandoned, until 1984, when it was acquired by the Regional Parks department, which began to transform it into a park.
This time of year, the trail is not very picturesque. Leafless trees are covered in moss and lichen and nearby ranches are a mixture of bright green and patches of pooling water. The path is famous for a wonderful array of spring wildflowers, but we will have to wait a couple of months to see them. Regional Parks has said that this is a great trail for year-round bird watching, so bring the binoculars, especially around the Laguna.
The paved path is a popular among recreational cyclists looking for a quick bit of exercise and commuters seeking an alternate route from west county to downtown Santa Rosa. It is also suitable for roller skaters and hiking with pets; however, I would exercise great caution if you are starting out in Santa Rosa, where the trail begins in a very industrial area. Signs along the way caution you to not hike alone in this region. The picturesque part of the trail is closer to Sebastopol, so if you are looking for a short and easy day hike, I would start there and turn around before the Sebastopol Road parking lot.
News Researcher Janet Balicki, writes the trailhead blog and can be reached at janet.balicki @pressdemocrat.com.]]>
Dozens of hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and a few anglers took to the trails on the day after Christmas, all on their way to Lake Ilsanjo in the heart of Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. It was warm and sunny, a perfect day to navigate the meandering routes that all seem to lead to what may be the park’s most popular feature.
From Channel Drive, which serves as the park’s entryway, Lake Ilsanjo is accessible via two trails, both of which are favorites with cyclists and equestrians, so be prepared to share the trail. Expect to cover about 6 miles round trip and spend 3 to 4 hours, depending on your pace.
North Burma Trail to the west is narrow and rocky, climbing quickly through shady, fern-covered canyons and past a seasonal waterfall and the remains of several rock quarries. The W.P. Richardson Trail to the east is longer and broad enough to drive on, an old ranch road that makes lazy loops as it traverses the wooded slopes leading up to the lake. Both end at the Lake Trail, which circles the 26-acre reservoir that is fed by Spring Creek. It transports visitors across the dam, past prime fishing spots and into the picnic area before leading them back to their starting point. A small gazebo near the southern shore provides shade in the summer and cover in the winter.
On this day, we started at the equestrian parking lot off Channel Drive at the base of the Richardson Trail and skirted the horse and bike traffic by veering onto the Steve’s S Trail. It’s a narrow, rocky shortcut that climbs quickly through tree-covered hillsides and into the thick of the forest. The ground is littered with sparkling rocks that, on closer inspection, are obsidian. Shards of the shiny black rock of various sizes are scattered everywhere, with points sharp enough to resemble the chips that undoubtedly fell centuries ago as Native American residents made arrowheads.
They’re just one reminder of the park’s previous lives. Long before it was a cattle ranch, Annadel was mined by indigenous Pomo and Wappo tribes for the obsidian they used to make weapons and to trade with other tribes. The mountains are one of Sonoma County’s best sources of the brittle rock as well as the cobblestones that were needed to rebuild San Francisco’s streets after the 1906 earthquake. Abandoned quarry sites can be found on both trails.
Turning right when at the intersection with Richardson Trail, we continued past crossroads with the North Burma and South Burma trails, continuing south to Lake Trail. About halfway through the hike, we stopped at a carefully positioned bench for a panoramic view of the lake, the dam that created it and the reed-filled shoreline. We were soon greeted by two cheerful volunteer trail riders, one astride a pinto pony wearing a Santa Claus hat.
After making a loop around the lake, we headed north on the Rough Go Trail, which leads to Live Oak Trail through grasslands and alongside False Lake Meadow on its way to North Burma Trail. At that intersection, cyclists began to join the loop. Because much of the trail heading south is downhill, many were enjoying the fruits of their uphill labor, and several caught us by surprise. Another rider had a cow bell mounted on his bike that tinkled long before he became visible and gave us ample time to step to the side of the trail until he passed.
On the final shady stretch of North Burma, rains had turned the trail to mud and given new life to the ferns and mushrooms that were just beginning to recover from a long, dry fall. The trailhead joins Channel Drive, which was populated by pedestrians, dog-walkers and weary hikers on their way back to their cars.
Hiking distance: 6.2 miles
Hiking time: 3.5 hours
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Difficulty: moderate to slightly strenuous
Exposure: mix of shaded forest and open meadows
Dogs: not allowed
–The Press Democrat Staff]]>
When The Sea Ranch was first developed along the Sonoma Coast in the 1970s, view spots along its 10-mile coastline were reserved for residents of the exclusive community. All that changed in 1981 when the California Coastal Conservancy granted a 15-foot-wide pedestrian easement along the headlands.
Today, that bluff-top easement is part of a 7.5-mile coastal trail that stretches south from Gualala Point Regional Park, with five shorter trails that lead down to the ocean from Highway 1. The first piece — from Salal Creek to Walk On Beach — is a relatively easy six-mile round trip, with the option of a stopover at Walk On Beach, one of The Sea Ranch’s most popular beaches. Until August, visitors were banned from the quarter-mile trail that descends from a bluff-top staircase through a large Monterey cypress grove.
In 2003, the battering waves that are nibbling away at many sections of the Sonoma Coast took several large bits out of the bluff near Walk On Beach and caused some of the trail to fall into the sea. Outsiders, prohibited from using roads and trails in The Sea Ranch beyond those specifically designated for public use, could not reach the beach unless they trespassed.
Adding to the complexity was that the failed section of bluff top brought the continent’s edge ever closer to two houses at the end of a cul de sac called Sea Pine Reach. Homeowners reportedly welcomed the trail closure and the absence of strangers traipsing by and even onto their property.
After 11 years of study and negotiation, the realigned public trail was reopened and beach access was restored.
Visitors with more time and energy can return to their cars and, from Highway 1, stop at access points for:
Shell Beach Trail, 1.3 miles further south, which runs through pines and meadow to a wide, sandy beach with sea rocks, tide pools and small boat access via a beach ramp;
Stengel Beach Trail, 1.25 miles further south, with a wooden staircase, a small beach and seasonal waterfalls on the cliffs;
Pebble Beach Trail, 1.6 miles further south, which weaves through pines and meadow to a sandy cove reached by stairs; and,
Black Point Trail, 1.45 miles further south, which crosses the bluffs to a curving, quarter-mile beach reached by a steep, wooden staircase. Known to surfers, this beach is just north of Black Point, a cape that juts out about 250 yards from the shore.
Hours for the North Coast Access Trails are 8 a.m.-sunset in winter, 6 a.m.-sunset in summer. Bicycles are not allowed, nor are RVs and trailers in the parking lot.
Parking is $7. 785-2377, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.
–The Press Democrat Staff]]>
Foothill Regional Park is a year-round staple for hiking in my family. Of the 211 acres of former ranchland, 6.8 miles of trails are available to hike, run or bike. This time of year, a few golden and russet leaves cling to trees, and moss and lichen dapple the leafless branches. Deer and ducks are abundant in the park, taking advantage of the 3 ponds and sparse patches of remaining greenery.
For a leisurely hike try Three Lakes trail. If you are up for more of a challenge, the approximately 3 mile Perimeter Hike, is easily accomplished in under 2 hours and offers amazing views and decent climbs.
Three Lakes, running through the center of the park and can take around under an hour to accomplish at a light jog/walking pace. From the parking lot take the trail on the right side of the park past the trail sign.
Continue to the second lake, where a family of ducks have taken up residence. From there continue on either side of the lake on Pond B loop until you hit the Ravine trail. Climb up the steep ravine and, turn left on Oakwood trail. Continue on Westside trail to take you back to the parking lot. Be aware, steep ravine trail is a favorite of both Equestrians and deer, so be sure to keep a strong grip on your leash if you brought your dog along for the hike.
For a more challenging intermediate level hike, try the Perimeter hike. From the parking lot, take the left hand Westside trail, up a subtle hill to Oakwood trail. Continue onto Alta Vista Trail, and up a steeper climb to the peak. If the morning fog has lifted, you will get a stunning view of Windsor from this height. A bench sits at the top, if you would like to pause for a snack.
From the top, progress slowly down the trail, as the descent is quite steep. The light among the trees here can be quite dramatic and offers great photographic opportunities. From the base of Alta Vista, continue on Three Lakes trail back to the parking lot.
Although it has been rainy trail conditions are good and not overly muddy.
As with most Sonoma County Regional Parks, dogs are allowed on the trails on leash only. . Both short hikes are great options to energize your morning exercise routine, or squeeze in between holiday visits with family.
Three Lakes Loop
Three Lakes trail .27 miles to second lake
Pond B Loop trail to
Steep Ravine trail .52 miles
left on Oakwood trail
Westside trail .44 miles
Westside trail .44 miles
Oakwood trail 2.4 miles
Alta Vista .5miles
Three Lakes trail .27 miles
Here is a video I made when we hiked the Perimeter trail last spring.
Looking for a good day hike after Christmas to work off those extra calories? Waddle on over to Napa County for a picturesque intermediate level adventure on the Oat Hill Mine Trail. The 8 to 10 mile trip will take your whole day, so get there early to make sure you have enough time. And yes, it is dog friendly so pack up the whole family and the pooch and hit the the trail.
The Oat Hill Mike Trail is actually 2 Trails. The Oat Hill Mine portion, managed by Napa County Regional Parks and the Palisades Trail in Robert Lewis Stevenson Park. Both take in sweeping views of Napa Valley as they traverse striking volcanic formations, and cut through a diverse mixture of Oak, Douglas Fir, Gray Pine and Cypress forests, chaparral, and grasslands.
To experience the full breadth of the trails, take two cars and park one near the Calistoga Trailhead and drive your other car up to the upper parking lots, either at the Palisades Trailhead (for a 10 mile one way hike) or Aetna Springs Trailhead ( for the 8 mile option). Hiking the trails downhill in this direction is easier, but still great exercise. If you don’t have the luxury of taking 2 vehicles, park at any of the three parking lots and backtrack along the same path.
We chose the Palisades parking lot for our starting point, since portions of the Upper Oat Hill Mine Trail were closed when we hiked. The trail was gorgeous in late fall, with flowers still blooming before winter rains began to fall.
As you begin the hike you will cross a circular stone labyrinth. Continuing down the trail to a the Holms Place fluctuates from shady to exposed, so wear sunscreen and bring lots of water, as you will find none along the way.
At the intersection of the Palisades trail and the Oat Hill path, you will find the foundation of the Karl Gustov Holm homestead, who built his first log cabin on a 160 acre property in 1893. Part of a barn wall and a few old fruit trees are all that remains today.
What about the mine you may ask? Unfortunately, no remains of a mine structure can be seen on the trail, but you may see a few remaining ruts of old wagon wheels carved into the volcanic rock faces. The Oat Hill Mine was an old quicksilver (mercury mine), which produced one third of the total U.S. production of mercury from its discovery in 1872 until the late 1960s. The trail that you will hike down was completed in 1893 to provide transportation between Calistoga and the mines.
From Holms place, the rest of the trail down is a rocky so hiking boots over sneakers are recommended. Since the portions of the trails cross private land please be respectful and keep dogs on leash. Check out my video to see what the trail looks like.
Trailhead- Oathill Mine Trail from Janet Balicki on Vimeo.]]>
This fall, I have learned the value of consistency. As all harvest widows can relate, it is hard to carve out time for physical fitness, when you are juggling the responsibilities of home and work without your partner. My overly ambitious goal of hiking every trail on the Sonoma County Regional Parks Trails Challenge roster, may not be met this year, as I have not had the time to travel to some of the parks in the farther reaches of the county. Nor have I had the desire to leave my hiking buddy, Sylvester the Beagle, behind to visit the parks where he is not permitted.
I have however, been trail running- everyday in the parks closest to the 101 corridor. A couple of miles every morning, has kept me sane, and my dog happy, as he spends more time alone than he is used to. Visiting the same parks, over and over, new elements have become aparent A trail at Riverfront Regional Park reopened for a short period of time, takes one further into the Redwood grove next to the main lake loop. Along this spur, there is a beautiful rusted out Volkswagon bug. How did it get there? How long has it been there? I would contemplate these mysteries daily, dreaming up different scenarios on my morning jog.
Helen Putnam Park in Petaluma, a long time favorite of mine, can actually be steamy hot in the summer! I have frequented this park many times, relishing the relief of a cool breeze whipping through the grass as I
climbed through the rolling hills. This summer, I visited during a heat wave, to find that it is actually a VERY exposed park, with little tree coverage. The day I visited, the cool breeze was replaced by a warm gust, making it feel much like a convection oven. It made me long for a cool hike somewhere like Stillwater Cove or Pinnacle Gulch. I will hit them all eventually, but maybe not for a few more months.
Then there are the physical benefits of settling into a daily routine, my body is stronger, my mind is clearer, when I get back in the habit. It makes it easier to take on the harvest widow’s responsibilities of keeping the ship afloat until our partners return from the fray.]]>
Sailing around the isles of Bocas del Toro, Panama; hiding from a light drizzle, Green Flash tours owner, Bryan Blaze described my travel companions and I as “flashpackers.” Backpackers, who are a little bit older, with more cash to burn on their short holidays. The term, although new to me, has been kicking around for some years now. Some extend the description to “geeky hipsters’” with backpacks filled with iPads, laptops, GPS, and more. All of which could be used to characterize my travel companions.
Trailhead took a break from hiking the North Coast this month, to bask in the sunlight and admittedly cower in the rain on the island trails of Isla Bastimentos, in Panama’s Bocas Del Torro Province.
Bocas, a small Caribbean community, has a long history of banana production, but today its main industry is tourism. The main island, Isla Colon, features many restaurants, coffee shops, and competing vendors hoping you gain your business.
But for a quieter, more peaceful experience, I would recommend Isla Bastimentos, which features a 32,682 acre marine park, Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, home to mangrove trees, sloths, caiman, various reptiles and amphibians, and nesting sea turtles. Taking a boat tour, like those led by Blaze, can help you explore the reefs around the islands, teeming with tropical fish.
A northern portion of the island, not part of the park, has some options for staying overnight, including the Palmar Tent Lodge, offering “glamping” style tents and a jungle nestled “Jungalow”cabin, where cool ocean breezes come straight through the wall-less structure, making for a pleasant sleeping environment, with remarkably few mosquitoes.
This is a great starting point, for the adventurous- close to spots or snorkeling, ziplining, surfing, cave tours, sailing, snorkeling, and hiking.
On our stay on the island, we enjoyed two day hikes. One taking us along a slippery muddy path to Playa Larga, and another taking us to an organic farm and two picturesque beaches.
Day one, after a nap on the beach, we took the trail from our lodging at Red Frog Beach to Playa Larga, stopping by Polo Beach named after a local man who sometimes cooks up fried fish for visitors.
Unfortunately, no fried fish and only a pile of empty beer cans on the day we stopped by. The easy hike, crossing through fallen coconuts, low leaning trees, and trails of hardworking leaf cutter ants, takes you from one gorgeous beach to another.
At a wooden bench along the path, be sure to keep on the straight trail that runs along the beach. If you don’t, you will run into trails that at this time of year (the rainy season) are extremely muddy. We made this mistake and slipslided our way to Polo Beach; muddy, but luckily still holding on to our Chacos.
Day two, we took a boat shuttle to Old Bastimentos on the other side of the island. A climb through town leads up to Up In The Hill Organic Farm, which offers a tour, nature hike, and tasting of produce grown on the farm. Run by Javier Lijo and his family, the farm grows a variety of products including cacao, pineapples, coconuts, coffee, citronella, and bamboo. All of the products are used by the family on the farm. The timber, transformed into the many structures on the property. The plants, turned into food and body products available for purchase at the coffee shop. A tasting at the end of the hike demonstrated how the fruits of the jungle are transformed into the food that we eat. Highlights included delicious homemade brownies, hot cocoa, fresh coconut, and berries that are used to make curry.
Sugared up and hydrated, we were ready for our hike back down to Palmar. From the top of the hill, we took the trail down to Wizard Beach. Again, these paths are steep and muddy, at this time of the year. Aided by a hiking stick generously donated by Up In the Hill, I was able to easily make the descent, with only a few slips. At one point the crossing was so sloppy, my companions and I came close to donating our sandals to the broken flip flops sticking out of a mud pit.
Along the way we spotted the infamous Red Frog, a tiny amphibian, about the size of my thumb. Poisonous to touch, the tree frog’s color was easily spotted on a tree, and no one was injured.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail opens up to the gorgeous Wizard Beach, a popular surfing destination, with waves too strong for the casual swimmer.
We continued our hike along the beach, across rocks and coral back to Red Frog, ready for a Rum Punch a rinse off in the gentle waves of our beachfront lodgings.
Here are some other photos from our trip!