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