2.2 mile loop around small lakes and oak woodlands near Windsor.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.1 mile loop hike is easy; there is one steep uphill and one
sharp downhill that can be avoided. Trailhead elevation is about 200 feet.
The featured hike climbs to 540 feet, the park's highest point, then descends
gradually back to the trailhead -- total elevation change is about 500 feet.
Mixed sun and shade.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Very pretty in early spring.
From US 101 in Windsor (Sonoma County), exit Arata. Drive east on Arata
about 1.5 miles, then look for the signed park entrance on the left side
of the road, past where Arata turns into Hembree Lane.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phones, gas, stores, and restaurants back in Windsor near 101. No camping.
5 parking spots in a paved lot, with more equestrian parking in an adjacent
gravel lot. Most visitors park on the street, where there is abundant space.
$7 fee (self register) if you park inside the gates. Restrooms and drinking
water at the trailhead, along with a park map at an information signboard
(no paper maps available). There is one designated handicapped parking spot,
and several trails are well-suited for wheelchairs. There is no direct public
transportation to this park.
Dogs are permitted on leash. Park is open from sunrise to sunset. Although
trails vary from fire road width to narrow paths, on my visit none of the
trails were signed as restricted to equestrians or cyclists.
The Official Story:
Sonoma County's Foothill
Sonoma County's Regional Park office 707-565-2041
from Sonoma County Parks (download pdf)
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has park descriptions and a map with only
a few park trails shown; the book is helpful if you follow the featured
Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Foothill Park is a jewel that shines particularly brightly in spring. Pressed right up against housing developments to the
west and south, once you head into the heart of Foothill Park's 211 acres
you'll find quiet ponds, hillsides popping with wildflowers, and black,
blue, and Oregon oaks with soft fresh leaves. Like other Sonoma County
parks such as Helen Putnam and Shiloh,
Foothill preserves a classic gently rolling north bay landscape, but Foothill
is augmented with 3 man-made ponds (created in the 60's, long before the
land became a park). Although you can't swim here, the park district does
Nearly all the 10 or so trails at Foothill
are short and easy. Alta Vista Trail climbs to the park's highest point,
and is the only steep trail I found. It can easily be avoided, but the
ascent and subsequent descent should be manageable even for beginning
hikers. On a wildflower or autumn leaf expedition you could cover all Foothills
trails in a few hours. The longest loop is about 2 miles, and if you desire
a quick outing with children or dogs, shorter loops are plentiful. The
Sonoma County Parks Department features a great map at the trailhead and
a few other locations throughout the park , but as there are no paper
maps at the trailhead and many junction are unsigned, an initial hike
at Foothill can be confusing. There's little danger of really getting
lost though, and this is a terrific park to just wander around.
Start near the information signboard
to the right of the restrooms. Three Lakes Trail, a wide multi-use
trail topped with a composite material, sweeps right and slightly uphill
toward the first pond. Some rough paths depart to the left. Although oaks,
the dominant tree in this park, make a strong showing right away, you
notice madrone and manzanita along the trail. After about 370 feet, you'll
reach "Pond A," and a junction. The path to the left heads around
the pond, while the path to the right rejoins Three Lakes Trail later
on. Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail.
The trail climbs easily through a coast
live and blue oak savanna. Buttercups and shooting stars are common in
late winter. At 0.21 mile, the trail crests and reaches a junction
(the signpost labels the other trail Oakwood, while the park map shows
it as Westside). Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail.
Descending toward the next pond, Three
Lakes Trail soon reaches another junction, this one unsigned, at 0.27
mile. A trail enters from the right (the other end of this trail
was passed earlier), and Pond B Loop Trail heads left on a course around
the lake. Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail. A few steps later, at 0.36 mile, there's another
junction just before a map signboard, on the right. Continue straight
on Three Lakes Trail.
The trail crosses over a bridge, and you'll
draw near houses, on the right, and Pond C, to the left. Redwing blackbirds
and ducks are commonly seen around the lake. As Three Lakes Trail curves
to the left at 0.55 mile, two smaller paths break off to the right and
straight ahead from an unsigned junction. (You can skip the climb on Alta
Vista by remaining to the left on Three Lakes Trail and then resuming
the hike on Meadow Trail.) Continue straight, on Alta Vista
The narrow dirt path (apparently multi-use)
begins a stiff ascent, through a sloping oak savanna. Look for shooting
stars, blue and white lupine, johnnytuck, fiddlenecks, and bluedicks in
late winter, brightening the lush green grassland. As the
trail ascends, some patches of poison oak crowd the trail, and a handful
of madrone and Oregon oak are mixed through blue, black, and coast live
oaks. Near the top, buckeyes and California bays appear as well. Finally,
you'll reach the park's highest point, where a coast live oak and a buckeye
share the view to the northwest. A few steps past the hilltop, the trail
curves left at the park boundary and begins a sharp descent, following
a corridor of power poles. A blend of madrone, manzanita, oaks, and buckeye
line the trail. Some massive black oaks must be gorgeous in autumn, when
their leaves blush orange-red. Alta Vista Trail levels out in a small
meadow where saxifrage and shooting stars were blooming in March. Look
to the right here, past the fenced park border and a pond,
for a surprising view to Mount St. Helena, looming to the northeast. At
1.08 miles, Alta Vista Trail ends at an unsigned junction (a path has
been worn in, making this a triangle shaped intersection) with Oakwood
Trail. Turn right onto Oakwood Trail.
At a level grade, multi-use Oakwood Trail
skirts the flanks of a lightly wooded hill. There's a bench on the slope
to the left, with a nice view of a pond on private property. Look
for a huge manzanita on the right. At 1.16 miles, an unsigned trail departs
downhill to the left. Continue straight on Oakwood Trail.
With a little gorge on the left and
a hill on the right, Oakwood Trail travels slightly downhill through oaks
and grassland. Once over a footbridge the trail ascends a bit, and passes
through a rerouted area. A fence, in places trellised with poison oak, marks
the park boundary to the right. At 1.29 miles, an unsigned trail heads
right uphill (if you'd like another long view to Mount St. Helena, climb
to the knoll, then retrace your steps to this junction). Veer left
to remain on Oakwood Trail.
The trail makes a circuit around a hilltop,
where an assortment of picturesque blue oaks grace the grassland. When
I hiked here in March 2002, there was an extravagant display of blue and
white lupines on a steep descending hillside off the left of the trail.
I heard turkeys gobbling back and forth somewhere close by. At
1.49 miles, you'll meet, on the right, the other end of the path that
began back at the last junction. Continue straight (left) on Oakwood
The trail passes a collection of cypress
trees, then levels out. A few picnic tables sit in the shelter of anorak woodland. At 1.71 miles, Oakwood Trail ends at a signed triangle junction
with Westside Trail (once again, the signpost and map disagree about names
here; the map shows the continuation of the trail to the right as Westside,
while the signpost reads Oakwood). Bear right, and a few feet later,
Madrone, oaks, and manzanita line the multi-use
trail, blocking any views. Westside Trail descends gradually. There are
two unsigned junctions, one at 1.80 miles with a path descending left
to Pond A, and a second at 1.89 miles, heading right to a water tank and
the park boundary. Continue straight at both of these. You might
see iris, hound's tongue, and mule ear sunflowers along the trail. At
2.00 miles, another unsigned path veers left. Continue straight,
and a few steps later you'll emerge near the park border. Westside Trail
curves left and descends back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 2.08 miles
Last hiked: Monday, March 11, 2002