2.8 mile loop across grassy hills and oak woods outside of Petaluma. Hosts
a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.8 mile loop hike is easy, and the park is well-suited
to beginning hikers. Trailhead elevation is about 290 feet. The park's highest
point is 558 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 500 feet, then meanders
a bit before descending back to the trailhead; total elevation change is
about 400 feet. There is one big hill, and that's about it.
Some shade, but mostly exposed.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time, but probably best in spring.
From northbound US 101 in Sonoma County, exit Petaluma Boulevard
South. Drive on Petaluma Boulevard South north about 2.5 miles, then in
downtown Petaluma, turn left onto Western Avenue. Drive west on Western
Avenue about 1.8 miles, then turn left onto Chileno Valley Road. Drive about
0.8 miles on Chileno Valley Road, then turn left into the park.
From southbound US 101 in Sonoma County, exit Washington Street.
Drive west on East Washington (toward downtown Petaluma) to Petaluma Boulevard,
turn left, then turn right onto Western Avenue. Drive west on Western Avenue
about 1.8 miles, then turn left onto Chileno Valley Road. Drive about 0.8
miles on Chileno Valley Road, then turn left into the park.
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:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back in Petaluma. No camping.
Parking for 35 vehicles, plus additional equestrian parking and 1 designated
handicapped parking spot. $7 parking fee (via self-registration). There
are restrooms at the trailhead, as well as a pay phone. There's a park map
at the information signboard, but currently there are none to take with
you (a new park map should be available at the trailhead soon). The park
featured a small wheelchair-accessible playground, and one paved trail can
be navigated by wheelchairs and strollers. There is no direct public transportation
to the park.
Open from sunrise to sunset. Most trails are multi-use, but one is closed
to cyclists. Dogs are permitted on leash only.
The Official Story:
County Parks Helen Putnam page
Parks office 707-433-1625
from Sonoma County Parks (download pdf)
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and trail descriptions, but
doesn't show all the park's trails.
photos from the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
than 3 miles from downtown Petaluma, Helen
Putnam Regional Park feels like a getaway destination, yet the park is
conveniently close to US 101. The park's compact size favors short hikes,
dogwalks, and daily runs for locals, but there's plenty of beautiful scenery
to draw visitors from surrounding Sonoma County or northern Marin County.
This is a good destination for beginning hikers, but there's not enough
real estate to sustain a day long expedition. Eight trails (one a Bay
Area Ridge Trail segment) wind through the park, and you can create loops
ranging from 0.5 mile to 3 miles (if you're particularly creative). I wasn't
ready to leave after a 2 mile hike, so I added on a loop within a loop,
but this somewhat circuitous route can be easily shortened.
Helen Putnam is blessed with hillsides of pure
grassland and mature oak savannahs. Despite a history that includes cattle
grazing, invasive exotics are rare. Beginning in late winter, wildflowers
are common throughout the park's woods and grassland. Coast live
oak is the dominant tree, although you might see valley, interior live,
and black oak as well.
Start at the information signboard a
few yards from the parking lot. The paved Ridge Trail (there's
also an unpaved Ridge Trail) departs to the east, and a dirt trail, signed
Arroyo Trail, climbs north. Turn left onto Arroyo Trail,
and after about 110 feet, bear left onto an unsigned but obvious path.
This informal trail ascends steeply through grassland where you might
see buttercups and suncups in early
March. On a February hike I saw a northern harrier hunting in the skies
right above the trail. Panorama Trail feeds in from the right and the
path crests at 0.17 mile. There's a bench beside a sprawling coast live
oak, a good place to stop and catch your breath after the climb. Views
extend west and south, to a typical Sonoma County landscape of
rolling hills dotted with cattle and goats. Panorama Trail levels out,
and at 0.28 mile, you'll reach a signed junction with Pomo
Trail. Bear right (straight) on Pomo Trail.
The narrow multi-use trail ascends gently
to a cluster of coast live oaks, and crosses Panorama Trail at a signed
junction at 0.34 mile. Continue straight on Pomo Trail.
At a barely noticeable grade, the trail
descends into a forest of coast live oak. You will likely see white milkmaids and
blue-purple hound's tongue in bloom as early as late February on the sides
of the trail. Beware of poison oak, the most common perennial understory
shrub in the park, and present (although inconspicuous in winter) through
here. As you draw near the northern edge of the park, outside noise drifts
through the tree cover. There are some small patches of grassland, but
the terrain is mostly woodland. A few black oaks can stop you in your
tracks in autumn, when they boast orange-red foliage, and in late winter,
when bright, velvet-like crimson leaves emerge. If you're quiet, you might
glimpse hawks perched in the treetops. At 0.54 mile, Filaree Trail sets
off on the left at a signed junction. Continue straight on Pomo Trail.
From a bench along the trail a sloping grassy
hillside permits views east to Petaluma. Pomo Trail steps back into the woods, and at a nearly level grade, contours across a hill. Ignore a side path heading left at 0.78 mile. A lone buckeye on the right
heralds a return to grassland. At about 0.80 mile, an unsigned but obvious
path heads uphill to the right. Follow the path to a crest and viewpoint
at 0.84 mile (the path continues straight toward Savannah Trail,
but another path veers left toward the paved Ridge Trail; wander around
if you like, but return to the path heading south). On a soft late winter
or spring day, you might poke around for wildflowers. I saw a few
early checkerblooms and some purple sanicle, and California poppies
were obvious, but not yet in bloom. Views are best north and east, and
on a clear day you should be able to see past Petaluma and US 101 to Mount
St. Helena. When you're ready, take the path south,
heading toward the visible paved Ridge Trail and junction. The path
descends easily to a multi-trail junction at 0.95 mile. Cross Ridge
Trail and begin walking on South Loop Trail.
Almost immediately the trail splits. You
can go either way; I chose left. South Loop Trail, open to hikers,
equestrians, and cyclists, begins a circuit around a hilltop. The narrow
path remains downslope from the ridge, and initially passes through another
pretty coast live oak woodland. There were lots of milkmaids sprinkled
through the grassy understory on my February hike, and some tall clusters
of hound's tongue as well. Surprisingly, grass dominates the landscape
beneath the trees, but there are a few ferns, clumps of poison oak, and
a tangle of blackberry throughout. Near the park's eastern boundary, South
Loop Trail emerges into grassland, and curves right to the hill's western slope. You may want to linger at a bench perched beside
a coast live oak, and enjoy the views south (could that be Marin County's
Big Rock Ridge in the distance?). After a brief ascent through oak-dotted
grassland, South Loop Trail heads back into the woods. At 1.28 miles you'll
close the loop and reach Ridge Trail again. Turn left onto Ridge
The wide, paved multi-use trail descends
through grassland, with a few coyote brush, buckwheat, and toyon shrubs
along the trail. Look for shooting stars on the left in
early March. Although this trail is heavily traveled, this area,
sheltered on three sides by hills, is one of the park's quietest.
Ridge Trail skirts the shores of a small pond, then reaches a junction
at 1.51 miles. Turn right, then at 1.53 miles, before the
water tank, turn left. A connector heads straight towards the paved
trail again,but turn right at 1.56 miles, onto the unpaved Ridge Trail.
The narrow but multi-use path crosses
the grassy lower slopes of a hill, heading back towards the trailhead.
At 1.72 miles, you'll reach an unsigned junction with Savannah Trail.
(If you want to return to the trailhead now, continue straight on Ridge
Trail.) Turn right onto Savannah Trail.
Open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists,
tiny Savannah Trail heads north. After an initial passage through grassland,
the trail edges close to a creek and ascends into an oak woodland. Paths
feed in from the left, but ignore them and keep climbing on the
main trail. Savannah Trail arches right, away from the creek, and heads
uphill at a slightly steeper pace. At a break in the trees there are views
back downhill to the pond. Cattail Trail meets Savannah Trail at 2.17
miles, at an unsigned junction. Continue straight (left)on
As the trail sweeps north at a level grade, you'll
reach the heart of the park, with nice views to the hills immediately
east. At 2.36 miles, Savannah Trail ends at a signed junction with Panorama
Trail. Turn left onto Panorama.
After a short flat stretch, at 2.42 miles
you'll reach another signed junction, this time with Arroyo Trail. Turn
left onto Arroyo Trail. The multi-use trail begins an easy descent,
on the west banks of the familiar creek. At 2.58 miles, Panorama Trail
breaks off to the right. Continue straight on Arroyo Trail. At
2.78 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction. The trailhead
is visible downhill. Turn left and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: 2.80 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, February 26, 2002