This hike starts at the edge of a sloping meadow and climbs steadily through
a mixture of grassland, chaparral, and mixed woodland for 2.5 miles to the
summit. The return route travels along a quiet ridge, drops steeply through
gray pines and chaparral to cross Sonoma Creek twice, then wanders through
a meadow on the way back to the trailhead.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
6.2 mile loop hike is moderate.
Dirt trails and fire roads, and one paved segment.
Nice any time, but best in early spring.
From US 101 in Sonoma County exit #488b onto CA 12. Drive east on CA 12
toward Sonoma for 1.5 miles, then turn left on Farmer's Lane. After about
1 mile, turn right onto Fourth Street/CA 12, drive southeast about 8 miles,
and turn left onto Adobe Canyon Road. Drive east 3 miles to the entrance
kiosk, pay the fee, and then continue a short distance to the parking lot
on the left.
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:
Available in and around Santa Rosa. Sugarloaf has a campground.
Pay $8 day use fee at the entrance kiosk. The park map is available at the
visitor center or entrance kiosk (when staffed). Portable toilet located
at the trailhead.
Dogs are not permitted on park trails.
The Official Story:
Park office 707-833-5712
Team Sugarloaf page
Map Choices/More Info:
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
the park brochure (pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Sugarloaf
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has an excellent map
of the featured hike, and useful maps and trail descriptions of the rest
of the park (order
this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the
Ridge Trail segment though the park.
Sugarloaf Ridge State
Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Sugarloaf Ridge's Bald
Mountain holds bragging
rights to one of the prettiest and most serene viewpoints in the Bay Area. From a relatively diminutive height of 2,729 feet, views include every
significant wine country peak and valley. At Sugarloaf Ridge
every step seems like a gift. From the get-go the trails are quiet and
the scenery is gorgeous-views from the top of Bald Mountain are icing
on the cake.
There's so much variety at Sugarloaf that
every season has its charm. Sonoma Creek's headwaters originate here,
and in winter, streams gush downhill at such a rate that you may feel
transported from dry California to a more lush locale. Spring flowers
are pretty and the temperatures are hospitable. Summer (if you can endure
the heat) brings hillsides stacked with fragrant blooming chamise. In
autumn, foliage on black oaks and big-leaf maples is stunning.
Begin from the parking lot on Lower
Bald Mountain Trail. At an easy grade, the rocky path begins to ascend
from the valley floor, winding through grassland past a few coast live
oak, Douglas fir, and manzanita. Look for
goldenfields, buttercups, shooting stars, iris, bluedicks, and blue-eyed
grass in spring. A few small ceanothus shrubs growing close to the ground
suggest the presence of serpentine soil -- while it may not be obvious in
this part of the park, there are significant serpentine swales visible
off Bald Mountain and Gray Pine trails. After a short foray through some
trees, Lower Bald Mountain Trail returns to grassland and reaches a two-part
junction with Meadow Trail at 0.2 mile. Stay to the left on Lower Bald
The grade picks up as the path climbs into
an open woodland mostly comprised of madrone, coast live oak, California
bay, and manzanita. On an April hike I saw jackrabbits hopping up the
trail. Switchbacking uphill between two creekbeds, the trail gradually
makes a transition to chaparral, where chamise, toyon, scrub oak, ceanothus,
sticky monkeyflower, and poison oak are the most notable plants. The deep
umber color of the trail surface is adobe clay. This rocky segment ends
at a T-junction at 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Bald Mountain Trail.
The trail, a wide, paved road used to access
communications equipment atop Red Mountain-ascends at a moderate, steady
pace. Vegetation ranges from chamise, manzanita, toyon, monkeyflower,
and poison oak to coast live oak and madrone. In spring, flowering purple
bush lupine brightens the sides of the trail. At about the 1-mile mark,
the Vista Trail departs on the right, offering an early out for hikers
who are discouraged by the grade. Continue uphill on the Bald Mountain
In winter and early spring, the sound of
running water from a creek out of sight on the right will probably accompany
your hike. Bald Mountain Trail sweeps uphill through an open area where
ceanothus and coyote brush are common. At one corner, water spills downhill
from the left, then drops into a ravine where buckeyes nestle. California
poppies, blue and white lupine, and scorpionweed bloom along the trail
in May. As the trail climbs, trailside vegetation reflects the change
in elevation and exposure-there's lots of chamise, ceanothus, cercocarpus,
and scrub oak. At about 1.6 miles, if you pause and look south you will already be able to see Mounts Diablo and
Tamalpais. The Red Mountain Trail breaks off to the right at 1.7 miles,
headed toward the Gray Pine Trail. Continue straight on the Bald Mountain
In the shadow of Red Mountain the trail
is lined with black oak, big-leaf maple, California bay, and live oaks.
Buttercups are common in spring. After a swing into grassland, you'll
reach a junction and saddle at 2 miles. Straight ahead the hillside drops,
then gradually rises to the flanks of Mount Hood. The pavement curves
left on a dead-end spur to Red Mountain. Turn right, remaining on Bald
Now a dirt fire road, the trail adopts
a moderately steep course uphill through grassland. You may notice bluish
serpentine, exposed on a rock cut on the left. The grassy hillside on
the right gently slips away, offering expansive views south. On an April
visit, blooming popcorn flowers painted huge white swaths in spring's
still-green grass. As you follow the Bald Mountain Trail, sweeping around
the very top of the mountain, ignore any side trails and persist to a
signed junction at
2.4 miles. Here the High Ridge Trail heads left on a dead-end journey.
Turn right onto the Gray Pine Trail. After just a few feet, Gray
Pine veers left. Turn right and walk uphill a few more feet to the
Interpretive signs assist you in identifying
the surrounding sites: in the immediate area you can see Napa Valley,
Sonoma Valley, the steep hillsides of Jack London State Park, and the
more gently graded hillsides of Annadel State Park. On an April hike the
top of Mount St. Helena, to the north of Sugarloaf, hid in a puffy white
cloud. When visibility permits, you may also see Mount Wittenberg, the
highest peak on Point Reyes (33 miles west); Snow Mountain (65 miles north,
and since it is well-named, easy to pick out); Mount Diablo (51 miles
southeast); Mount Tamalpais (37 miles southwest); the Golden Gate Bridge
(44 miles southwest); and even Pyramid Peak in the Sierra (a whopping
129 miles east). The bench at the grassy summit offers a perch for one
of the most quiet and gorgeous lunch breaks in the entire Bay Area. Save
for an occasional airplane, there's no outside noise. When you're ready
to start moving again, return to Gray Pine Trail and begin to descend.
The first section of this trail seems poorly named, as there is nary a pine in sight. On
the left some towering black oaks make a big foliage impact in autumn,
but in spring, train your gaze to the grass on the sides of the trail
where bird's eye gilia bloom.The fire road follows just about smack on
the line dividing Napa and Sonoma counties as it descends, generally following
the ridgeline. You'll see more manzanita, California bay, Douglas fir,
coyote brush, chamise, and toyon. In early April, blue blossom ceanothus
flowers, followed a bit later by clematis, a trailing vine with white
flowers, which drapes itself over shrubs. Although the route is downhill,
there is one short uphill section. At 3.2 miles Red Mountain Trail ventures
off to the right -- you could make an alternate return on Red Mountain, Headwaters,
and Vista trails. For this hike, continue straight on Gray Pine Trail.
Descending at a slightly steep pitch, look
for woodland star, buttercups, and blue-eyed grass in spring. Black oaks,
chaparral, and grassland continue to line the trail, but the first of
the gray pines appears as well. After one last hill climb, you'll reach
the junction with Brushy Peaks Trail at 3.6 miles. Turn right, remaining
on Gray Pine Trail.
By now the trailside blend of chamise,
oak, manzanita, and monkeyflower should be familiar. Tall and spindly
gray pine (also known as ghost pine) tower above the trail here and there-if
you're hiking when it's a bit breezy, you may want to pause and enjoy
the sound of the wind whispering through them. Descending off the ridge,
the grade is steep, and some sections are very rocky. Gray Pine Trail
leaves its namesake trees behind and arcs through a grassy area, where
wet-weather runoff flows down off the hillsides and muddies the trail.
Now following a branch of Sonoma Creek, still descending but at an easy
grade, madrone and coast live oak appear. After a sharp turn left, you'll
cross another feeder creek. Look along the sides of the trail for golden
fairy lanterns in late April and early May. Wandering along the creek
through this flat creek basin during a spring hike with the sounds of
rushing water everywhere, I felt like I was on an alpine vacation. Gray
Pine Trail makes its first creek crossing-in the warmest months of year
you can hop over whatever water is left in the creekbed, but from winter
through spring the water level is high enough that your feet (and ankles)
will likely get wet. I took off my shoes and socks and waded across the
cool water, and my feet felt like they had been given a whole new lease
on life. Buckeye, alder, and California bay stand near the creek, enjoying the
reliable water source. At 4.8 miles Vista Trail feeds in from the right.
Continue to the left on Gray Pine Trail.
At the second creek crossing there is generally
even deeper water to ford. A gorgeous mature big-leaf maple graces the
stream here -- if you're here in spring when the tree is clothed in fresh
green leaves, you'll have to imagine it lit up with autumn foliage. Gray
Pine Trail ends at 5 miles. Turn right onto Meadow Trail.
From here on out, the grade is very easy, a
relaxing stroll, really. Once more you'll cross Sonoma Creek (this time
on a bridge), then pass through groves of maples. A curious "Saturn" sign
on the left is part of the Planet Walk interpretive hike that originates
at Ferguson Observatory. The creek veers off to the left, continuing its
journey toward Sonoma Valley, but the trail leaves the streamside to make
its way through a meadow. Some chaparral thrives in a serpentine patch
on the right, but grassland soon overtakes the landscape. The meadow is
yet another super scenic Sugarloaf spot-this would be a good location
for a bench, since both grass and trail are often damp in winter and spring.
At 5.7 miles Hillside Trail breaks off to the left, heading back over
Sonoma Creek toward the park's campground. Continue straight, through
or around a gate, where you'll emerge in a parking lot. Veer right, passing
Ferguson Observatory, and pick up the continuation of Meadow Trail.
On a slight ascent through a rocky area,
another feeder creek descends on the left. Goldenfields make a big impact
along the trail in spring, when they form sunny carpets in the grass.
In patches of serpentine with sparse grass, you likely see more bird's
eye gilia. Here on my April hike I had another jackrabbit sighting. At
5.8 miles you'll reach a two-part, triangle junction with Lower Bald Mountain
Trail. Stay to the left, and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 6.2 miles
Last hiked: April 30, 2003