About 20 miles north of Jenner, this 300-plus-acre nature reserve is home to a wide variety of flora, including tanoaks, Douglas firs, grand firs, ferns, wild flowers, and, of course, rhododendrons. Indeed, each spring, the park's namesake plants explode in brilliant shades of pink. Five miles of trails traverse the picturesque terrain, leading hikers past stands of Pacific wax myrtle, California huckleberry, and small evergreen shrubs known as salal. Best time to see the "rhodies" is usually around Mother's Day.
This 5000-acre park offers 30-plus miles of hiking trails and fire roads, a network that leads hikers under a dense canopy of Douglas firs, over rolling hills and green meadows, and past a cornucopia of buttercups, poppies, and mule ears. Anglers can try their luck fishing for bluegill and bass in Lake Ilsanjo. The park offers a pristine refuge from traffic, crowds, and the rigors of work and is considered by area biologists to be one of the state's finest (and last) examples of northern oak woodlands.
Just a hop and a skip north of Guerneville is Armstrong Redwoods Reserve, a primeval forest protected since the 1870s, when Colonel James Armstrong decided to preserve part of California's legendary redwood forests. Today, visitors benefit from Armstrong's foresight, as proven by the 310-foot tall Parson Jones Redwood and the 1400-year-old Colonel Armstrong Tree. The park covers some 800 acres, and much of it is accessible by trails that crisscross the park. A designated picnic area just off the main road features grills, tables, and restrooms.
This beautiful, 17-mile stretch of shoreline, perhaps one of Northern California's most picturesque, is noteworthy for its rugged crags and secluded coves. From the Russian River to Bodega Head, visitors find that the rugged cliffs afford unparalleled photo opportunities of tidal pools, reefs, headlands, and natural arches that rest hundreds of feet below. Bodega Head, a rock outcropping that extends into the Pacific, is regarded as one of the area's best whale-watching perches.
Visitors to Sonoma may have a difficult time believing how close they are to the Pacific Ocean – in fact, the rugged Northern California coastline is less than 20 miles from downtown Guerneville. One of the county's premier parks, Stillwater Cove allows visitors to take full advantage of the dramatic Sonoma shore with easy beach access, hand-launch boat facilities, and the appealing prospect of tide-pooling, fishing, and diving in good waters. Restrooms and designated campsites are available.
Salt Point grants visitors the full beauty of the Sonoma Coast, from dramatic bluffs that tower over crashing waves to sandy beach coves where birds and furry critters gather to sun and play. On the ridge above the coast is a pygmy forest and prairie area that's home to wild pigs, coyotes, blacktail deer, and weasels. In the fall, experienced mushroom collectors hunt for tasty chanterelles and king boletes. The waters off Salt Point are prime for red abalone diving (but only experienced divers should attempt the treacherous waters). An extensive network of hiking and horseback riding trails can be found, and picnic and camping facilities are available.
This rugged coastal forest, connected to Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, boasts a fascinating variety of plant and animal life. Its relative isolation makes it popular with outdoor enthusiasts, who enjoy leisurely afternoons exploring miles-long trails. Majestic Marble Mine Ridge provides a dramatic backdrop, towering over awe-inspiring redwood forests, grassy meadows speckled with buttercups and poppies, and tranquil Bull Frog Pond. Historic Pond Farm Pottery, once the home and workshop of artist Marguerite Wildenhain, is also located in the park. Overnight camping is $15/night.
One of Napa Valley's more tranquil places to spend an afternoon, this state park features more than 10 miles of hiking trails, designated camping areas, picnic facilities, and swimming areas. The park's natural beauty is highlighted by Ritchey Canyon, where hikers can follow a trickling creek past lush fern beds to romantic waterside picnic spots.
Named in honor of the California-born writer and adventurer, Jack London SHP sits about 20 minutes north of downtown Sonoma. In 1905, London moved into a stone cottage in the current park and, subsequently, wrote scores of books, short stories, and articles. At the home, which still stands today, visitors can learn about the man who wrote such American classics as "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild." A pathway leads from the cottage to a lake, an old bathhouse, and to tree-covered hills that offer spectacular views of the Valley of the Moon.
Settled by the Wappo Indians, this site became a state park in 1964 and is now a popular destination for hiking, camping, picnicking, and horseback riding. Twenty-five miles of trails wind through a diverse array of trees and wildflowers; some even afford scenic views of the surrounding mountainscape. Foxes, raccoons, and deer have been sighted in the park, especially near Sonoma Creek, whose headwaters are within the park's boundaries. Call ahead for camping and horseback riding reservations and for park hours.