Taking a Stroll at Lake Sonoma

2014 update – Lake Sonoma is open again – including camping. $3/vehicle charge will be instituted for parking to help defray costs. For more information, click US Corps of Engineers announcement.

2013 update – due to sequester, much of Lake Sonoma area is closed, including Visitor Center and Overlook. Click SF District for more information on Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino. This includes many campgrounds.

A trip to Lake Sonoma on Sunday was more of a non-walk. When visitors are in town you clean house and go places you don’t normally go. It’s good to be a tourist in your own home. My sister, brother-in-law and doggie nieces were not so smitten with walking as we are. So we went to a place of interest that had long views of natural and man-altered beauty.

A person at the Visitors Center for Warm Springs Dam and the Fish Hatchery suggested South Lake Trail for its gentle downgrade. Sorry, I can’t verify that at this time. But we’ll return. This trail is 5 miles out and back and goes down to the lake. There are 42 other miles of trails most requiring real hiking. (After checking other hiking guides – this trail has 500′ of elevation change. But you don’t have to walk the whole way. Woodland Ridge Trail near the Visitor Center is 1 1/2 mile long with 150′ of up. The vista would be of Dry Creek Valley and not the Lake.)

We spent a little time at the Visitor Center with its displays of stuffed animals, dam building method, videos, fire watch and early native life dioramas, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history and Skaggs Hot Springs history.

Warm Springs Dam was completed in 1983 for flood control purposes and is 319′ high by 3000′ long. It created a lake that extends 9 miles up Dry Creek and 4 miles up Warm Springs. Lake Sonoma provides a reserve of water and is mostly used recreationally by people interested in boating and fishing.

Near the Visitors Center is the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery built in 1980 to mitigate the loss of spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead. The dam’s construction blocked the fish access to the Russian River and the ocean. Chinook are raised for a few months and Coho and Steelhead for a year before they are released. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds the hatchery and the CA Dept. of Fish and Game maintain and manage it.

We got a short walk in at the Visitor Center, across the bridge and through the hatchery, nursery systems and tanks. The bridge between buildings crosses a lush area of willows with swallows in the air and turtles sunning on a log in the water below us.

Leaving the Visitor Center we climbed (in the car) up Skaggs Springs Rd. The first left on Stewarts Pt Rd heads up to the Overlook.

(To continue straight, Rockpile Rd goes to a boat launch and the only drive-to campground. It continues on for miles into private land. Rockpile doesn’t go to the ocean but Stewarts Pt Rd goes for many winding miles to the ocean.)

We passed a parking lot on the left that provides access to the recommended South Lake Trail. We stopped at the Overlook and almost had the place to ourselves. There’s a long wooden bridge to a deck with 225° view of mountains, marina, lake and a beautifully clouded sky.

Live Oak, Spice Bush and Madrone surround the deck. Up a flight of stairs is a smaller observation deck where I could see the Visitor Center and more of the Warm Springs part of the Lake. The mountains across Lake Sonoma are the most stunning and make up the 8,000 acres protected for Peregrine Falcons and other wildlife.

So we didn’t take much of a walk, but we found a grand place to look at a fantastic landscape from on high without all the sweating and muscle strain that hiking involves.

At Lake Sonoma

Camping: Liberty Glen drive-in, 15 more campgroundsthat are hike-in or boat-in.

Swimming: Yorty Creek via Hot Springs Rd. entrance with boat launch and picnic area.

Equestrian and Bike: Restricted trails and closed in the winter.

Boating and fishing: Main reason people come here.  There’s a marina, boat ramps at both area entrances, 2700 surface acres for canoe, sailboat, motorboats with or without skiers. We’ve canoed from both places. Yorty Creek is quieter. Once you get past the jet-skis the Warm Springs branch is quiet.

What is a jet-ski? Something that must be fun to ride, but if you’re not skiing – they’re just annoying. Remember when you were a kid and all your friends came over and you bounced balls against your house? It was crazy fun, right? Now, imagine you were your dad trying to take a nap.

Other stuff: We stopped at Sbragia, a winery near the dam with a great view of the Dry Creek Valley. Then we stopped at Ferrari-Carano. They have created a fine garden with water features, trees and flowers. It’s a perfect refuge from a hot sunny day.

Food: We probably should have brought a picnic lunch. Lambert Bridge Winery had a charming spot for that. But we continued working our way down the quiet side of Dry Creek the 10 miles to the Healdsburg Bar & Grill. This was followed by a concert in the park across the street and a round of window shopping.

Directions: If coming from the south: In Healdsburg, from Hwy 101, take Dry Creek Rd. 10 miles west, Dry Creek Road ends at the dam for the lake. Take a left on Skaggs Springs Rd around the dam, left on Stewarts Pt. Rd. and right on Lake Sonoma Overlook. All in a short distance. – If you stay on Stewarts Pt Rd, you’ll be crossing a bridge over the lake on Rockpile Rd. http://mapq.st/10wBqDp If you’re coming from the north: Take Dutch Creek Rd south and then right on Dry Creek Rd, then follow above directions.

The other entrance to the lake is from Hot Springs Rd, Cloverdale. The two roads do not connect – but you can put your boat in, or swim from the beach.

What a day!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

meanwhile back to walking…

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3 thoughts on “Taking a Stroll at Lake Sonoma

  1. We happened across your blog while reading up on hiking Lake Sonoma, and your description of jet-skis made us laugh aloud. Perfectly put! Thanks for the smile.

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