Walking below Sugarloaf Ridge

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park has twenty-five miles of trails some of them reaching Bald Mountain at 2729’ in elevation. Websites didn’t indicate how big the park was, but did keep mentioning the elevation, as if that was its only attribute. (Besides the beauty there are cool volcanic formations.) I thought we’d been up the mountain many years ago, but finally memories crept in of meadows and creeks.

We were hoping to find the easier trails last Sunday. It was another cool sunny morning. The park is off of Hwy 12 in Sonoma Valley and up a mountain. Just the drive to the park is worth the visit.

A friend, who is more of a hiker than we are, joined us for the day. She didn’t know where we were taking her, but at the turnoff onto Adobe Canyon Rd, she said she had been here many times. We took her on new trails and she shared her experiences about the other ones.

One guide book says there are over 2700 acres. We could have asked the friendly woman at the entrance booth, but we thought, “we can find it on the Internet!”

Meadow Trailhead at Sugarloaf

At the gate to the park (State fee), a Visitor Center and camping area are off to the right. We went straight and parked on the left. Meadow Trail takes off near the pit toilet. (Ah, the utilitarian entrance – Make-sure-you-go-to-the-bathroom-first.)

Take time to look around at the views in front of you, down the ridge of the Mayacamas. A Sonoma Country Regional Park to the north includes Hood Mountain, visible from here.

White Flower at Sugarloaf Ridge

The path is dirt with rocks and rougher on the uphill portions. Daisies (well, not daisies, but daisy-like, multi-headed and weedy) filled the fields. It’s a gentle climb through the meadow spotted with oaks, Madrone, bays and scrub oaks. Through one woodsy spot we came across some ambling Wild Turkeys.

Wild Turkey in Sugarloaf Ridge

Bald Mountain Trail goes to the left and Meadow Trail to the right. It’s flat for a while and then heads down to the Robert Ferguson Observatory. (See below.)

We could have continued on the Meadow Trail if we’d stayed left behind the observatory, but we were distracted by the Planet Walk sign. We went down near the stables and back up Hillside Trail before reconnecting with Meadow Trail.

Planet Walk near Ferguson Observatory

Planet Walk is a proportional set up from sun to planets. It gives you some appreciation for how far away the planets are, if you can imagine that one foot is 450,000 miles.

We walked to Mars, 142 million miles away. Here we were in open meadow on a gravel road. Whenever we crossed a creek, there were more trees. Near Jupiter was a larger creek and bigger trees. We enjoyed the shade of bays, maples and alders.

By the time we reached Saturn we had gone 2,000 ft. or 900 million miles. The road moved away from the creek and we walked between walls of tall coyote bush. As we went back to the creek the trees were big and a wood bridge crossed the clear waters of Sonoma Creek. The park contains the headwaters for this creek.

Sonoma Creek Bridge at Sugarloaf

Gray Pine Trail went left. It’s another way up to Bald Mtn.  The road continued around to the right. Brushy Peaks went off left to Uranus. We stayed on the road now called Hillside Trail.

If you are looking for the flattest walk, take the Meadow Trail from Ferguson Observatory and head back at the bridge. That would be less than 2 miles, round trip.

Hillside Trail continued on and up. At least, there were switchbacks, but it was a slow climb for me. The day was warming though we were mostly in the shade of the trees. Once I stopped to catch my breath and caught sight of a slow circling Red-tail Hawk. I also stopped and looked across the valley to mountain. Our friend pointed out the trails on mountains across from us. As high as I felt we had gotten, we were not seeing the peak, but the south shoulder of Bald Mountain.

North to Bald Mountain from Sugarloaf Ridge

Finally, the road went downhill, past some water tanks. Then the vista opened up across the valley and mountains to the northwest. We sat on a bench and soaked in the sun and the view. I don’t think we felt the vastness of the universe, but certainly the vastness of earth, as we sat in this spot overlooking mountainous terrain with few traces of people.

Continuing downhill we crossed creeks (spring runoff?) and picked a few blackberries. Most weren’t ready yet and one thorny vine was still blooming. The cool summer has not just messed with the wine grapes.

The trail split right to Hillside and left to Creekside and Nature Trails. We went left downhill through oaks, until we came to the campground.

We reconnoitered (that means we weren’t quite sure where the car was) until we crossed the creek, came upon the amphitheater for campfire talks, crossed a bridge to the campground, inspected the bathroom, recrossed the creek and alas, spotted the parking lot.

Our maneuvering was beneficial, for we found a great spot by the creek for our picnic lunch. And what a lunch. You should have been there.

Try a picnic and your own walk. You can do it. This is a spot we won’t wait a decade or more to return to. I bet the meadow looks great in the spring.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar and guest walker Suzanne Lang

Directions: Take Adobe Canyon Rd. off of Hwy 12 and drive up the canyon to the park.

Real Hikes: One along the creek comes with waterfalls. Suzanne says the hike from the first parking lot on the left up Adobe Canyon Rd to Gunsight has been re-engineered and is much better. Hikes to Bald Mountain are about 7 miles. Hood Mountain Regional Park is to the north. Bring lots of water!

Ferguson ObservatoryFerguson Observatory: Solar and night sky sessions once a month. Click here.

Wheelchair: Not easy, but possible on roadways, including campground or Meadow Trail past the Observatory (if you can get around the gate) which is a gravel road to the bridge at Sonoma Creek.

Dogs: No dogs on trails. Leash required on paved roads and at campgrounds. If you’re camping, dogs must be inside with you at night.

Camping: Tent and RV. Click here.

Horseback riding: Some trails open to horses. Renting horses is also possible. Click here.

Bathroom: Pit toilets. Portapotties. Flush toilets and fountains in campground. Showers there, too.

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