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Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Trail (4.00)2
(4.00) (4.00)
25.00 Miles N/A
N/A Yes
Yes Yes
$8.00 More Info
2605 Adobe Canyon Rd.
Saint Helena Sonoma
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Heading up hill on Lower Bald Mountain Trail, not too far from the park observatory.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park sits amidst a biologically rich crossroads for many of California's native flora and fauna. Here it's possible to catch glimpses of the state bird, the state tree, the state flower, and even the state rock. And yet, the park was an afterthought that almost never came to be.

The State of California bought the property in 1920 with the intention of damming up the creek to create a reservoir to facilitate the production of electricity for Sonoma State Hospital. Local opposition to the plan helped shelve the idea. It eventually became part of the state park system in 1964.

A guided hiking group heads towards a rocky overlook of Sonoma Creek valley.

The park contains the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. Though some relatively flat meadows bracket the creek itself, much of the park is made up of peaks along the Mayacamas Mountains that continue south towards the town of Sonoma. The high point in the park is Bald Mountain, which rises to 2,729 feet above sea level. That sits about 1,500 feet above the elevation of the park headquarters building.

The parks has somewhere between 20 and 25 miles (depending on the source of your information) of trails, ranging from paved paths to natural packed dirt and even some rocky scree-like segments.

Napa Valley as seen from the summit of Bald Mountain.

The trail to the summit of Bald Mountain is mostly paved, which doesn't make for the most natural of hikes, but it does provide an smooth and even surface that might help to offset the difficulty from the steepness in places. There are alternate routes to the peak that take a more circuitous route (such as via the Gray Pine Trail) if one wants to avoid pavement.

About a third of the way up Bald Mountain lies Vista Trail. Not only does it provide a convenient turning point to complete and more leisurely loop back to the park HQ, it also features a prominent rock outcropping worth a visit all its own. I thought our guide called this feature Indian Rock. It juts up and out from the trail providing breathtaking and sweeping views of Sonoma Creek valley before it empties into the larger Sonoma Valley.

From the top of Bald Mountain one can easily peer into both the Sonoma and Napa valleys, two of California's most celebrated wine cultivation areas. On clear days one is also supposed to be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. The peak can be windswept and quite chilly compared to the areas just beneath it so dress in layers.

Gray Pine Trail provides a natural packed dirt and sometimes rocky path down the mountain to the east. The trail here is occasionally steep and requires some careful footing in places.

Like many other state parks, Sugarloaf was threatened with closure due to severe budgetary cutbacks. Team Sugarloaf non-profit organization was organized to take over operation. Please consider making an extra donation to the organization when you visit.


Photos

Tree Cover There's not too much tree cover on the way up Bald Mountain, but we did get some. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Bald Mountain Trail Looking back down Bald Mountain Trail. Most of this trail to the summit is paved. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Vista Trail Our guided group fords a small stream crossing on the way to our intended scenic view. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Vista View A view of the valley below from Indian Rock. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Sonoma Creek Valley From the Indian Rock spot one can look up and down the valley that form the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. (Photo by Austin Explorer) The Summit Coppertone at the top of Bald Mountain. The wind at the top soon drove us to put our gloves back on. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Sonoma Valley From the top of Bald Mountain one can easily see two of California's most celebrated wine regions. Here's Sonoma Valley. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Gray Pine Descending back to the trailhead via Gray Pine Trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Trail View The front of our hiking group heading through Hood Mountain Regional Park on the way to Sugarloaf Ridge. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Crossing Santa Rosa Creek The group was able to cross Santa Rosa Creek without too much difficulty. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Santa Rosa Creek Santa Rosa Creek (Photo by Austin Explorer) Group The group working its way toward the Grandmother Tree. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Spread Out Over time and when coming up to steeper sections, the group tended to spread out along the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Valley View Looking into the valley along the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Ridge Walking Hiking along the ridge towards the Grandmother Tree. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Uphill Climb Despite following a ridge, the trail involved some steep sections. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Red Hill The group nears Red Hill, our picturesque lunch spot. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Big Leaf Maple The group passes by an imposing dead Big Leaf Maple tree. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Almost there The group nears the top of Red Hill, and lunch. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Red Hill View The view from atop Red Hill. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Red Hill The view from Red Hill again. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Heading back The group got strung out again the trail on the way back. (Photo by Austin Explorer)

Log Entries

Intense group hike
By Austin Explorer on 4/16/2016
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 7.13 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 51 minutes

Coppertone and I did our first hike with Bill and Dave Hikes.  The solitude rating here does not take into account the 29 people who were part of our hiking group.  Other than us, we saw few people on the trail.

We started off in the adjacent Hood Mountain Regional Park since its Los Alamos parking area is the only way to get to the McCormick Addition section of Sugarloaf Ridge.  A quick descent to Santa Rosa Creek, which was easily forded, and it was lots of climbing after that in Sugarloaf Ridge SP itself.

Our main goal of the hike was to get to the Granmother Tree, the largest Coastal Live Oak in Sonoma County.  Resting for a few moments under the grand old dame, a couple of our fellow hikers recited a couple of poems, one specifically written for the tree.

Official maps show the trail dead ending at the Grandmother Tree, but we contnued on to a lunch spot atop a peak surrounded by higher ridges.  This gorgeous spot provided over 180 degrees of vistas of forest, shrub and grassland.  We could have lingered for hours and been content.

We took a shortcut down to the Maple Glen Trail and eventually doubled back to the trailhead.  The hiking pace was brisk and the terrain tough, so much so that by the end of the hike we were exhausted.  Obviously we need to work on our endurance!

Change of plans
By Austin Explorer on 1/2/2016
Rating: Difficulty: Solitude:
Distance: 8.59 Miles Duration: 4 hours, 53 minutes

Coppertone and I had planned on doing the docent guided hike here to kick off our Klondike Challenge effort this year.  We expected to follow along and do about 4 miles of hiking at a leisurly pace.  We did do that up to Vista Trail and learned a good deal about some of the California flora and fauna that we're still trying to pick up.

Once the time came to work our way down the mountain with the rest of the group a couple of our hiking partners had the idea to break away from the group and continue up hill to the top of Bald Mountain.  We bid farewell to the rest of the group and continued to climb.

We got to the top of Bald Mountain and tried to find as many landmarks (with the help of the signage at the peak) as we could.  San Pablo Bay was visible as was Mount Tam, but conditions were a bit hazy, preventing us from seeing San Francisco proper.

For the way back we descended on Gray Pine Trail.  Occassionally muddy and sometimes rocky, but almost always steep, it was a bit of a workout for our knees.  We were relieved when the terrain flattened out as we turned back to the welcome center on Meadow Trail.

Having done double in mileage what we planned to do, we were fairly tired and quite hungry.  Drove up to Santa Rosa afterward to get some food afterwards.


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