A hidden hiking jewel
Outdoor Adventures in Sonoma
Standing atop a vine covered hill, looking out across a little valley with San Pablo Bay and Mount Diablo in the distance, I couldn't believe I've lived in Sonoma for close to 20 years and didn't realize this trail existed until just recently.
The hiking area I've just discovered is one many Sonoma Valley residents are likely familiar with. Just off Gehricke road and about a mile past Ravenswood, a sign has been placed by the owners of a hillside vineyard, welcoming hikers to enjoy the property. (Horses, bicyclists, and motor vehicles are strictly prohibited).
Starting from the East Side of Sonoma, I was able to bask in the late afternoon sun as I walked along Fourth Street. The area was bustling with activity as others likewise sought the sunshine after so many days of stormy weather. After a couple of weeks cooped up inside, I needed a quiet walk with minimal man-made noise interrupting the sound of a swollen creek rushing over its bank, or the shriek of a roadside hawk as it swooped down after its prey.
Canyon oaks and bay trees crowd the roads on both sides of the road past Ravenswood. East through the trees I could see Nathanson Creek, brown and gray, flowing around the trunks of white alder trees. After traveling under the deep shade of the trees, I was dazzled as I left the forest and entered a vibrant, sun-soaked meadow of vineyards where the trail departs.
I was amazed at how much space there was to explore. From the road it looked as if the property would take half an hour or so to circumnavigate, but after hiking around the first hill I was overwhelmed. The property extends farther up and back into the hills than I'd initially thought. Criss-crossed with utility roads, there are numerous routes that can be hiked and they range from moderate to difficult. I didn't see any maps, so, like me, you'll have to find your own way around. But even though the property is spacious, you'll be able to get your bearings by simply looking around.
It was surprising how few people were out hiking on a sunny weekday evening, and I was able to explore in relative solitude. The quality of the trails were actually better than anticipated after last week's heavy rain; straw had been placed to dry up the road for service vehicles. Still, there were spots off the main access roads that were a bit soggy, but nothing that couldn't be traversed.
Once you hike over the first crest past the trail sign, take the trail to the right. Follow the trail past the pond and you'll see one of its highlights: a vineyard-terraced hill. A hillside vineyard is nothing new, but what was unique about this particular one was how each level is built upon loose rocks. These large, exposed rocks gives the area a rustic, old-world feel amidst the Northern California terrain that—for me—is a defining characteristic of Sonoma Valley.
The one downside of the hike is having to walk Gehricke Road itself. It's a narrow, one-lane road rife with potholes and crumbling edges. Motorists are generally courteous to pedestrians, slowing down to pass safely, but sometimes big trucks or careless drivers can make the walk feel a bit treacherous. However, countless hikers have walked up and down without incident, so as long you remain aware of your surroundings there isn't great cause for concern.