At long last, after a very rainy March, dry weather started to return by the end of the month. I was particularly excited for this because for the last several weeks, I had been hiking in everything from a drizzle to a down pour. I was excited to finally get a day of gloriously good weather to do a nice, long day hike. I wanted something that would give me good views, but would also be more challenging than some of the other hikes I’ve done thus far. When I came across Bald Mountain in a number of different places, I knew this must be a pretty good hike. I was not disappointed.
Bald Mountain is not very high by most standards, standing at only 2,729 feet. It makes up for it in prominence, and by extension, views. The mountain is located in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, located a few miles east of the town of Kenwood in the Sonoma Valley. Sugarloaf occupies a swath of the Mayacamas Mountains and has flora that ranges from towering redwood groves, oak forests, ghost pines, manzanita chaparral, and everything in between. Though the summit of Bald Mountain was the ultimate goal and highlight, I found the rest of my hike to be very enjoyable as I wandered through varied terrain and different types of vegetation. This park comes highly recommended.
I began my hike by parking along the main entrance road and hiking up the Pony Gate Trail. My goal was to ultimately circle back and end on the Canyon Trail to view the Sonoma Creek waterfall. While this worked out well, I would not recommend beginning on the Pony Gate Trail if you want to take the easy way. I started gaining elevation immediately and went up, and up, and up. I did cross a few creeks on the way though, which made it more interesting. Eventually I met the Bald Mountain Trail, where the uphill became a bit more manageable. The Bald Mountain Trail is more of a fire road (I suspect that at one point it used to be a passable road to the top), and alternates between forest and exposed ridges with increasingly good views as you approach the top. However, I won’t lie, I was huffing and puffing most of the way up the mountain. It’s fairly steep and should be undertaken by someone who feels up to the challenge. I started at just under 1,000 feet in elevation and climbed to just over 2,700 in about 3.5 miles, so that should give you an idea of the steepness of the terrain. Once you get to the top though, it’s well worth it. The summit of Bald Mountain is aptly named; it’s a small flat, grassy area with sweeping 360 views of the entire region.
From one spot, I could make out identifiable landmarks from eight of the nine Bay Area counties (Santa Clara being the one I couldn’t), as well as many nearby mountain peaks like Sonoma Mountain, Mt. St Helena, Mt. Vaca, Atlas Peak, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais, and the distant snow capped Sierra Nevada. Also seen was the Napa Valley to the east, the Sonoma Valley to the west, the San Francisco Bay, the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Rosa, and parts of Napa. I could even see the Pacific Ocean in the distance (this is the only place I can recall seeing both the Sierras and the Pacific in one spot). Not bad for a 2,700 foot high mountain. In true Bay Area fashion, a fundraiser brunch with good food, beer and wine was being held at the top when I arrived (payed in advance customers only), but they did offer hikers drinks if they wanted, which was much appreciated. I spent some time admiring the views at the top, then started my descent on the Gray Pine Trail. The change in vegetation on the other side of Bald Mountain was noticeable; here it was more chaparral, manzanitas, and grey pines (I call them wannabe pines because they look like not fully grown pines in a way). This continued for a few miles until I got down to the bottom of the mountain and the vegetation switched back to more oaks. Eventually the trail met up with the Meadow Trail that follows Sonoma Creek, and I took this back to the main parking area. Sonoma Creek was flowing high and fast, setting me up for what would be the other part of my hike; seeing a waterfall!
Bonus! Hike to the Sonoma Creek waterfall
One of the other reasons I chose to do Bald Mountain this day was because I had heard Sugarloaf has a hidden secret that I wanted to see revealed, and that is the Sonoma Creek waterfall. To reach the waterfall, follow the Canyon Trail down from the road near the pay station. It will descend down many flights of stairs deep into a canyon filled with redwood trees, making you think you’ve suddenly been transported to the North Coast. It’s a very pretty hike with a lot of downhill, so be prepared to climb back up! Eventually you’ll see a turn off for the waterfall after about a half mile, and if you’ve come at the right time the waterfall will reward you with its glory. The amazing thing about this waterfall is that it’s seasonal, so by summer it’s usually dry. However, in late March with all of the recent rain it was flowing fast and spectacular. Moss and ferns lined the canyon as I surveyed the scene from a rock, just admiring the sound and sights. If you do come to Sugarloaf, come in the winter or spring so that you can have an opportunity to see this waterfall. You won’t regret it.
Distance: 9 miles (this will vary depending on which trails you choose. Straight from the parking area to the summit of Bald and back can be done in about 6.5 miles)
Time: 4-5 hours
Elevation gain: 1900-2000 feet (it’s a mountain folks!)
Fees: $8 day use fee to enter the state park
Trail map from the state parks can be found here.
Sugarloaf Ridge SP is located about 15 miles east of Santa Rosa and about the same distance north of Sonoma. From Highway 12 in either direction, turn onto Adobe Canyon Road in the town of Kenwood until you reach the park. It will dead end at the parking lot. Camping is available as well!