Hiking is a great way to keep in shape, commune with nature and bond with your dog. Plus it’s pretty cheap entertainment and a fantastic way to spend a morning or afternoon. And when you’re adrenaline is high, the air is clean and you’re watching your four-legged kid take in his first waterfall or scenic vista, life seems pretty darn good. Here is a compilation of some of our favorite hiking destinations in Marin and Sonoma Counties.*
*Please note that while being one of the greatest and most enjoyable activities ever, hiking with a dog can provide a significant amount of risk. Beyond taking the standard precautions of dressing in layers, wearing the right shoes (we prefer those with a lot of traction as sometimes hills and excited pups can lead to serious tumbles) and packing the proper supplies, take time to learn what to do if you encounter dangerous plants or animals. A snake bite, twisted ankle, scratched paw or even a mild case of poison oak can become very dangerous if not attended to quickly or treated properly.
Fortunately, most of the featured parks will provide lists and images of what to avoid, but you may want to brush up on basic animal (and human) first aid before you head out. Learn the signs of exhaustion and dehydration in your dog, especially if you plan on hiking in the middle of the day. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected back. Sure most of these trails are well traversed, but we don’t want to have to write about you for a different section of this site.
Oh and don’t forget to stretch.
And maybe call your mother when you get some free time.
Loma Alta Open Space Preserve
End of Glen Avenue, North of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard
Loma Alta Open Space PreserveIf you can find the park’s entrance at the end of a Fairfax neighborhood (it took us a couple trips around the town to get the internet directions to make sense), you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful hikes north of the city. A 4.5 mile looped trail moves in and out of redwood forests, along creeks and up into the golden (or green) hills. Plus, in the right season, you get a waterfall. When you reach the 1,400-foot peak, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous panoramic view of the area — including San Francisco and Mount Diablo. Hikers looking for a longer route can follow the Bay Area Ridge Trail into Lucas Valley Road using the Skywalker Easement.
Leashes are required along the dirt trails, which is actually rather useful as hikers often have to share the path with mountain bikers (fun fact: mountain biking was invented in Larkspur), but your pup can run free once you hit the paved fire road.
17000 Armstrong Woods Road
Armstrong Redwoods State ReserveArmstrong is a perfect place to hike on very hot days as the redwoods provide ample shade and moisture. It’s also a wonderful place to see wildlife, waterfalls and blossoming flowers. With trails ranging from 1.7 to 10 miles, the park offers something for everyone: those who are less active and/or are with young children will enjoy the easy and informative Discovery Trail that winds around the forest floor and teaches visitors interesting facts about the park’s conservationist history and what plant life thrives in a redwood forest. A Braille Trail with a guide wire is available for the visually impaired. Intermediate hikers should check out the 5.6-mile East Ridge-Pool Ridge Loop that takes you to 1,100 feet, exposing forest vegetations that change at each appellation. More advanced hikers will enjoy the Gilliam Creek and East Austin Creek Double Loop that extends 9 miles and reaches 1,500 feet.The parking lot next to the visitor center is free, though it will cost $8 for your vehicle to enter the reserve. Dogs are required to be on leashes at all times. Picnic facilities and restrooms are available around the Discovery and Icicle Trails. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, though the nearby Austin Creek Recreational Area offers campsites.
Some quick advice: if you’re planning on doing one of the more challenging hikes, speak with a ranger before you head out as some trails can get flooded out or otherwise compromised. Also, unless you are very familiar with the reserve, you definitely want to pick up a trail map so you don’t get lost.
Foothills Regional Park
1351 Arata Lane
Foothills Regional ParkLike many Sonoma County-run parks, Foothills is a fantastic place to bring your dog. On the right day, the trails resemble a massive puppy party or possibly some kind of canine-centered amusement park. Of course, this is not to say the park is overcrowded. It’s just really fun. With an assortment of easy and slightly moderate trails (the highest point reaches 650 feet), three small ponds, an adorable winding creek, incredible views of the surrounding vineyards and strategically placed poop bags and receptacles, it’s easy to see why dog owners from the surrounding area try to make it here at least once a week. Plus, if you go at the right time, you can see fawns bounding up and down the grassy hills. (Fine, that only happened once. But it was AWESOME.)
Lot parking costs $6, and handicapped parking is also available. Dogs must be on leashes at all times. Restrooms and drinking fountains are available at the main entrance. The park also is open to equestrians, mountain bikers and fishing enthusiasts (apparently those ponds are not so small after all). It is open from sunrise to sunset.
1450 Pythian Road
Hood mountain Regional ParkIf you are an experienced hiker who is looking for a challenge and wants to bring along your best friend, this is the place for you. With 1,750 acres of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, Hood Mountain is a great place to get back to nature. The strenuous 7-mile Goodspeed Trail will take you 1,900 feet up into the Sugarloaf Ridge and provides insane views of the surrounding valleys. However, the park is filled with easier and equally beautiful trails that are significantly more dog-friendly.
Open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Parking costs $8.
9000 River Road
Steelhead BeachThe beauty of Steelhead Beach is that you can traverse the very easy 1.5-mile loop a couple of times, enjoy the redwoods and views of the Russian River, then go for a swim afterwards. (This is a great trick if your dog likes to get really muddy or dusty on a hike.) Steelhead Beach is best enjoyed in summer, fall or really any time when the sun is shining and the river is not overflowing or filled with silt. (In other words, avoid it during rainy season.)You can also picnic at the park and apparently consume beer or wine, though we recommend that kind of celebration after you hit the trails. Dogs should be on a leash, even if they are swimming. Rangers pass by often, so make sure to heed this advice and avoid a ticket. Poop bags are provided, though you should bring your own just in case. Parking is $6 and the lot can fill up quickly when it’s hot outside.