GUERNEVILLE — Just 30 miles north of San Francisco, discover the natural wonders of Sonoma County, where travelers have enjoyed outdoor adventures for more than a century — from the first visitors arriving by train in the 1870s, to crowds dancing under the stars to Big Band sounds in the 1940s and ’50s, to the LGBTQ community that claimed this area as their playground from the 1970s on.
It’s an outdoor paradise, perfect for hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and even zipping through the treetops.
Blend in fine wines, farm-to-fork cuisine, craft beers, artisan spirits, and all that the Wine Country lifestyle has to offer, and Sonoma County’s river and redwoods make a perfect getaway destination, and a great addition to your visit to San Francisco. Here’s a quick roundup of a few of the possibilities
On the Russian River
Known locally as just “The River,” this lazy, winding waterway offers something for almost everyone, whether you want to stand up and paddle, sit down and paddle, float, swim, splash, fish, watch birds and wildlife, or picnic on a riverside beach.
Paddle down an isolated, wildlife-abundant section of the upper Russian River via River’s Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips. Learn how to paddle board, and then take a two-hour trip on verdant waters near Wohler Bridge with Rubicon Adventures. For do-it-yourselfers, Russian River Adventures offers self-guided day trips in inflatable kayaks for a half day (four miles) or full day (nine miles) with a shuttle to return you to your car. Or enjoy a 10-mile self-guided canoe or kayak trip with a return shuttle at Burke’s Canoe Trips and Campground. Check out the complete listing of Sonoma County Kayaking & Canoeing
River beaches beckon to those who want to picnic, swim, fish, or just relax. The county operates several riverfront parks, including Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, Mom’s Beach (aka Forestville River Access), and Steelhead Beach Regional Park, each offering unique settings for accessing the Russian River. Rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, beach umbrellas, beach chairs, and more at the privately owned, down-home Johnson’s Beach & Resort, which has welcomed summer visitors for nearly a century. And Monte Rio Community Beach offers canoe and kayak rentals, barbecues, a boat launch, and a snack bar. For more details, read Best River Beaches and Fishing Spots.
On Lake Sonoma
Created in 1983 by the construction of Warm Springs Dam, beautiful Lake Sonoma is surrounded by steep coastal foothills and gorgeous vineyards.
With a surface area of more than 2,700 acres and 50 miles of shoreline when it’s full, Lake Sonoma provides a multitude of hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming opportunities, including remote boat-in-only campsites and 97 drive-in RV and tent campsites at Liberty Glen Campground. Learn the natural history of the area at the Lake Sonoma Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery.
Open year round, Lake Sonoma Marina offers a variety of boat rentals, including ski boats, wake boards, jet skis, water skis, canoes, single and double-decker patio boats, fishing boats, and just about anything else you might want for a day on the water. The marina also includes a barbecue area, deli, and swimming beach, and campsites.
In the Redwoods
Stroll through towering, ancient trees in the serene and majestic Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, a living reminder of the magnificent redwood forest that once covered most of this area. Or zip through the redwood canopy at Sonoma Canopy Tours, for a green, family-friendly, and educational high-flying adventure. The course includes seven zip lines (one is more than 800 feet long), two sky bridges, a magnificent spiral staircase, and a rappel back to the forest floor.
On the Trail
With 11 state parks, more than 50 regional parks, and over 200,000 acres protected from development, Sonoma County offers miles and miles of trails from easy to strenuous. In the river and redwoods area, Austin Creek State Recreation Area offers 20 miles of trails through rolling hills, meadows, and woodlands. For more options, read Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County, Guide to the Sonoma County Regional Park System, and Sonoma County State Parks.
Bicycling in Paradise
Whether you want to peddle leisurely along back roads, perhaps visiting a winery here and there, or to challenge yourself on a route that twists high into scenic mountains, you’ll find the perfect bicycling adventure in Sonoma County’s river and redwoods area.
Beginners can follow the paved and relatively flat West County Regional Trail along a former railway route from Forestville to Sebastopol. Or explore West Dry Creek Road, cycling past scenic vineyards and wineries. For more of a challenge, extend your route through Dry Creek and Alexander valleys on a 30-mile loop. And for a real challenge, cycle inland along the river from the coast, heading up into the hills at Cazadero. These and other routes are described in Popular Bike Itineraries: Cycling through Wine Country and Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County.
If you prefer to let someone else plan the route and provide everything you need, Sonoma County offers a number of guided bike touring companies.
Enjoy a wilderness experience on horseback just minutes from town at The Ranch at Lake Sonoma, offering scenic rides with stunning views for riders of all skill levels. Or ride through acres of vineyards and views with Wine Country Trail Rides, followed by a complimentary wine tasting at Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery. For more ideas, read 7 Great Parks and Trails for Horseback Riding and Sonoma County on Horseback.
With a Guide
If you want to leave the details to a local expert, Getaway Adventures & Rentals provides guided hiking, biking, and kayaking adventures throughout the area; Water Treks EcoTours and Kayak Rentals helps you experience the Russian River and estuary by kayak; and EcoOdssey Tours offers multi-day bicycling and kayaking treks.
In addition to its diversity of climates, geography, and ecosystems, gay-friendly Sonoma County welcomes visitors of all types and backgrounds to experience its natural beauties.