Best Moderate Family Hikes in West Sonoma

Now that our kids have graduated from fairy wands while hiking (though certainly not from berry bushes), we have moved on to geocaching as great way to motivate slightly older kids on down the trail. Geocaching is a free IRL treasure hunting game played with the GPS on your phone. Someday we will do a more detailed post about it but the quick version starts with the Geocaching app. Pretty much wherever you go you will find the caches shown on the map along with a clue about how to find the geocache and the story that goes with it. Just navigate to the GPS coordinates and then use the clue to locate the cache, simple yet fun. The part that the kids love best besides the joy of being part of a secret game is trading small trinkets with the cache. Many caches are big enough for a few marbles, toy cars, plastic jewelry, etc. that you can take with you in exchange for depositing one of your own trinkets. We usually grab a few small toys off the kids bedroom floor on the way out the door so we have something to trade. The kids are at an age where they are starting to appreciate hiking for time spent with the family in a beautiful setting but the treasure hunt adds an extra layer of interest that keeps them engaged with getting down one of these beautiful West Sonoma trails.

In this series we are highlighting our top 3 easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes in West Sonoma County. A few of our favorite trails in Armstrong Woods and Austin Creek were burned in the recent fires and remain closed. When they reopen we’ll post an update to these posts. We hope these other equally amazing trails inspire you to get out and enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty of Sonoma County.

This is part 2 of our 3 part “Best Hikes” series.

These moderate north bay area hikes are all under 5 miles, and good for kids of almost all ages. They are not too long, so a baby or toddler can enjoy these hikes in a carrier, and kids age 5+ can do these hikes depending on their experience.

Kortum Trail from Shell Beach to Wrights Beach

Description: 4 miles round-trip (out & back), dogs not allowed, free parking
Amenities: restrooms available but no water
Map: https://bahiker.com/northbayhikes/sonomabeach.html

This beautiful coastal hike is located just south ofJenner. We recommend that if you are coming from the Russian River resort area that you start at Shell Beach and walk south to Wrights Beach. This is an out-and-back hike so you can turn around whenever you want.  If you happen upon Shell Beach at low tide, then you can enjoy some tide pooling at the start of your hike. This hiking adventure takes you across the bluffs along the edge of the beautiful pacific ocean with views of cliffs, crags, and little beaches. If you get lucky you might spot a grey whale or two. 

Jenner Headlands Preserve Raptor Ridge Loop

Description: 4 mile loop, Leashed dogs allowed except on final one mile of Sea to Sky Trail,
Amenities: free parking, restrooms & water available
Map: https://www.wildlandsconservancy.org/pdf/twc_jhp_trailmap_aug2018_maponly_web.pdf

This is another coastal hike which is located just north of Jenner. For a moderate loop hike we recommend the Raptor Ridge/Pole Mountain trail loop. The Raptor Ridge Trail is good for kids because it starts out more or less level giving them a chance to get over their typical initial reluctance to hike. The first stop along the way is a fallen tree that makes a great climbing structure putting the kiddos in a playful mindset which makes the rest of the hike more pleasant. The next stop along the way is a dry creek bed heading up the mountain to the left. After the creek, the trail starts heading up the ridge. It’s a bit steep but its also a great place for spotting raptors. Bring your binoculars and see if you can identify the types of birds you see. Soon a red barn will come into view and you can make your way to the barn to enjoy snacks or lunch at the picnic tables next to the barn. Only a small uphill section of trail remains before you get to the Pole Mountain Trail junction. Head left, through the gate, and the remainder of the hike is downhill. The last stop on the way back to the parking lot is the fixed telescope where you can watch the wildlife at the nearby Goat Rock Beach. After the telescope it’s about a mile back to the parking lot. For more detail on this hike check our post from from last year when this hike first opened up.

Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve

Description: 2 mile loop, no dogs
Amenities: free parking, no restrooms or water
Map: https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/448/files/SaltPointKruseWebBrochure2010.pdf

This little known park is absolutely gorgeous if you visit during Rhododendron Season which runs from April through June. Rhododendrons are a beautiful native flowering shrub or tree, usually pink, with the flowers growing in large round clusters. The contrast of the pink flowers against the green forest is quite a sight to see. There are many other varieties of wildflowers in the spring, along with ferns, tan oak, mushrooms, and second growth redwoods. You can pick and eat the dark huckleberries in late summer.

The reserve is next to Salt Point State Park on the inland side of Highway 1, twenty miles north of Jenner.  Near milepost 43 on Highway 1, turn onto Kruse Ranch Road. It’s paved at first, but the pavement quickly ends with a warning: “One lane road 1,000 feet ahead. No turn next 4 miles.”  Continue for about 1,000 feet to the parking area. 

The hike we recommend is called the Rhododendron Loop. This loop starts with the Chinese Gulch trail and meets up with the Phillips Gulch trail for the return. From the parking lot, head up the small set of wooden stairs and you will see a trail map. Walk up the small hill keeping right and following the wooden fence to stay on the Chinese Gulch Trail. Once you get to the road go ahead and cross, and hop onto the Phillips Gulch Trail. The fork to the Philips Gulch trail can be easy to miss. If you stay on what looks like the main trail it returns you to the road, which you can follow back to parking area. It’s still a nice walk on the quiet dirt road. Bring a picnic to enjoy beside one of the seasonal streams and bring your camera to take photos of the stunning blossoms, and don’t forget the fairy wand tape!

This local insight brought to you by your hosts at Lucky Bend Lookout; a modern yet family-friendly Russian River vacation home. Check our availability and book online or call/text Sarah at 415-516-6961 to reserve.