Talk about hiding in plain sight.
The Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area, a restored wetland spilling over both counties just north of San Pablo Bay, is open to the public for hiking, biking, boating, birding and photography, though not many know that.
Some 50,000 acres of marshland have been within view of traffic humming along highways 37 and 121 for decades, but now there’s a reason to park, get out and breathe in the salty-fresh marine air. Ongoing state and federal restoration efforts have lured wildlife of all kinds to the 13,000 acres of tidal sloughs and wetlands within the preserve boundaries. Although much of it can be reached only by small boat, canoe and kayak, there is considerable land access on trails crisscrossing the levees. The paths are flat and easy to walk; dogs are prohibited.
What visitors will see, depending on the season, includes migrating ducks and geese, Tundra swans, avocets, egrets, coots, raptors and songbirds. Black-tailed deer occasionally wander the levees, and protected species such as the chicken-like clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse make appearances.
Consult the tide tables for the safest times to launch a boat or paddlecraft, and know that waterfowl hunting is permitted October through January; don’t be surprised by the sound of gunfire.
The easiest way to access the site is on the Napa County side, just past Bouchaine Vineyards (1075 Buchli Station Road, Napa). Drive past the barn and turn right on the dirt road past the vineyard. Follow the road to the railroad crossing and park at the Department of Fish and Wildlife office.