When you’re in the mood for a short but satisfying hike with a view, consider either of two loop trails at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park. Both are about 3 miles, take about two hours to hike and, depending on when you arrive, can be nearly deserted.
On a recent visit, we passed only about a dozen other people along the Creekside-Ridge Trail loop, including half a dozen horseback riders. The southerly Big Leaf/Ridge Trail loop seemed just as empty.
During the hot summer months, both loops are best tackled in the morning or late afternoon because much of the route is unshaded. We arrived mid-day and decided to start on the shady Creekside Trail, which follows the bed of a seasonal stream. It was dry by that time of the year, but tuck that information away for next year, when the winter rains will have filled the banks with rushing water.
Pines and oaks that line the narrow canyon’s walls create the perfect wet, shady climate for big leafy ferns. They also gave us a blessed 30 minutes of cool climbing.
Given the choice, we took the Pond Trail loop, a wise decision. Although it took us back out into the hot sun, it was the only point at which we saw wildlife — a few goslings, dragonflies and bullfrogs going about their business in the reedy pond water. We also had our choice of lingering at a picnic table or a bench strategically positioned to provide a front row seat to the action.
After joining the Ridge Trail, it was a short uphill climb to an overlook at the summit, which really did deliver the promised views of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, Mark West Springs Road, Highway 101 and the vineyard-covered countryside north of Santa Rosa.
The rest of the trip was all downhill, passing through knee-high grasses we pictured as perfect cattle pasture and down a lane lined with fig trees. Another bench offered the chance to linger and imagine the early-day homesteaders who must have planted those fruit trees.
Back at the parking lot, we also tucked away the thought that this park would make a great place for a family reunion. Lots of picnic tables, big clean restrooms and plenty of places for the kids to play.
A few little side conversations merged into this friendly advice for fellow hikers:
Pay the parking fee rather than lining Faught Road just outside the park’s perimeter. Your $7 will help support the trails you enjoy using.
“No dogs” really does mean “Not even your cute little yippy thing.”
Pick up your cigarette butts if you smoke while you’re hiking. On second thought, who smokes while they’re hiking?
To the Trailhead
5750 Faught Road, Santa Rosa
From Highway 101 in Windsor, exit on Shiloh Road. Drive 1.4 miles east to Faught Road at the base of the hills. Turn right (south) and continue 0.1 mile to the posted park entrance on the left. A $7 fee for parking in the lot is required.
Walk past the trailhead map panel and restrooms on the wide gravel path. Stroll through an oak-shaded picnic area to a junction at 50 yards. The Big Leaf Trail goes to the right. Continue straight on the Ridge Trail. Cross a seasonal stream on the west edge of the park. Curve right and climb 150 yards to a posted junction with the Creekside Trail.
Begin the loop on the right fork, staying on the Ridge Trail. Weave up the hillside through oaks and madrones to overlooks of the town of Windsor, the expansive Santa Rosa Plain and the Mayacamas Mountains.
Curve left and slowly descend along the north-facing canyon wall. Just shy of the grassy valley floor is the Creekside Trail. Continue straight for 100 yards and veer left on the Pond Trail.
Follow the north side of the creek, surrounded by open, rolling hills. Loop around the pond and picnic site on the left.
Join the Creekside Trail on the west end of the pond by the outlet stream. Go to the right and head down canyon along the south edge of the creek under pines and mossy oaks in a shaded, fern-filled glen.
Traverse the narrow south canyon slope, and cross a bridge over a stream. Complete the loop 100 yards ahead at the Ridge Trail. Retrace your route straight ahead to the parking lot.
Excerpted from “Day Hikes Around Sonoma County” by Robert Stone (Day Hike Books, 2016). Photography by Linda Castrone.