Caution Regarding All Sonoma Coast Hiking

Every year brings news of deaths as the result of sleeper waves along the Sonoma Coast.   And, despite the numerous warning signs along the Sonoma Coast State Beach system, people disregard what seem like unreasonable restrictions.  

The Sonoma Coast has sleeper waves, also called rogue or sneaker waves, especially in the winter, but possible any time of year. These waves arise out of a seemingly calm ocean without warning, they pull anyone standing too close to the surf line, or climbing rock outcroppings, into the undertow and then out to sea.

The beaches along the Sonoma Coast are not recommended for swimming or wading. The very things that make this area such a spectacular place to look at and enjoy can be lethal to those caught unaware along the
shoreline. Large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shore break and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities, such as playing near the surf line, wading or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly.

Here are some guidelines:

    Never turn your back to the ocean on the ocean front rocks or anywhere close to the surf line.
    Do not climb rock outcroppings, especially if they are posted as dangerous.
    Do not allow dogs off-leash or children to play in the surf.
    In general, stay 50' above the surf line, especially in winter.
    When hiking on the bluffs, stay away from the edge of the bluff and do not attempt to climb down the bluff.  The shale formations of bluffs and rocks are unstable and unsafe for climbing. Stay on trails and heed fences and warning signs.


A hike on Bodega Head offers some of the most beautiful vistas in the county. On a clear day you can see a panoramic view of Bodega Bay, the Sonoma and Marin coasts, Point Reyes peninsula, Tomales Point and beyond. Bodega Head has a relatively short hiking trail that goes around the headland. This trail has spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Harbor, and the town of Bodega Bay. There is another trail that connects with the trail system found in the Bodega Dunes section of the park. Here you can walk along the headlands and on the beach.

Wildlife - Bodega head is a great place to see migrating whales. They can be spotted from early December through mid February when they are heading south for calving season and on their northern return trip in March and April.  


The Kortum Trail - 4.3 mile trail between Bodega Bay and Jenner, California. This is part of a trail system that leads along the coast of Sonoma County named for Bill Kortum, a Petaluma veterinarian, who was the leader in the fight to guarantee access to the coastline for the public over developed private lands.
One of the most popular local hikes, this is an easy, flat headlands trail, 3 ¾ mile round trip for a two hour walk.  Enjoy spectacular scenery along the bluffs, followed by a descent to Shell Beach. In the grasslands you might see Douglas iris, lupine, and Indian paintbrush thru April and June.


Sonoma Coast State Beach is actually a series of beaches separated by rock bluffs and headlands, extends 17 miles from Bodega Head to Vista Trail located 4 miles north of Jenner. Beachcombers, fishermen, sunbathers and picnickers can access the beach from more than a dozen points along coast Highway 1. The craggy coastline includes secluded coves, reefs, fertile tide pools, rugged headlands, natural rock arches, sand dunes, and wildflower-covered meadows.  


From Shell Beach, which can be reached by either of the two hikes above or by car (located on Highway One with its own parking lot), take the Pomo Canyon Trail on the east side of the highway. The Red Hill Trail branches off the Pomo Canyon Trail and climbs through an old ranch to amazing vistas of Willow Creek and Russian River canyons, along with distant mountains and the coast. Overview:  Red Hill provides a series of trails climbing the tallest ridge just south of the Russian River on the coast. This exposed landscape of grasslands and chaparral provides plenty of sweeping vistas overlooking the mouth of the Russian River watershed out to Jenner, coastlines down to Bodega Head, and some great overlooks into Willow Creek.
An old California ranch overlooking the coast and Jenner headlands
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 5.8 miles / 9.3 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly


Another popular hike in this area. From Highway One near the mouth of the Russian River, you turn onto Willow Creek Road, heading east for 2.6 miles; the trail begins at the Pomo Campground.
Alternatively, you can start at the western trailhead at milepost 18.22 on Highway One. This five mile roundtrip takes three to four hours and passes through redwood forest to an overlook of the Russian River and then to an overlook of the entire southern Sonoma Coast.  


Shell beach is a scenic and geological jewel on the northern Sonoma County coast. From Shell Beach, you can hike south 2 ½ miles to Wright's Beach. You'll cross five creeks along the way; the round trip will take two to three hours. There is a campground at Wright's Beach, with a wheelchair-accessible path to the beach.


In the center of Fort Ross State Historic Park is the Fort Ross Orchard, a three-acre garden filled with apple, plum, and pear trees dating back to 1814. Across the road from the historic orchard is the Stanley Spyra Memorial Grove. The grove has the world’s oldest known second-growth coastal redwoods. The San Andreas Fault runs through the orchard and the memorial grove. During the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the ground suddenly shifted more than 12 feet. The grove has visible remnants of the earthquake, including offset creeks, sag ponds (water-filled depressions along the fault), escarpments, and damaged trees.

For a fascinating journey along the rift line of the San Andreas Fault, the Kolmer Gulch trail will show you just what a major earthquake does to the land, including the snapping of giant redwood trees and the offset of 7 ½ feet between the road and gate in 1906. Just to the east of the entrance to Ft. Ross, turn onto Ft. Ross Road and find the fire road trailhead for this hike about half a mile down the road, just past the settlers' old orchard. The trail takes you past slough trenches and sag ponds, with many wildflowers in the spring. The trail to the heavily wooded Kolmer Gulch Camp is 1 ¾ miles round trip; the full round trip is 5 ½ miles.  


The Ft. Ross Creek hike takes you from the parking lot down to the cove behind Ft. Ross, the site of California's first shipyard (see the interesting reconstruction in the Visitor Center). From Ft. Ross Creek at the head of the cove, follow the trail to the Ft. Ross Cemetery. From there you can cross busy Highway One, continuing onto a road that says "Authorized Vehicles Only." After a mile or so, you'll hear the sounds of Ft. Ross Creek and you'll pass a pump house and water tanks, then a cluster of cabins now serving as housing for archaeologists researching the area. The road ends here, but if you go between the last two cabins you'll find a hole in the fence and the intersection of the San Andreas Fault and Ft. Ross Creek. If you want to leave trails behind, you can descend to the creek and enjoy a remarkably beautiful hike along the creek itself, back to Ft. Ross. There are large logjams that are difficult, but possible to cross with strenuous, careful climbing.


The Jenner Headlands is located just north of where the Russian River meets the sea. The property stretches along 2.5 miles of coastline with its western boundary delineated by Highway 1 and running from the coastal resort town of Jenner, north to Russian Gulch. The acquisition of this amazing 5,630 acre property was made possible through a multi-partner effort which includes the Sonoma Land Trust and The Wildlands Conservancy partnering to manage the property and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District holding a conservation easement over the property, securing its safety forever.

For hikes and workdays at the Jenner Headlands with The Wildlands Conservancy, please visit


Sonoma County Hiking Trails -

Sonoma County Regional Parks - Hiking -

Sonoma County Hikes -

A Wheelchair Rider's Guide to the Sonoma Coast -


North Bay Hikes by David Weintraub – this is one of the best books for detailed trail descriptions and maps for hikes in Sonona, Napa, and Marin counties.

Day Hikes Around Sonoma County by Robert Stone – this book contains 95 day hikes located in Sonoma County.

Hiker’s hip pocket Guide to Sonoma County, 3rd edition by Bob Lorentzen – this book has a ton of hikes for Sonoma County, and fits in your back pocket.

California Coastal Access Guide - California Coastal Commission (Author)