Sonoma County, California: Hiking Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Canyon-Pony Gate Loop to Waterfalls
Summary: Located in the Mayacamas Mountains, this beautiful California State Park is especially great to visit in the Spring when the Park's waterfall is flowing. Easy accessible to most hikers, including small children, the Canyon-Pony Gate Loop is just 2 miles in length and features creeks, moss-covered rocks, and a waterfall. There are also plenty of other challenging hikes available for those that wish to add to the hike, including the Park's most popular and rigorous hike to the top of Bald Mountain. Note: No dogs are allowed in the State Park.
What Gear You Should Bring. Sonoma County's weather is mild with summer heat ranging from 80's to the very occasional heat wave reaching 100. Winters are also mild, with cool temperatures typically in the 50's with the occasional cold snap reaching into the 20's. If you are hiking Sugarloaf in the Spring to catch the waterfalls, you will want shoes that can handle mud as the trails will be wet from recent rains. With all hikes, remember to pack water, snacks, and sunscreen. Note: We did not have any cell service in this fairly remote Park.
Getting There. From San Francisco, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is about a 70 minute drive without traffic. Take 101 North to Hwy 37. From there take 121 through Sonoma, bypassing most traffic via 116 before you hit Hwy 12. From Santa Rosa, it is an easy 20 minute drive via Hwy 12. Parking fees are included in the $10 State Park entrance fee.
About Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. This 4,900 acre Park is located in Kenwood, California, in the Mayacamas Mountains between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Popular activities include, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. This post is about hiking to the Falls, however, the Park's most popular hike is Bald Mountain. Tent camping is also available but the Park's 44 campsites fill quickly so you will want to reserve in advance. The Park's Visitor Center has family-friendly exhibits as well (winter hours are 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., extended to 7:00 p.m. in the summer). No dogs are permitted at this State Park.
Hiking to Falls. One of the best times to visit Sugarloaf is right after the rains, to catch the Falls at their finest. The Canyon-Pony Gate Loop is just 2 miles roundtrip though there are plenty of ways to add to your hike from here, if you want a longer hike. The hike to the falls takes you immediately into the forest where you are dropped down into the Canyon. The trail is easy and accessible to most hikers, including young children. Fun features include moss-covered rocks, wood stairs, and a mini-water fall created by a connecting creek along the way.
Falls. At the bottom of the Canyon is the Park's waterfalls. The trail runs along the creek so you can continue to view the falls as you hike along this beautiful spot. Afterwards, there is a modest climb out of the canyon and back onto the main entrance road. From here, either walk back to the entrance of the Park or continue on using one of the hiking trails along the way.
Scars of Fires. Sugarloaf Ridge fell victim to two recent wildfires, in 2017 (Nuns fire) and 2020 (Glass fire). Remnants of the fires can be seen throughout the Park. Remarkably though, the Park seems to be thriving even in places where wildfire came through. Photos below are of a fire scarred grove that is thriving today.
Love of Sonoma County. We love how Sonoma County has so much more to offer than just wineries. From beautiful coastal views to forested hikes, we love the diversity of landscape that this County has to offer. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is just one example of the many things you can do while visiting this beautiful Northern California County.
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