A popular destination for recreation in Wine Country
HIGHLIGHTS: With a 2,700 acre lake, 50 miles of shoreline and 17,615 acres of adjoining preserve land, this sprawling reservoir system provides drinking water and flood protection to adjacent communities. The protected lands around the lake also preserve watershed integrity and afford a great many recreational options. Lake Sonoma is one of the most popular destinations in the Wine Country, drawing nearly one million visitors annually. Much of the watershed land is heavily forested, with oak woodlands and savannas predominating on the east side of the lake and redwood and mixed coniferous forest on the west side.
ACTIVITIES: Lake Sonoma’s list of recreational options is very long: camping, hiking, picknicking, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing, archery and Frisbee golf to name a few. The park’s trails are designated for different uses: Nature trails are short and reserved for hikers. Longer trails may be used by hikers and equestrians. Most trails are open to mountain bikers. A dog park allows canine owners to exercise their pets.
VISITOR CENTER: The Recreation Area is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and maintains a visitor center. A fish hatchery also is open to the public.
CAMPGROUNDS: The Recreation Area has 99 regular campsites and 12 primitive boat-in campgrounds; some of the boat-in campgrounds are accessible by hiking and equestrian trails. Showers available at developed campgrounds. RV access, but no hookups.
TRAILS: Lake Sonoma has 50 miles of trails, offering options from a short stroll on a nature trail to all-day hikes. Pick up a map at the visitor center at the base of Warm Springs Dam before heading out. Hikers and equestrians share most trails; mountain bikers are barred from certain routes. Motorized vehicles are forbidden on all the Recreation Area’s trails.
A few words of caution: Lake Sonoma is good reptile habitat, and rattlesnakes are fairly common and highly active spring through fall. Exercise appropriate awareness. Feral pigs are a long-standing problem for the Recreation Area. Their incessant rooting causes erosion, they devour threatened native flora and fauna, and they can become aggressive if they feel threatened. Ticks also are abundant, and some carry Lyme Disease; hikers should subject themselves to thorough body checks after a day’s outing.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR HIGHLIGHT: The fish hatchery at the base of Warm Springs Dam propagates steelhead trout and endangered coho salmon. The facility is open to the public, allowing visitors a close look at this fascinating process. A particularly good time to visit is in the winter, when the spawning fish return to the hatchery after reaching maturity at sea.
HIDDEN GEM: The primitive boat-in camps provide a near-total sense of isolation in a beautiful lakeside wilderness. Wildlife is extremely abundant at Lake Sonoma, particularly during dusk: feeding black bass splash on the surface of the water, great blue herons forage in the shallows, black-tailed deer and the ubiquitous feral pigs venture to the shore to drink. With luck, you may see a bobcat, coyote, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, golden eagle or bald eagle.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Restrooms, picnic areas, some campsites, and boat ramps are accessible.
DOGS: On-leash on trails; off-leash in the dog park.
ENTRANCE FEE: $5 per vehicle.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Special events and programs are often held at Lake Sonoma, including races and Earth Day events. Visit the events page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Also, school tours may be arranged at the hatchery.
MORE INFORMATION: The visitor center and fish hatchery may be reached at 707-431-4533. For general information, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 707-433-9483.
PLACES TO EAT AND STAY: Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Santa Rosa are all nearby, and offer numerous lodging and dining options. The historic Dry Creek General Store on Dry Creek Road en route to the reservoir has an excellent deli. The Madrona Manor in Healdsburg and Piacere in Cloverdale are locally renowned restaurants. The Best Western Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg and the Wine Country Inn in Cloverdale offer good accommodations at reasonable prices.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Just downstream of Lake Sonoma, Warm Springs Fish Hatchery produces coho salmon and steelhead for waters in the Russian River drainage.
DON’T MISS: Be sure to check out the Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival that takes place in February.
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