Pigs, ticks, and poison oak... OH MY!
I''m surprised that a trail review for Lake Sonoma doesn''t already exists. But then again, I''m not. I have heard from a few people that there was a "loop opened up" around the lake. But when we got to the park headquarters the lady at the desk had no idea what we were talking about. The map does show a loop going all the way around the lake, but it wasn''t very detailed as we soon found out.
Starting on the southwest end of the lake after turning on Skaggs Springs Rd. the trail heads out some rocky sections with attack poison oak laying in wait near shoulder level, but not too much. The trail is not too well maintained, at least not at this time of year because lots of it had thick grass whipping at our fingers as we flew through narrow single-track sections. It is definitely a roller-coast ride the entire 25 miles, and bring plenty of water. In the spring there are so many creek crossings (and even a RIVER crossing) that you could bring a filter and have water when you needed it. In the summer it gets pretty damn hot up there.
The climbs are steep and taxing but not too long except for when you''re about 10 miles out.
We got lost quite easily because the maps provided by the tourist office SUCK. They are the worst maps I''ve ever seen. North points to your right as you read the map so it''s easy to have trouble interpreting it. Also, the detail of the trails is so poor that several of the named paths we encountered weren''t even on the map. We did a lot of creek wading, but you actually have to in order to complete this loop as the trail cuts across a very wide creek (almost a river) on the back side of the park.
There is lots of wildlife out here also, lots of signs of pigs tearing up the trail, and cool stuff in the water like brown salamanders, fish, snakes, etc... I got nailed by a tick and my side looks DISGUSTING now (the tick was removed but I swear these things give you the nastiest bites on the planet)... Wear lots of bug repellant on this ride and you should be better off than I was.
A strong rider with plenty of water and a sense of direction can probable do this loop in 3 hours or less. It took us 5 and a half after getting lost, backtracking, and stopping to take pictures. We were also ill-prepared. It''s rugged out there but it''s a GREAT ride, and well worth a 40 minute drive to get there.
Summary: I just rode the big loop at Lake Sonoma for the second time today(first time was two weeks ago)! I was telling the guys that I was riding with that I thought that Lake Sonoma gets a bad rap on the Internet. I thought that I'd make an effort to mention what other reviewers leave out as I was born and raised in Healdsburg, yet I still had never ridden Lake Sonoma because it never sounded appealing from what I read on here and any of the locals that I knew who liked it were more of the roadie variety who don't measure a ride by how fun it is like I do. Other reviewers talk about the ticks and the poison oak and never mention the beauty, the challenge, the fun and the sense of adventure that comes with riding someplace remote where you probably won't cross paths with anyone else the whole day. I also looked on the forums and everyone just talks about the suffering aspect of doing a ride that has a lot of climbing, but don't mention how twisty and fun some sections are. The water crossings also add to the sense of adventure! Yes, you need to bring a lot of water and food and be ready for a serious workout, but the challenges aren't purely aerobic, there are plenty of technical challenges as well. Go ride it!
Recommended Route: Start from gravel parking lot below the lookout and ride clockwise. Stay left when you reach the horse trough and keep your eye out for the road once you reach Liberty Glen or add on some more mileage with the trail network around that side of the lake. The shortest option is about 20 miles and 4000 ft of climbing. We did an out and back on Boar Scat once we reached the road, which added another 5 miles with very little elevation gain onto the ride and was a good section to cool down on and catch some nice views!
Other recommended trails in the same area: Oat Hill Mine and Annadel
I hit the road at 8AM. Destination: Lake Sonoma. My plan was to ride around Warm Springs arm of the lake.
And I did it. 25 miles (including some side trips). Slow, difficult miles. My average speed was something like 6 mph.
It's tight and technical. Those of you who have raced the Billy Cross course know the territory. The trail is narrow with lots of tight turns, short, steep climbs, gullys, creeks, creek beds, star thistle, hard pack, loose pack, shale, silt, leaves, impossibly tight switchbacks that are almost always lead immediately into some ridiculously steep climb. I'm sure some of you would probably love it. But for me, it's just too slow, and not that much fun. But if you're feeling adventurous, you might enjoy the challenge.
I circled the lake in a counter-clockwise direction. Things are a little less technical on the southern end. The Army Corp of Engineers website has a fuzzy, lo-rez map. If you call the visitor center, they'll mail you a nice trail map. Pretty much everything south of Dry Creek Rd is open to bikes (that is, the area around the Warm Springs arm of the lake). At the extreme west end of the lake the trail can be hard to find in a few spots.
I spent most of the ride in my granny ring, which is unusual for me. 25 miles is well within my range, but this ride was tiring because I could never maintain any momentum or get into a groove...I was constantly accelerating, braking, shifting, negotiating, perspiring, falling, swearing, and cramping.
Yes, about 3/4 of the way through the ride I started getting intermittent leg cramps. I'd have to dismount and walk for a while until they went away. Man, those things HURT. About 1/4 mile from my van it got so bad I couldn't move. It finally subsided to the point where I could drive home while downing 32 oz of Gatoraid and a banana. When I got home, I had a cramp attack set off by lifting my foot to step on my parking brake pedal. OWWW! I stumbled out of the of the van, and my son just happened to be there. He wanted to help but didn’t know what to do- there was nothing he could do- and all I could say was !@($&%*(#!!?>!.
Recommended Route: Start at the South Lake Trailhead and go clockwise around the lake. Actually, you don't ride around the entire lake, you only ride around the Warm Springs arm of the lake, which is the part of the lake south of the big bridge.
Summary: It's too bad the person that wrote the review above didn't provide any useful information. Here's a shot at some news you can use:
- Take the Dry Creek Road exit off 101 (go west) until you get to the visitor center. GET MAPS! Fill up on water if you haven't already.
- Drive to one of the trailheads described below (they're all marked on the map).
- Be aware that everything NORTH (check the map, north is to the right) of Rockpile Road is not officially open to bikes but a ranger kindy looked the other way as we rode the trails anyway. Seems that the locals are pretty laid-back about this until it becomes a problem. LET'S NOT MAKE IT ONE! YIELD TO HIKERS!
Recommended Route: Here are some recommended routes:
- South Lake Trailhead: Out and back on South Lake Trail
- Liberty Glen Campground: Out and back on Rancheria Creek Trail
- Little Flat Trailhead: (this is the route I rode. It was tough) Bummer Peak Trail (very steep, loose and narrow, lots of hike a bike), left on Half a Canoe (very steep fire road going down to the lake), Left toward Madrone Point Camp, stay on the fire road (I think it's Rancheria Creek trail) until you see a SUPER steep narrow trail ahead going straight up a hill. Don't take it. Take the next fire road to your right (not the other one to your left marked "trail" and climb up to Liberty Glen Camp. Climb the road up to Rockpile Road, then turn right and go down (fast) to Lone Rock camp on the left. Take the trailhead behind the latrine (dry creek trail) and use the force (and your map) to avoid going back up or down to the lake, but rather go back to Little Flat Trailhead. I would not recommend this route. I would recommend an out and back on Dry Creek/Oak Knoll from Little Flat. You could also do a loop out on Dry Creek/Oak Knoll up to Liberty Camp and then back on Serpentine/Half-a-Canoe/Bummer Peak. That would be fun!
Other recommended trails in the same area: Caution:
- Bummer Peak is a seriously steep fire road on one side and the trail side is also steep, narrow and loose. Difficult climbing (unless you're an expert racer) but fun going down. If you're trying to do the whole loop around the lake and you do this at the end it might just kill ya!
Annadel State Park, Boggs Mountain (near Calistoga)