Foothill Regional Park,
Sonoma County Regional Parks,
Sonoma County
In brief:
2.2 mile loop around small lakes and oak woodlands near Windsor.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.1 mile loop hike is easy; there is one steep uphill and one sharp downhill that can be avoided. Trailhead elevation is about 200 feet. The featured hike climbs to 540 feet, the park's highest point, then descends gradually back to the trailhead -- total elevation change is about 500 feet.

Exposure:
Mixed sun and shade.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
:
1 hour.

Season
:
Very pretty in early spring.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Windsor (Sonoma County), exit Arata. Drive east on Arata about 1.5 miles, then look for the signed park entrance on the left side of the road, past where Arata turns into Hembree Lane.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/396

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3833'39.96"N
Longitude
12247'52.33"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phones, gas, stores, and restaurants back in Windsor near 101. No camping.

Trailhead details:
5 parking spots in a paved lot, with more equestrian parking in an adjacent gravel lot. Most visitors park on the street, where there is abundant space. $7 fee (self register) if you park inside the gates. Restrooms and drinking water at the trailhead, along with a park map at an information signboard (no paper maps available). There is one designated handicapped parking spot, and several trails are well-suited for wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this park.

Rules:
Dogs are permitted on leash. Park is open from sunrise to sunset. Although trails vary from fire road width to narrow paths, on my visit none of the trails were signed as restricted to equestrians or cyclists.

The Official Story:
Sonoma County's Foothill page
Sonoma County's Regional Park office 707-565-2041

Map Choices:
Map from Sonoma County Parks (download pdf)
• North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has park descriptions and a map with only a few park trails shown; the book is helpful if you follow the featured hike.

Foothill Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page




Little Foothill Park is a jewel that shines particularly brightly in spring.Parking lot Pressed right up against housing developments to the west and south, once you head into the heart of Foothill Park's 211 acres you'll find quiet ponds, hillsides popping with wildflowers, and black, blue, and Oregon oaks with soft fresh leaves. Like other Sonoma County parks such as Helen Putnam and Shiloh, Foothill preserves a classic gently rolling north bay landscape, but Foothill is augmented with 3 man-made ponds (created in the 60's, long before the land became a park). Although you can't swim here, the park district does permit fishing.
      Nearly all the 10 or so trails at Foothill are short and easy. Alta Vista Trail climbs to the park's highest point, and is the only steep trail I found. It can easily be avoided, but the ascent and subsequent descent should be manageable even for beginning hikers. On a wildflower or autumn leaf expedition you could cover all Foothills trails in a few hours. Three Lakes TrailThe longest loop is about 2 miles, and if you desire a quick outing with children or dogs, shorter loops are plentiful. The Sonoma County Parks Department features a great map at the trailhead and a few other locations throughout the park , but as there are no paper maps at the trailhead and many junction are unsigned, an initial hike at Foothill can be confusing. There's little danger of really getting lost though, and this is a terrific park to just wander around.
     Start near the information signboard to the right of the restrooms. Three Lakes Trail, a wide multi-use trail topped with a composite material, sweeps right and slightly uphill toward the first pond. Some rough paths depart to the left. Although oaks, the dominant tree in this park, make a strong showing right away, you might also notice madrone and manzanita along the trail. Pond CAfter about 370 feet, you'll reach "Pond A," and a junction. The path to the left heads around the pond, while the path to the right rejoins Three Lakes Trail later on. Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail.
     The trail climbs easily through a coast live and blue oak savanna. Buttercups and shooting stars are common in late winter. At 0.21 mile, the trail crests and reaches a junction (the signpost labels the other trail Oakwood, while the park map shows it as Westside). Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail.
     Descending toward the next pond, Three Lakes Trail soon reaches another junction, this one unsigned, at 0.27 mile. A trail enters from the right (the other end of this trail was passed earlier), and Pond B Loop Trail heads left on a course around the lake. Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail. Alta Vista TrailA few steps later, at 0.36 mile, there's another junction just before a map signboard, on the right. Continue straight on Three Lakes Trail.
     The trail crosses over a bridge, and you'll draw near houses, on the right, and Pond C, to the left. Redwing blackbirds and ducks are commonly seen around the lake. As Three Lakes Trail curves to the left at 0.55 mile, two smaller paths break off to the right and straight ahead from an unsigned junction. (You can skip the climb on Alta Vista by remaining to the left on Three Lakes Trail and then resuming the hike on Meadow Trail.) Continue straight, on Alta Vista Trail.
     The narrow dirt path (apparently multi-use) begins a stiff ascent, through a sloping oak savanna. Look for shooting stars, blue and white lupine, johnnytuck, fiddlenecks, and bluedicks in late winter, brightening the lush green grassland. As the trail ascends, some patches of poison oak crowd the trail, and a handful of madrone and Oregon oak are mixed through blue, black, and coast live oaks. Descending on Alta Vista TrailNear the top, buckeyes and California bays appear as well. Finally, you'll reach the park's highest point, where a coast live oak and a buckeye share the view to the northwest. A few steps past the hilltop, the trail curves left at the park boundary and begins a sharp descent, following a corridor of power poles. A blend of madrone, manzanita, oaks, and buckeye line the trail. Some massive black oaks must be gorgeous in autumn, when their leaves blush orange-red. Alta Vista Trail levels out in a small meadow where saxifrage and shooting stars were blooming in March. Look to the right here, past the fenced park border and a pond, for a surprising view to Mount St. Helena, looming to the northeast. View to Mount St. Helena from the end of Alta Vista TrailAt 1.08 miles, Alta Vista Trail ends at an unsigned junction (a path has been worn in, making this a triangle shaped intersection) with Oakwood Trail. Turn right onto Oakwood Trail.
     At a level grade, multi-use Oakwood Trail skirts the flanks of a lightly wooded hill. There's a bench on the slope to the left, with a nice view of a pond on private property. Look for a huge manzanita on the right. At 1.16 miles, an unsigned trail departs downhill to the left. Continue straight on Oakwood Trail.
     With a little gorge on the left and a hill on the right, Oakwood Trail travels slightly downhill through oaks and grassland. Once over a footbridge the trail ascends a bit, and passes through a rerouted area. A fence, in places trellised with poison oak, marks the park boundary to the right. At 1.29 miles, an unsigned trail heads right uphill (if you'd like another long view to Mount St. Helena, climb to the knoll, then retrace your steps to this junction). Veer left to remain on Oakwood Trail.Oakwood Trail
     The trail makes a circuit around a hilltop, where an assortment of picturesque blue oaks grace the grassland. When I hiked here in March 2002, there was an extravagant display of blue and white lupines on a steep descending hillside off the left of the trail. I heard turkeys gobbling back and forth somewhere close by. At 1.49 miles, you'll meet, on the right, the other end of the path that began back at the last junction. Continue straight (left) on Oakwood Trail.
     The trail passes a collection of cypress trees, then levels out. A few picnic tables sit in the shelter of anorak woodland. At 1.71 miles, Oakwood Trail ends at a signed triangle junction with Westside Trail (once again, the signpost and map disagree about names here; the map shows the continuation of the trail to the right as Westside, while the signpost reads Oakwood). Westside TrailBear right, and a few feet later, turn right.
     Madrone, oaks, and manzanita line the multi-use trail, blocking any views. Westside Trail descends gradually. There are two unsigned junctions, one at 1.80 miles with a path descending left to Pond A, and a second at 1.89 miles, heading right to a water tank and the park boundary. Continue straight at both of these. You might see iris, hound's tongue, and mule ear sunflowers along the trail. At 2.00 miles, another unsigned path veers left. Continue straight, and a few steps later you'll emerge near the park border. Westside Trail curves left and descends back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.08 miles
Last hiked: Monday, March 11, 2002