Lake Sonoma is actually a reservoir and has a $5 day use fee that is covered by an America the Beautiful pass. The iron rangers have been under attack, so this needs to be paid at the Visitor Center below the dam rather than at the parking areas. They warned me that the trails were "muddy in places" and since the next visitor asked how full the lake was, I heard that the lake is well over capacity at the moment. They are more likely to have a copy of the rough trail maps, too. I picked out a loop of interconnecting trails around Rockpile Road and initially went to start at Lone Rock until finding that I could not pay my fee. On my return, I decided not to drive up quite so far and start at Little Flat instead. It is usually best not to start at the high point anyway. The parking is a thick gravel lot that takes the rain. The trail is well signed and heads off into the trees. I take in the view of the lake at the side of the lot then follow along into the trees which seem to be generally madrones with moss covered oaks and bays thrown in.
|Starting out into the madrone forest.|
The trails are generally labeled, but there also seem to be a number of older trails. Some of these seem to be steeper versions of the current trail system and some seem to be abandoned trails. There is an unused trail directly below me as I start and soon my trail splits without a sign. I am expecting a junction, so take the right. This is followed by another junction without a sign, but again there should be one and I take the left. This goes into a pleasant little climb until suddenly I am at the road, which is not where I wanted to be. Meanwhile, the map in my hand is more of an impression of the trails than an accurate map. It is still helpful.
|The oaks and bays have largely indistinguishable bark since it is covered over with a very long green fur of moss.|
|A few interesting mushrooms are found along the way, too.|
|Even the smallest creeks are flowing nicely today.|
Back down and splashing through the creeks, I keep wandering downward noticing that the second junction should have been the first junction, as marked by little slapsticks, and the trail I followed is extra although clearly more than just a shortcut trail. Down at the bottom, trail is unmarked again, but this time without extra bits. From here, I am wandering a rolling trail near the lake which is not all that visible.
|The creeks have a few little waterfalls.|
|Peeking through the madrones at the lake and dam.|
|The fungus comes in some more interesting types than mushrooms and parts of lichen, too.|
There are some old trails down to the lake as I go. Again, they were clearly built on purpose, not just use trails, but seem to have been abandoned. Redwoods add into the mix of trees. These also do not let much moss grow upon them. The trail is a bit more work than expected of something just traveling along the side of a lake.
|These redwoods are probably a bit unhappy with the current level of the lake.|
|It really is some very nice trail and generally not muddy.|
|Some irises, although getting a touch old, because there is always something flowering.|
Marked trail heads up to Grey Pine, another parking area, along the way. My trail starts climbing away from the lake. Here, the trail shows some erosion problems and actually does have some of the muddy spots I was warned about. It passes some more abandoned trail climbing upward before splitting where I am not expecting it. I eventually go right reasoning that a log ahead would not have needed to be cut if that was not the correct trail. This bit of trail is marked by pink ribbons, which I have not seen before, and seems rather unused. It comes within 20 feet of the other trail as they both climb and that one looks so much more like what I have been traveling that I cross over to take it up. It takes me past an archery range, which is unexpected, and stops at Lone Rock, which is where I expect to be eventually.
|Another section of lake is almost visible through the brush and trees.|
|There are some live oaks, but many are deciduous like these in their green moss fur.|
|A tortured and burned manzanita trunk. Higher up, there are some manzanita too.|
|A salamander strolls across the trail after an initial tumble down it showing off that bright underside.|
|Getting high enough for a little look at the surrounding hills.|
|Older madrones can have a rougher bark as well, but still resist much of the moss.|
Across the parking lot, the trail starts again along the side of the road, then crosses to the Half a Canoe Loop. I take a diversion up and around on the Boar Scat Loop before traveling back along Half a Canoe, which seems to be an old service road. The Boar Scat Loop has a few views and a silly sign trying to justify the name of the trail. The sign with the story seems an odd addition, but may raise a smile for some who pass by.
|Into grassy hills with scattered live oaks. Something looking more like goats than anything else is grazing at the top.|
|High above the road, I can see the distant mountains.|
|And there is a lake peeking out of the trees down there.|
|A big old live oak supports moss on its trunk and lichen on its branches.|
A picnic table at the top as the little loop rejoins the big loop is a nice stop for snacks and drawing.
|The south branch of the lake. It is visibly muddy from the storm inflow.|
I take the Half a Canoe Trail shortly before breaking off onto Outcrop Trail for an even larger loop toward Madrone Point, then back again along Cove Trail. Part of this is along service road, which is not the most pleasant trail surface. It does have some oddities along it.
|The local wild boars run off from some of their diggings.|
|Following the trail through a hill side of young oaks.|
|Rot can be beautiful.|
This trail crosses some larger creeks without the bridges seen on the north side trails, although not really much of a problem. There are campers out on Madrone Point, one of a few camps in the area that can be used on a walk in or boat in basis.
|The cove that Cove Trail travels near.|
|More wildlife along the way.|
Half a Canoe Trail drops down toward the lake, then down into the lake. It seems the information I overheard is more important than the warning I was given. None of the mud has tried to stop me in my path, but lake on trail seems like a bigger problem. As usual, I am already hiking too long to get back before dark, so turning back and returning the other direction is not attractive. There is a small trail up the side and along the grasses instead, so I go for that.
|The end of Half a Canoe for today, but surely if one just follows the shore around, the other end will be easy to find. The entire trail looks like an old road.|
|There it is, the other side of the trail as it drops into the lake after a long, flat section.|
The traverse is simple at first, but the hillside does become quite steep. The trail I am following actually looks like more pig trail. As a curve around another inlet of the lake, it becomes obvious why the trail would chose to find a way lower down. A sharp sided ravine makes a difficult obstacle and the hillside is still quite steep. I am not the first to try this and I can see a couple successful trails. It takes quite a bit of care to pick my way along the one I think I can best travel. With a bit of luck, it works out and I can travel a progressively easier hillside to the trail again for the climb up Bummer Peak.
|There are more views of the lake on this part, but it is a southerly slope.|
I clearly played for too long on the bridge in the morning and it is getting a bit dark as I get to the top of the trail, but I still have to hit the minor peak. There is less trail up it, but another salamander, this time black with some white spots, at the top. For the return, I can take more Half a Canoe directly along the ridge line or the North Slope Trail around the edge before catching Bummer Trail down the side and back to my parking. The North Slope Trail makes sense in the moment, but it is perfectly flat. The warning about mud applies almost entirely to those spots of trail that are flat. This one is all mud.
|Another salamander, this one hiding away in a tree.|
The trail down off the mountain is easy enough to find. It winds downward through some of the bigger trees in the area before splitting to go off to the boat ramp or up to the road. I go for the road and follow it down to the parking as the shortest way in the dark. Also as the safer way, but the mud on the edge of the road makes it doubtful I got that. It is very slick in spots.
©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 20 January 2017