“Mediocre dirt roads and some singletrack trail lead to the finest views in Sonoma.”
— Nick Wilder
While this route mostly uses dirt roads that are not particularly special, the views from MOST of the route are incredible, and make this a great run, and a good option when other trails are muddy (these stay very dry).
From the parking area, run up open meadow with views of the surrounding hills. Enter a particularly nice oak forest - huge old trees with a clear understory - and take a few switchbacks.
All too soon, you'll have a short section through drier manzanita scrub, then you'll pop out on the paved section of the Bald Mountain Trail
From here, take a right and grind up and up from the beginning to end; not terribly steep, but with not many rests. Near the top, the road turns left to a communication tower at Red Mountain. It's not worth the side trip, so take a right on a dirt road for the final bit that curves around to the summit of Bald Mountain at 2,729'.
The summit is certainly one of the best in the bay area: perfect 360-degree views in all directions. Vineyards, Napa, and Sonoma valleys, Berkeley, Oakland, Mt Tamalpais, the SF bay, and even snowy Sierras on a clear day (130 miles)!
From the top of the Bald Mountain, go back just below the summit and pick up Gray Pine Trail
. The trail bobs up and down the ridgeline with short but steep sections and is aerobically challenging. The trail gets more wooded as you descend but the scenery remains beautiful. It stays very dry even after rains (as does the entire Bald Mountain Loop).
There are indeed a few Gray Pine trees, but you'll mostly be focused on the scenery on this one!
This trail ends at an intersection with several options. For this route, go left and find the Hillside Trail
. This abandoned dirt road is surprisingly hilly, though there's not much net elevation change. Go up and down through pleasant oak forests; they're more dense here and there are not many wide-open views as there are in other trails.
There are several stream crossings that are difficult to cross after big rains (or take your shoes off!)
You'll end up at a campground just a short distance from your starting location.