Saddle Mountain is a 960-acre preserve sitting above Rincon Valley at the top of the eastern boundary of Santa Rosa owned by Sonoma County’s AG and Open Space. For years we have driven over Calistoga Road and wondered who lived up on this mountain and how could we get up there. This was our chance to explore an open space not yet open to the public but preserved forever.
It was a chilly misty morning when we met up with a group of strangers linked by LandPaths to go hike along Saddle Mountain above our backyard. Little did we know how much adventure we were going to have!
Carpooling from our local library parking lot we went over Calistoga Road only to take a private gated drive. We didn’t know what we were going to see, where we were going (except for the LandPaths guide) and we didn’t know the path. We were the only cars in the small dirt parking lot. After gathering our hiking gear and running through the safety orientation we headed up a steep fire road.
As we hiked higher and higher up the fire road, more of our surroundings came into view. We were hiking away from the canyon and toward the clouds. Since this was the first time our guide had been on this trail, we were like pioneers exploring the land with just a map and a bad sense of direction. 🙂 A deer popped over from one of the ridges to check us out and quickly went back the way she came when she saw all of us humans. Then an adorable hummingbird with bright red neck feathers appeared posing for us on top of some brush.
Following the fire road, we came across our first kill site of the day. Some thought the bones were deer. We haven’t seen bones picked so clean and still in perfect condition. They had started to sink into the mud along the trail but were so clean. It was crazy to see! A reminder that we were on wildland that is not often traveled by humans.
At the locked gate, we figured out we were on the wrong path. Not sure how we missed the trail marker we headed in the general direction of the overlook. Deer had cleared a narrow trail and we followed it up to another road. From here we followed the road that led to houses dotting the hillside. How lucky are they to live in this gorgeous remote yet close to civilization piece of land?!
Ferns lined one side of the road and bay laurels shaded the other side. We learned about the various native plants (should have taken notes!) as we walked along the road. It was so peaceful and quiet. It was just the 7 of us on the road, on the mountain. We found the spot where the trail we were supposed to take met the road and made note of it for our way back. Knowing we were finally on the right path we trekked on with more bounce to our steps.
Another fire road was marked to take us past an old orchard and remnants of an old homestead. Continuing up the road the oaks and bays were arching over our path…and then the trail opened up and all we could see was fog and open meadows creeping up the hillside. We were almost to the Saddle Mountain overlook!
Joy and excitement spiked our conversation as we reached the Saddle Mountain overlook. It was super cloudy when we reached the overlook. Our LandPaths guide pulled out a photo of the views on a clear day that reached all the way out to Spring Lake and Taylor Mountain. If you know our lovely city of Santa Rosa, these are a couple of major landmarks in the area. As we were enjoying our accomplishment of reaching the overlook, the clouds drifted away and all of a sudden, we could see Spring Lake! It was just for a few minutes but it was so great to see this after finding our way as a group to the overlook.
The views were snapped up by our cameras and phones then the clouds moved back in and it started to drizzle. We headed up to the second overlook, hence the name Saddle Mountain, just to see where it was and enjoyed views of the clouds. The oak trees that were thriving on the hillside were spectacular. They had all the room they needed to spread out their gnarly limbs and breath in the fresh air from high atop the hillside.
One day, this land will be open to the public. The sunset views from the top of Saddle Mountain overlooking Santa Rosa all the way out toward the coast will be amazing to experience!
Birds were ducking into the coyote bushes and burrowing in to avoid the impending rainy weather as we walked back down the hill to the road. Making our way back we found the correct trail to head back down and followed the little white flags that marked the trail.
This part of the trail was much more moist. Moss growing on all the trees, ferns thriving, mushrooms everywhere, and small streams flowing down the mountainside toward the canyon. We crisscrossed the streams as we followed the little white flags and came to an opening in the trees.
There was another kill site. It appeared to be multiple animals that were eaten there. Sort of like a buffet for the predators and scavengers. It was creepy yet intriguing at the same time. Since humans don’t walk these trails often the predator animals must feel safe to bring their dinners there to munch on. We checked out the various bones remaining that were strewn across the area and then headed on.
The trail led us back to the fire road that we walked up on and even had 2 white flags to mark the trail. We ALL missed those! Possibly because we were so excited as we hiked up the trail in the beginning that we didn’t pay attention to the details. It was sort of great that we were able to explore more of Saddle Mountain than if we had just followed the flags. AND we worked as a group with all of our skills to find the correct path. Win win!
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We did about 4 miles with 600 ft elevation gain. This is not open to the public yet and only accessible through Sonoma County’s AG and Open Space or LandPaths. Check out their websites and social media for upcoming events!
Things We Love:
Snack bars! Thank goodness for snack bars! When we go on hikes we don’t stop and have lunch halfway as some people do. We stop and enjoy a snack at some point to keep our energy going. We always have a Tanka Bar and a protein bar in our packs for hikes. While on group hikes this is handy so others that do enjoy having lunch don’t feel bad that we aren’t eating something and on our own hikes we get to keep up our energy levels. Do you pack a lunch or just a snack for hikes? Do you have a favorite snack? Hit reply and let us know!