Jenner Headlands Preserve is a wild 5,630 acres just north of the town of Jenner where the Russian River meets the ocean and home to some of the most amazing views along the Sonoma Coast! Multiple non-profits came together to purchase and preserve this land for all of us to enjoy! The 4.7 mile Sea to Sky trail to Raptor Ridge loop is an easy hike full of gorgeous views of the ocean, Russian River, and Belted Galloway (oreo) cows. Wildflowers in late spring are also a joy to see!
We have been lucky enough to hike on this land a few times before it was open to the public. Once on a wildflower hike with The Wildlands Conservancy and a guided hike to Pole Mountain with Sonoma Land Trust as well as volunteering at the top of Pole Mountain when the Jenner Headlands Preserve first opened to the public last September. All of our experiences at Jenner Headlands Preserve have been absolutely amazing! We had volunteered on Earth Day with Sonoma Land Trust’s booth and were telling everyone how amazing this new park is yet we hadn’t been on the new trails since the opening. So we thought we had better go and check out all the hard work that was put into this park!
Sea to Sky Trail
When you pull into the new parking lot you immediately see how much thought and effort went into every piece of the Jenner Headlands Preserve. Excited for an adventure with just the two of us exploring this magical place we parked and headed off on the smooth path greeted by California poppies while enjoying views of the ocean. It was a clear, calm Sunday afternoon that was just begging us to take the Sea to Sky trail first.
There are new picnic benches just beyond the restrooms with some great views and a little shelter from the wind. After passing these, we headed up the switchbacks of the Sea to Sky Trail. We kept turning around to enjoy the 180-degree views of the ocean and Jenner below. Wildflowers peeked through the grasses lining the trail. There were a few people coming down as we were heading up. Everyone seemed like they were enjoying the views as much as we were. At the top of the first hill, there was a permanent telescope that we could look through! Excited that it was a clear day and whales might still be migrating north we hurriedly went up and looked through it. Did not see any whales but it was powerful enough to see the seals at the mouth of the Russian River sunbathing!
After enjoying the views of the ocean and canyon on the other side we turned and made our way up a straight shot of about 300 feet in elevation gain to a cattle gate. Seriously, the views kept getting more and more incredible! Not only did we have all the ocean views but the most adorable cows with fuzzy ears and sassy attitudes were staring us down as we walked by. They look like Oreo cookies but are actually Belted Galloway cows. They might still have their winter coats on because they were so much more fuzzy than that last time we saw them! We couldn’t stop talking to them and taking their photos! Of course, we were in their home so we were very respectful of their space but the ears…they were just so darn cute!
We could see the tree line in the distance and stayed on the trail to see where it would lead us. Guess where it led us?!?! To more Oreo cows!! Some were relaxing under the trees just beyond a large area of wild irises and some were chewing the cud along the trail. A mama was licking her baby’s face clean while we walked by and stopped and took an interest in us. They watched intently as we walked by and decided to follow us on the trail. Yes, they followed us! We were just walking along minding our own business and they hopped on the trail (fire road) a little ways behind us. We would stop and turn around and they would stop. We would walk and they would walk. This went on until we reached Hawk Hill where there was another group of Oreo cows. They went and joined their friends and we took the long way around to get to the top of Hawk Hill. One of the cows was pretty adamant about staying right on the trail and staring us down so we gladly gave him the right of way. 🙂
At the top of Hawk Hill, we actually saw two red-tailed hawks! They were soaring high above us calling each other. Probably giggling a little too about these two humans that were hanging with the cows! This is a great bird-watching spot! AND the views from there were stunning. Yes, we keep bringing up the views but it is so hard to not talk about them when everything you see is so incredibly beautiful! When we looked south we had amazing views of the Russian River dumping into the ocean. When we looked north we had views of the canyons beyond. East were cows. West was the expansive Pacific Ocean! It was definitely a prime spot to take in the 360-degree views!
Once we were done admiring everything we headed back down the hill onto Raptor Ridge trail toward the old historic barn.
Raptor Ridge Trail
Passing by the old historic barn on Raptor Ridge trail we started heading downhill. Poppies and other wildflowers were lining the narrow trail as we carefully walked down the hill with the views of the ocean in front of us. Cannot express how beautiful Jenner Headlands Preserve is and how amazing the views are from there! We followed a few switchbacks to an outcropping of serpentine rock with brave trees growing through the rocks. The wind howls pretty well along the coast so we can only imagine what their root system is like! Pausing at this spot wondering how many animals lived in there the bosslady turned to continue on the trail and almost stepped on a gardener snake. She screamed. She screamed really loud and then laughed. It was a bit startling for both of us!
With our eyes peeled for more critters cruising across the trail, we kept going. There were holes in the ground along the trail showing signs of wildlife out there. The trail led us down toward Highway 1 and the vegetation became more dense and the trail more muddy. That was totally ok! We dropped down and crossed a creek while the cars were zooming by on the highway before climbing back up a bit on the trail. There’s a rock at the top of a small hill that someone has painted pink. The story goes that it first was painted pink during breast cancer awareness and that people sneak up there and touch up the paint every year. You can see for yourself if you think it looks like a woman’s breast or not! 🙂
From here the trail leads you around and back to the beginning. Stopping at the cypress trees, we took in the amazing views one last time and enjoyed the wonderfully fresh air before heading back to the truck. We took Highway 1 down the coast to Bodega and headed home from there. It was a beautiful day for a coastal hike and we didn’t want the beauty to end!
Parking is free! Dogs on leash ok. Easy 4.7 mile hike with 958 ft elevation gain/loss. No shade and the coast can be windy and unpredictable so dress in layers! The nearest town is Jenner and if you want a great cup of coffee, stop at Cafe Aquatica and grab a couple of snacks too!
Things We Love:
We have been loving the spring weather! Not too hot, not too cold and as of late we have been getting the fog in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon. While this might trick the mind into thinking that sunscreen isn’t needed since it isn’t blazing hot and full sun, one still needs to wear it! Sunscreen is especially important when you are near the ocean due to the reflection off the water. We like to use Beauty Counter’s Mineral Sunscreen (see Amazon link below). It goes on well and doesn’t leave your skin feeling sticky or smelly which is great! There’s no real fragrance to attract any bugs either! The fact that is is more natural and environmentally friendly is a huge plus for us! It works great too! Try it for yourself and let us know how you like it or if there’s another brand that you like better! We are all ears! Thankfully they aren’t sunburned ears! 😉
Where Else Can You Find Us?
Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!