The rolling grasslands and pockets of pine forests of the Northern California wine country didn’t entirely burn down amid the devastating wildfires of 2017. And thank goodness for that. While parts of Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Napa counties did suffer enormous damage that will take years, if not decades, to recover from, much of the area is still intact. The region, as a whole, will certainly rely on tourism dollars to help it rebuild. What better way to contribute to the community than embarking on a weekend of trail running, wine tasting and delicious meals?
In November, I was with a group of running friends headed for the quaint town of Healdsburg (about an hour north of San Francisco), when the charred buildings and fields along Highway 101 came into view. “You can see where the fire jumped the highway,” said our driver, who then pointed out several buildings-turned-piles-of-rubble and ash. It was a ghastly scene, to be sure, and quite a contrast to the rolling hills and neatly manicured vineyards we passed further north.
Our destination was Healdsburg, a beautiful small town with a vibrant wine scene, upscale shops and picture-perfect town square. Our first two stops just happened to be the Banshee Tasting Room, a casual tasting room done up in Sonoma-heritage style, and the Healdsburg Running Company, a charming specialty retail shop that hosts numerous weekly runs and organizes races. (The store also collected goods for community members who’d lost their homes in the fires.)
READ MORE: Runners Helping Runners
From there, we headed to our accommodations nestled among the vineyards at Rockpile Ranch, a remote 800-acre private estate and winery located high above Healdsburg and the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area. Staying in well-appointed restored farmhouses on the property, the ranch was our base camp for idyllic trail running, restorative yoga and exquisite meals for the next three days. The trail running in northern Sonoma County, I discovered over the days I was there, is varied and beautiful. And pairing trail running with California wines and fresh cuisine is a recipe for a lovely few days. (Note: the area can have spotty cellular service, which can also add peacefulness to a trip.)
Oak woodlands, Manzanita bushes, tall grasses and redwood groves color the hills around Lake Sonoma gold and green, and 40 miles of trails wind their way around the two arms of the lake. A mix of fireroad and gorgeous singlerack trails roll along the terrain, some with short, steep climbs with appropriate names like “Bummer.” Multiple trailheads provide many options for runs of various lengths. Trails are fast—mostly smooth and very runnable.
This pristine nature preserve sits two miles from the tiny town of Guernville and the Russian River, and the drive from Healdsburg is remarkably scenic along winding roads, past numerous wine and champagne vineyards. In Armstrong Woods, Coast redwood trees tower along trails and include a 310-foot tall, and a 1,400-year-old redwood. Short trails meander along the valley floor, and longer trails climb up to ridgelines and can be connected for longer loops. Be prepared to pay an $8/per vehicle fee to park.
The 4.5-mile out-and-back, relatively flat Kortum trail (named after environmental activist Bill Kortum) runs along the rugged and dramatically rocky Northern California coastline as part of the California Coastal Trail. Combine the Kortum Trail with the 6.2-mile Pomo Canyon Trail that does a loop in the hills above the coast for an gorgeous, almost 11-mile run.
Founded by local runner, Skip Brand, The Healdsburg Running Company (HRC) is located in downtown Healdsburg and hosts numerous events and groups runs, including full moon outings on the trails of Lake Sonoma and Pub Runs. Weekly group gatherings include a Tuesday women’s run, a Thursday family run, and Saturday morning trail runs. The HRC offers maps to local running routes and serves as a lively hub full of resources (and great running shoes and gear) for area runners of all ages.
Local Eats and Sips
This intimate, casual tasting room is one of many in downtown Healdsburg (so make the rounds to discover them all!), and prides itself on top-notch wines at manageable prices.
For flatbread pizza, salads, beer and wine, etc., runners (and non-runners) head to Campo Fina, a charming restaurant downtown Healdsburg with indoor and outdoor seating, and bocce ball courts to boot.
With wine and running (and anything, really), comes the need for good coffee, and Flying Goat is the spot. Located in downtown Healdsburg just off the town plaza.
READ MORE: An Ode to the Post-Run Beer
Numerous races take place in the area throughout the year, but here are a few highlights:
Held in Geyserville in late October, the medium-sized, point-to-point half marathon starts at Francis Ford Coppola Winery and finishes at Warm Springs Recreation Area, sending runners along rolling roads through scenic vineyard lands. A fun and festive post-race wine & music festival await with tastings from several local winery partners.
Set in the heart of Sonoma County’s legendary craft brew scene, the mid-April IPA 10K & Beer Mile Invitational is a celebration of running and beer. The race kicks off with a start line beer toast, sponsored by Crooked Goat Brewing, and at the finish, runners and their guests are treated to the Beer Mile Invitational and Beer & Music Festival at The Barlow outdoor market district that features local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts.
Held mid-April on the trails around Lake Sonoma, this 50-mile race takes place on 86 percent singletrack trails and is a Western States qualifier.
These trail Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10K or 5K races are held on private dirt roads through vineyards in the Sonoma Wine Country, and take place every October.
Held is gorgeous Armstrong Redwoods Natural Reserve, two days of racing in early May include a 5K, 9K, 17K, 30K and 50K.