Sonoma Creek Falls

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park / Kenwood / Santa Rosa, California, USA

About Sonoma Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip or 1 mile one-way shuttle
Suggested Time: 45 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-05-22
Date last visited: 2020-02-21

Waterfall Latitude: 38.43993
Waterfall Longitude: -122.52346

Sonoma Creek Falls was kind of our waterfalling excuse to explore part of the famed Bay Area wine country of Sonoma and Napa Valley.

In particular, this waterfall was in Sonoma County as part of the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, which protected the part of the Mayacamas Mountains (i.e. the mountains separating Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley) protecting the Sonoma Creek watershed near Kenwood.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_059_02212020 - Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma Creek Falls

Indeed, the Sugarloaf Ridge itself apparently had a substantial enough of a drainage system to supply Sonoma Creek with a surprisingly healthy flow draining west into Adobe Canyon.

Even though we never would have thought that a legitimate waterfall could exist in either Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley (due to the somewhat dry climate and very intense cultivation at the expense of Nature), the Sonoma Creek Falls made us reconsider this assertion.

While the waterfall has a modest-sized multi-tiered characteristic with a cumulative height of about 15-25ft, I found the waterfall’s surprising longevity, cool air (even when it was hot elsewhere), and surrounding serenity to be Sonoma Creek Falls’ most alluring attributes.

Sonoma Creek’s Longevity

I tended to think of Sonoma Creek as having a seasonal flow that wouldn’t last that long after the last significant storm.

That said, to better illustrate the longevity of Sonoma Creek Falls, we’ll call attention to a couple of our firsthand experiences.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_050_05222016 - Sonoma Creek Falls as seen on our first visit in mid-May 2016
Sonoma Creek Falls as seen on our first visit in mid-May 2016

The first time we made a visit was in mid-May 2016, which was actually a fairly above-average rainfall year.

In fact, we recognized that a scattered storm that caused snow to fall around Lake Tahoe during this visit might have also rejuvenated the waterfall, and that in turn provided us a little more slack in terms of timing our visit.

However, as you can see in the photo above, it had a pretty healthy flow this far into Spring that year.

The second time we made a visit was in late February 2020, but this followed a very dry January and February after a pretty intense series of storms had hit most of California through most of December.

While the surrounding hillsides of both Napa and Sonoma Valleys were plagued with brownish hills (worrying signs of the start what seemed to be a dry Winter), Sonoma Creek appeared to still remain resilient.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_021_02212020 - Blackened bark at the base of these tall trees on the way to Sonoma Creek Falls was indicative of a past fire that ran through here, but in February 2020, it looked like California is in the process of facing a drought year
Blackened bark at the base of these tall trees on the way to Sonoma Creek Falls was indicative of a past fire that ran through here, but in February 2020, it looked like California is in the process of facing a drought year

In fact, we visited on a pretty hot day, but the area around Sonoma Creek in Adobe Canyon was refreshingly cool.

The bottom line is that the health of Sonoma Creek depends on whether enough rainfall had accumulated in the season to sustain the creek’s flow in the Winter and Spring months.

Generally, I have doubts that this waterfall would last that far into the late Spring and early Summer periods, and it probably won’t have any significant flow again until the following rainy season in the Winter.

That said, I can totally foresee a scenario where Sonoma Creek Falls may run dry or just trickle in the Winter of a drought year so you really have to pay attention to the rainfall totals and the recent weather history for the best experience.

Experiencing Sonoma Creek Falls

It turned out that there were a couple of different ways to visit the Sonoma Creek Falls – one from its upper trailhead and one from its lower trailhead (see directions below for both).

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_007_05222016 - Descending from the upper trailhead onto the Canyon Trail in pursuit of Sonoma Creek Falls
Descending from the upper trailhead onto the Canyon Trail in pursuit of Sonoma Creek Falls

The first option started from its upper trailhead and descended to the waterfall before either returning back the way we’d come from or continue descending to the lower trailhead.

The second option started from its lower trailhead, and then gently climbed up to the waterfall before returning back the way we came (though you could keep walking up to the upper trailhead if you wanted to).

Both options required a hike of about a mile in total, but I found the lower trailhead option to be logistically more straightforward.

We’ll start with the shuttle hike from the upper trailhead since I thought that was the most obvious way to do this hike as far as finding trailhead parking was concerned.

Sonoma Creek Falls and the top to bottom shuttle hike

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_019_05222016 - Mom descending from the upper trail along these switchbacking steps towards the Sonoma Creek Falls
Mom descending from the upper trail along these switchbacking steps towards the Sonoma Creek Falls

From the upper trailhead, we went right across Adobe Canyon Road, where the Canyon Trail immediately left the road and descended into the shaded cover of the forest.

The trail continued descending fairly moderately (losing about 300ft) with Sonoma Creek being heard throughout as the trail pretty much followed its flow.

Shortly before descending to a footbridge, we noticed a sign (saying “waterfall”) pointing the way to a spur path on our left leading us right to the base of the serene Sonoma Creek Falls.

Upon taking this spur path, we then found ourselves right at the bouldery base of the Sonoma Creek Falls.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_022_05222016 - Mom continuing to descend into the lushier confines of the Adobe Canyon as we got closer to Sonoma Creek Falls
Mom continuing to descend into the lushier confines of the Adobe Canyon as we got closer to Sonoma Creek Falls

It took us around 20 minutes to get to this spot from the upper trailhead.

We then had a choice of either walking back up the way we came or continuing the descent towards the lower car park as a one-way shuttle hike (assuming you have a willing driver to pick you up down there).

The lower part of this shuttle hike is what I’m describing in the next section below though it will be described in reverse since the lower trailhead was the destination of this shuttle hike instead of the start.

Sonoma Creek Falls as a short out-and-back hike from the bottom

From the lower trailhead (also called the Goodspeed Trailhead), I crossed Adobe Canyon Road and then walked up a fairly steep grade alongside the road for about a quarter-mile.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_005_02212020 - Walking up the Adobe Canyon Road from the Goodspeed Parking Area in pursuit of the lower trail to Sonoma Creek Falls
Walking up the Adobe Canyon Road from the Goodspeed Parking Area in pursuit of the lower trail to Sonoma Creek Falls

Along the way, I passed by a limited pullout for the nearest parking to the actual lower trailhead on the right, which also happened to be about 100 yards further uphill.

Once I left the road and followed the well-established trail down a brief descent towards the Sonoma Creek, I then followed the trail as it meandered beneath towering trees (many of which had blackened barks from a recent fire) while continuing further upstream alongside Sonoma Creek itself.

It was this part of the trail that really made us feel like we were in a tranquil and relaxing place, especially when you contrast this experience with the road rage and crowds that tend to occur in the wine country valleys on either side of the Sugarloaf Ridge.

Also after around 20 minutes of mostly flat hiking, we ultimately reached the aforementioned “Waterfall” sign pointing to the right, which we then promptly took to reach the base of the quaint Sonoma Creek Falls.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_107_02212020 - Julie crossing one of the footbridges on the lower part of the Canyon Trail and approaching the signed spur leading to Sonoma Creek Falls
Julie crossing one of the footbridges on the lower part of the Canyon Trail and approaching the signed spur leading to Sonoma Creek Falls

After having our fill of the waterfall, we backtracked to the lower parking area and trailhead to complete the one-mile excursion.

If you find that a one-mile hike might be too short or a bit too much on the modest side, we did have the option of extending the walk to a longer 3.5-mile loop that would include both the trail described above as well as a return leg going up (or down) the Adobe Canyon Road.

Overall, the shuttle hike (where my Mom took the car and picked me up at the other trailhead) took me about 45 minutes. However, we took even less time than that on the out-and-back trail starting from the bottom.

Authorities

Sonoma Creek Falls resides in the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Kenwood in Sonoma County, California. Although it resides in a California State Park, it is administered by Team Sugarloaf (it is farmed out to them by the California Department of Parks and Recreation). For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or the state park website.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_001_02212020 - On our February 2020 visit to Sonoma Creek Falls, we had worried about the falls being dry or trickling due to the lack of rainfall in California ever since the last of some intense storms on Christmas night in 2019, but the cool air combined with a flowing Sonoma Creek gave me hope
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_007_02212020 - Context of the Adobe Canyon Road and Sonoma Creek
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_008_02212020 - Some tiny cascades on Sonoma Creek further downstream of Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_098_02212020 - Julie ascending on the Adobe Canyon Road towards the lower trail to Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_100_02212020 - Julie leaving the Adobe Canyon Road onto the Canyon Trail leading upstream to Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_102_02212020 - Julie on the lower trail amongst tall trees leading upstream to Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_104_02212020 - Julie on the trail, which followed the Sonoma Creek upstream to the Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_106_02212020 - Julie approaching one of a couple of footbridges on the lower trail leading up to the Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_108_02212020 - Julie checking out Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_113_02212020 - Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_118_02212020 - After having our fill of the Sonoma Creek Falls, Julie descends back to the Goodspeed parking area
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_120_02212020 - Julie going back amongst the tall trees with blackened bark, which is evidence of a recent fire that passed through here
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_124_02212020 - Julie ascending back up to the Adobe Canyon Road
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_126_02212020 - Julie returning to the parked car at the nearest spot to the lower trailhead
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_005_05222016 - The trailhead parking for the Canyon Trail, which began to the right across from upper part of the Adobe Canyon Road
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_007_05222016 - The Canyon Trail immediately started descending into the forest cover
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_008_05222016 - Mom on the downhill hike from the upper trail to the Sonoma Creek Falls
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_019_05222016 - The Canyon Trail continued going downhill while flanked by ferns and moss-covered tree trunks and rocks
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_023_05222016 - This signposted junction was the only time we needed to deviate from the Canyon Trail (as there were numerous false trails en route)
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_031_05222016 - Finally making it to Sonoma Creek Falls on our mid-May 2016 visit
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_042_05222016 - Mom scrambled right up to the base of Sonoma Creek Falls for an even closer look
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_058_05222016 - Looking back up at the trail heading up to the upper trailhead. This would be the way to hike to regain the car
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_069_05222016 - Further downstream from Sonoma Creek Falls was this footbridge crossing over a side creek as I continued the one-way downhill shuttle hike from the upper trailhead to the lower trailhead
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_071_05222016 - A refreshing change to the scenery further up the Canyon Trail was the presence of these majestic coastal redwood trees near the lower end of the Canyon Trail
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_074_05222016 - Back at the Adobe Canyon Road at the lower end of the Canyon Trail
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_077_05222016 - Walking downhill along Adobe Canyon Road
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_078_05222016 - Closer look at a sign by a pullout along Adobe Canyon Road.  I guess we could've parked here to make the hike shorter from the bottom on our 2016 visit, but I've since figured this out for use on our next visit 4 years later
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_079_05222016 - Context of that pullout adjacent to Adobe Canyon Road
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_082_05222016 - Hiking past the gate and towards what I think is the Goodspeed Lot, which was very full on our mid-May 2016 visit
Sonoma_Creek_Falls_084_05222016 - This was the lot where Mom waited for me to complete the one-way all-downhill shuttle hike on our 2016 visit to Sonoma Creek Falls

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There are a couple of approaches to reach the Kenwood, which sits in Sonoma Valley between downtown Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

I’d imagine it’s fairly straightforward to get to either town from the Bay Area so we’ll leave those details to your favorite routing software or app.

Driving from Downtown Sonoma

Starting from downtown Sonoma at the south side of the park, we headed west on Napa Street for about a mile to the Sonoma Highway.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_003_02212020 - The Goodspeed Parking Lot at the lower end of the trail to Sonoma Creek Falls
The Goodspeed Parking Lot at the lower end of the trail to Sonoma Creek Falls

We then turned right onto the Sonoma Highway and drove for a little over 10 miles to the signed turnoff for the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where we turned right onto the Adobe Canyon Road.

Finally, we followed the Adobe Canyon Road for about 2.3 miles to the lower parking area on the left side of the road (also called the Goodspeed Parking Lot).

The “parking lot” was an unpaved space between the road and Sonoma Creek just before the gate for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

In order to access the upper parking lot, we had to drive another mile up the Adobe Canyon Road, where there was a clearing on the left side of the road opposite the upper trailhead.

To continue to the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park Visitor Center, we continued another quarter-mile on the Adobe Canyon Road before turning right into the facility, which was where we paid the $8 day use fee.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_005_05222016 - The upper parking lot for the Canyon Trail descending towards the Sonoma Creek Falls
The upper parking lot for the Canyon Trail descending towards the Sonoma Creek Falls

That said, by the time you read this, there might be automated parking machines at each trailhead so you wouldn’t have to go all the way to the visitor center before backtracking to the trails.

Overall, this drive took us around 25-30 minutes (depending on the traffic in downtown Sonoma).

Driving from Santa Rosa

From the US101 Freeway exit onto the Hwy 12 in Santa Rosa, we would head east on the Hwy 12 for almost 11 miles to the Adobe Canyon Road on the left.

Turning left across the busy highway and onto the Adobe Canyon Road, we then followed the directions as above to either of the parking lots or the visitor center for the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Sonoma_Creek_Falls_095_02212020 - If one of these limited spots are available, it was also possible to park the car at this pullout, which was just 100 yards downhill from the lower point where the trail to Sonoma Creek Falls left the Adobe Canyon Road
If one of these limited spots are available, it was also possible to park the car at this pullout, which was just 100 yards downhill from the lower point where the trail to Sonoma Creek Falls left the Adobe Canyon Road

Overall, this drive should take around 20 minutes or less depending on traffic.

For geographical context, Sonoma was about 14 miles (under 30 minutes drive) west of Napa, 22 miles (over 30 minutes drive) southeast of Santa Rosa, 68 miles (over an hour drive) west of Sacramento, 45 miles (over an hour drive) north of San Francisco, 48 miles (about an hour drive) north of Oakland, 95 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of San Jose, 246 miles (over 4 hours drive) south of Eureka, and Los Angeles.

Pretty thorough right to left sweep as i approached Sonoma Creek Falls before doing another similar sweep from the plunge pool with a couple of zoomed in pans on the falls itself


Elevated right to left sweep from the plunge pool of Sonoma Creek Falls with some zoomed in panning spots on the falls itself


Right to left sweep of Sonoma Creek before checking out the falls then the surrounding area in mid-May 2016

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Tagged with: sugarloaf ridge, state park, kenwood, santa rosa, sonoma county, bay area, northern california, waterfall, california, goodspeed



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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