Red Hill is not the highest peak on the Sonoma Coast, nor is it the most prominent, impressive or even well known. Red Hill is not readily identified unless one knows what one is looking for. What Red Hill does offer is a fantastic hike to a high, bald summit with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Russian River estuary and canyon, the North Coast Range and Mayacama Mountains (with two county high points visible) and fog permitting, Bodega Head and Point Reyes. A relatively easy hike through Redwoods and open coastal prairie can obtain all of this.
Red Hill is a peak in the coastal subrange of California's North Coast Range. The North Coast Mountains are divided into two major regions. The high peaks such as South Yolla Bolly, Snow Mountain and the Mayacama Mountains form the inland divide between the coast and the Central Valley while a long chain of coastal peaks and subranges line the actual coast. The western drainages of the North Coast Range are dominated by the Eel River and the Russian River. Red Hill anchors the southern gate of the Russian River estuary. It is composed of sediment although numerous serpentine rocks protrude from the slopes of the mountain.
Russian River estuary Mayacama Mountains
Two trails lead to the top of Red Hill. One leads from Shell Beach, which is located off of Highway 1 and is part of Sonoma Coast State Beach. The other trail begins at the Pomo Canyon Trailhead. Both trails are excellent, but the trail from Pomo Canyon receives less use and has the added bonus of leading through a Coast Redwood grove.
The Pomo Canyon trail is about two miles long and gains 950 feet. Most of the elevation gain takes place in the first mile. The trail begins in a second growth Coast Redwood grove. Coast Redwoods can reproduce through seeds or through runners from the root system. When a mature tree dies several small tree may sprout from the roots, forming a ring around where the old tree was located. This phenomenon is referred to as a Cathedral Tree. Numerous Cathedral Trees line the first stretch of trail. After a mile the route leaves the tree cover and enters coastal prairie. A junction gives one the option of continuing to Shell Beach instead of climbing Red Hill. It is 2.8 from Pomo Canyon to Shell Beach. At the junction, veer right and continue climbing up Red Hill. Views of the Mayacama Mountains and the Russian River canyon are fantastic. The trail enters into a second redwood grove. This grove is unusual since it is not located in a canyon but up on top of a ridge. Once the trail exits the grove it heads south, curling around the edge of Red Hill’s summit. A circle of rocks marks the high point.
The views from the summit of Red Hill are some of the best in Sonoma County. Two county high points, Cobb Mountain (Sonoma County) and Mount Saint Helena (Napa County) dot the horizon. The Russian River canyon and estuary are visible to the north, along with the Austin Creek drainage (which contains the excellent Austin Creek State Recreation Area, a 5,000 acre wilderness area). Bodega Head and Point Reyes are visible to the south. The Pacific Ocean stretches out to the western horizon. Few places offer such scenery for so little…and such pleasurable…effort.
From Santa Rosa, drive north on Highway 101 and take the River Road exit. Drive west on River Road, which is Highway 116. Pass through the towns of Guuerneville, Monte Rio and Duncans Mills. When 116 deadends at Highway 1, turn left. Cross over the Russian River and immediately turn left at the Indian restaurant onto Willow Creek Road. Follow the road to the Pomo Canyon Campground. The road is paved for the first three miles. It is unpaved the final mile. The trailhead is at the entrance to the campground.
Red Hill is located on private property. It is surrounded by land encompassed in Sonoma Coast State Beach and the State has a right of way to the summit. As a result of private ownership, cattle may be present on the summit at times.
There is a $6.00 fee at the parking area.
Sonoma Coast State Beach
The trailhead to Red Hill is located at the Pomo Canyon campground. There is a $15.00 fee to camp. The sites are spaced widely apart amidst the redwoods and are all around 75 to 100 yards from the parking lot. . This is a very attractive campground. The Willow Creek campground is also a walk in campground located off Willow Creek Road. The turnoff to the campground is shortly after the turnoff from Highway 1, about 3.5 miles from the Pomo Canyon campground. There is also a $15.00 fee at this campground.
When To Go
Red Hill is accessible year-round. Spring brings great wildflowers and the creeks have a good flow in them. Summer is an excellent time to climb, since the coastal temperatures are cooler than the temperatures inland. However, summer can bring fog, so be prepared for surprisingly cold temperatures.
External LinksSonoma Coast State Beach